Rocco decided to stop at the Hamilton property and check on Maggie. Something painful was nagging at him to do so. He pulled up to the house and was shocked to see Maggie on the front steps as if she were waiting for him. He turned off the car, got out, and silently went to join her.
Maggie sighed heavily. She twisted the elaborate wedding ring on her hand.
“What are you doing here?” she asked softly.
“I was on my way home and God prompted me to come check on you.”
“Do you ever lie? Your answers are always incredibly direct and, frankly, quite odd.”
Rocco stifled a laugh. “I prefer to tell the truth, signora.”
“So God told you to come check on me? To make sure I’m being a good girl?”
“No,” he answered slowly. “To check if you are all right.”
Maggie snorted. “Why on earth would your God care if I was all right or not?”
“He cares about everyone, signora. He loves you.”
Maggie looked at him with cold anger filling her eyes. “No, he doesn’t.”
“Why do you say that?” Rocco asked, wondering exactly how wounded Maggie was.
Maggie looked down at her feet and did not answer him.
“God,” Rocco prayed. “Break down these lies in Maggie’s heart. Meet her where she is and show her Your love.”
Maggie fixed her eyes on a spot in the distance and held her face hard as stone even though her voice wavered dangerously.
“I am neither good enough nor important enough to be loved.”
“What makes you think that?” he pressed as gently as he could.
“You don’t want to know,” she sneered. Rocco sat next to her in silence. Patience, he reminded himself. He waited, observing and enjoyed the beautiful land around him. He loved being a gardener, having the chance to take dirt and make it something lovely.
“That’s exactly what You do with us all, Lord. You pull us up from our graves and make us into something beautiful.”
“The Lord is not afraid of our grossness. He is bigger than the skeletons in our closets,” he encouraged.
“That’s just it,” Maggie interrupted him. “Ordinary people have a skeleton or two in their closet. I have a house full of them! I have –” she stopped short and laid a hand gently on her stomach. Rocco followed the movement with his eyes. Maggie glared at him, wanting to prove him wrong, to win the argument. “My parents kicked me out of their house when I told them I was pregnant with Aurora seventeen years ago. Then they were murdered. We never had the chance to make up. Then I ran away to Venice. I’ve had more lovers than you can possibly imagine. And Gregory,” she waved her hand at the house behind her. “He doesn’t love me.”
“Do you love him?”
“I thought I did,” she confessed.
“Your parents taught you at an early age – and Gregory reinforced that lesson – that you are only as good as what you do,” Rocco said calmly. “But that’s not true. God in Heaven loves you, period. Your performance is completely irrelevant in light of God’s unconditional and limitless love for you.”
“Unconditional and limitless?” Maggie mocked. “Everything comes at a price,” she bit out. “Love only lasts so long, it can only endure a certain amount, and then it breaks.”
“That’s not true.”
“Oh, yes, it is.”
“Jesus died not only to pay your debt but also to buy you an eternity of righteousness – of perfection before God.”
“I’m pregnant,” she blurted, certain that this would get Rocco to see that she was beyond loving. “And not by my husband.”
“I still love you.”
“Shut up! Don’t you dare lie to me!”
“I’m not lying to you, Maggie.”
“I can deal with being ruined, with being unloved, but you will not lie to me,” she shouted and tears broke through the steel barrier in her eyes. “I will not let you lie to me and give you the power to break the pieces of my heart.” She sniffed hard and swallowed, trying to gain control of her emotions. She was trying to stuff the flood back into Pandora’s box.
Rocco touched her hand, took it gently in his own, and looked at her with overflowing compassion. “You are not ruined,” he whispered. “You are not unloved. Jesus loves you and He took on your ruin, He look care of it, and He’s handing you back honor and dignity. Jesus wore our crown of thorns so that He could crown us with splendor.”
Maggie shook with violent tears as her heart ripped further. “I wish I could believe that.”
“I have good news for you,” Rocco smiled softly. “It’s true. Whether you believe it or not, it’s true.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“God has decided to love you and He won’t ever change His mind.”
“But,” Maggie said through her tears. “I’m not worthy.”
“None of us are. That’s the truly awesome thing about it. We are the objects of God’s love. It has absolutely nothing to do with us, it has everything to do with Jesus.”
Maggie kept searching Rocco’s face, trying to find a way to deny that God could love her.
“If God really loved me, wouldn’t He have let me be happy? If God had loved me, I wouldn’t have been on this life-long quest for happiness and wholeness. Wouldn’t He have loved me enough to give me that?”
Rocco thought for a moment.
“You told me once that you wanted someone to love you jealously – that you wanted to belong, heart and soul. Is that true?”
“Maggie, when God created you – and He did create you – He designed you to have a keyhole in your heart,” he pointed to his chest. “It’s a lock and when it’s opened, joy and that feeling of belonging overflows into your life. Your whole life, you’ve been grabbing every key you see and trying to fit it into that keyhole, fill your heart with something substantial. But here’s the trick,” he smiled. “God designed it so that He would be the only key to fit and to unlock your heart, filling you with joy.”
“Why would He do that?”
“Because He’s jealous for you, Maggie!” Rocco smiled. “He doesn’t want you to find a complete life in money or men. Even in your child. He wants you to come to Him alone for healing. He wants to put all those pieces of your heart back together. In order for Him to do that, He has to have access to every piece of you heart. That won’t happen unless you are ready to let Him have all of your heart- every piece.
“God didn’t let you find joy in your life with your parents because He wanted something better for you. God didn’t let you find completion in Aurora because – even though she is a wonderful gift from God – He still desires more for you. He didn’t let you find a life that would fulfill you by living the high life in Venice because He wanted better for you. God didn’t let your find joy and belonging in Gregory because He didn’t want you to settle for less than what He has dreamed up for you. You say He would have let you be happy if He really loved you, but the truth is that He loves you too much to let you find happiness in anything less than Himself because He is the best.”
Silent tears flowed down Maggie’s beautiful cheeks. “I want that,” she said with desperate resolution. “I want that so bad.”
“Then it’s yours.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
Maggie could not stop a little laugh at the simplicity of it all.
“God doesn’t want anything from me?” she asked.
“Oh, He does. He wants you to spend your entire existence worshipping Him and loving Him out of awe and perfection. But He does not require anything of you before He loves you. Jesus decided to die for you a long time ago, long before you had done anything right or wrong.”
“So I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to?”
“He would give freely to me? He would give me everything and not demand anything in return?”
“All the demands is for you to believe in Him.”
She gaped at him in disbelief.
Rocco shrugged. “Because the desire of His heart is to love you. Of course He wants you to love Him back but that’s secondary. He just wants to love you and that’s all that really matters.”
“God is very different from any man I’ve ever known.”
Rocco laughed. “Me too.”
Maggie took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts, seeking out any other loopholes.
“Wouldn’t God get tired of loving people who don’t love Him back?”
“He wouldn’t run out of resources, if that’s what you are asking. God lacks nothing. He needs nothing. He created the universe just by speaking it. He decided this land would be here and so it is. He decided you would be here and so you are. God never sleeps or gets tired. He is Almighty. He is infinite.”
“Yes, but wouldn’t such a magnificent God get fed up with such puny people?”
“God is slow to anger, abounding in love, mercy, and compassion. He is patient. He desires everyone to come to know Him. 2 Peter 3:9 says, ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’
“Think of it like this: God has two competing desires. The first is to be loved above all else, to be first in your heart, to be your only God. The second is for you to come to know Him. While you ran away from Him and denied him, you were not loving Him, you were worshipping other gods. His desire for you to love Him was being denied. He could have wiped you off the face of the planet and been right in doing so. He gave you life and can take it away whenever He chooses. But He doesn’t do that because His desire for you to come to Him is strong enough to hold back His justice. That’s called mercy. He will wait until you come to Him. Maggie, God wants to spend eternity in Heaven with you so badly that He sent Jesus – the very best He had – to rescue you. He risked the chance that you might never love Him but He had to do everything He could to get you because He loves you that much.”
“I suppose I’ll have to start living a good Christian life again,” she said and wrinkled her nose.
“Maggie,” Rocco laughed, “Be honest with yourself for a moment. Has this life really given you what you wanted?”
“No,” she complied easily. “But neither did my childhood.”
“Does the God I’m telling you about sound like the god of your childhood?”
“No,” she repeated, shaking her head in a sad sort of way. Silence stretched between them.
“What’s holding you back?” Rocco finally whispered.
Maggie started to cry. “I have made so many mistakes. What will I do? Where will I go? It is so much easier to run from my mistakes than to face them. How am I supposed to live? What am I going to do about the baby? I don’t think I can do this. It would be better to kill it now and save it from having me for a mother.”
Rocco took Maggie’s hands in his, praying she would calm down and see clearly.
“Maggie, look at me,” he said gently. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be really hard. But for the first time in your life, you won’t be alone and you’ll be alive. Maggie, don’t you want to live?”
“Gregory will kill me if he finds out about this baby!” she cried. “I can’t. I can’t do it. I’ll abort it.”
“No, you won’t. you need to tell your husband the truth and you need to leave him but you will do so honorably.”
“You don’t understand! He will kill me if I try to leave him!” Maggie cried, hysteria creeping up around her heart.
“Then I will stand with you when you tell him. He won’t lay a hand on you.”
“And where will I go then?”
“Well, you’re free to go wherever you like but you are welcome to stay with my sister and me at our orphanage.”
“You would take me in?” she asked, feeling very small remembering that she was, indeed, an orphan. What a life time ago that was, she thought, recalling her parents’ deaths.
“Yes and if you don’t want your baby, please let me take the child.”
“You would do that? Take in a bastard child?”
Rocco flinched visibly at the harsh word. “Every child is a precious gift – no matter how he or she comes to be.”
“You are an odd man, Rocco.”
“What?” she asked.
“That’s the first time you’ve said my name.”He’s so odd, Maggie thought as she smiled and rolled her eyes. And yet I want to be more like him.