Though We May Feel Alone, God Will Never Forsake Us: Angela Braniff and Jennifer Greenberg
Narrator: Be sure to join us for the weekly Jesus Calling Prayer Call at our regular time on Tuesdays at 5:00 AM Pacific time, 7:00 AM Central, and 8:00 AM Eastern. On May 7th, we’ll have a special prayer call at the same time in observance of the National Day of Prayer. To find out how to participate, visit jesuscalling.com/prayer-call.
Angela Braniff: My adoptive children have taught me so many things, so many things. That’s really been such a transformative experience for me. I feel like I’m not even the same person. They’ve opened my eyes to trauma, to poverty, to the ethical questions surrounding adoption and what that looks like and how to love vulnerable children and help vulnerable children while still maintaining ethical boundaries. The waters can be muddy. But I think that their bravery is really what has always stuck out to me.
Though We May Feel Alone, God Will Never Forsake Us: Angela Braniff and Jennifer Greenberg – Episode #197
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Our episode this week features two women whose experiences reflect God’s presence in their lives through times of pain, doubt, and not knowing which way to turn: YouTuber and adoption advocate Angela Braniff, and author and abuse survivor Jennifer Greenberg.
First up, Angela Braniff is the founder of the popular YouTube channel This Gathered Nest. As Angela was growing up, she put a lot of pressure on herself to always “do the right thing,” and found safety and security in checking off the boxes toward achieving an idyllic life. One unexpected day, she found herself looking deeply at the life she had constructed and what it was all for. She began to earnestly pray that God would “break her heart for what breaks His.” Through this process, she opened up the floodgates to have God move in her life in a new and surprising way, one that would bring its share of both heartache and joy.
Angela: I am Angela Braniff and I’m a mom of eight children through both birth and adoption. I’m married to my high school sweetheart, Christopher, and we homeschool our kids. We work together from home. We’re together a lot, and we run a blog and two YouTube channels. We co-host a podcast together.
I was a very fragile, people-pleaser kind of a kid that wanted everybody to like me and wanted to obey my parents and teachers. And I just thought that if I did all the right things, then my life would turn out how everyone told me, and it would be happy and fulfilled and everything would be great.
“I just thought that if I did all the right things, then my life would turn out how everyone told me, and it would be happy and fulfilled and everything would be great.” – Angela Braniff
The people-pleasing nature that I had growing up, while I don’t think it was necessarily a bad thing, unfortunately, it really stopped me from thinking for myself a lot of the time, and thinking about what I wanted and what I enjoyed and what I was passionate about because I just spent so much time trying to please everyone around me. So I feel like I kind of had inadvertently set myself up to have this moment where this was all going to come crumbling down. Because when you’re living your life constantly trying to please people, that’s going to end in failure pretty much every time.
God kind of shattered all of that for me and said, “That’s not what I had for you. I have something very different for you.” And I started taking these bold steps in my faith and really leaning in and listening to God and what He had for me and what He wanted for my life. It led me down a path I never really expected that was lots of highs and lows: infertility and different adoptions, domestic and international. And there was a lot of joy, but a lot of suffering and all of those things.
God Shakes Things Up
I grew up in a Christian home with Christian values. We started attending church regularly when I was about eleven or twelve, and that was really where I found my personal connection with Jesus, and when I was saved, and then baptized later. And so faith was very important to my family and to my sister, to my parents, to my grandparents. It was always a part of our entire family life.
But it was also something that for so long was very synonymous with an American Dream, sort of combining this idea of what God wanted for my life with this idea of what the American Dream looked like. It all just kind of muddled together, and I had a hard time pulling that apart and really separating that God’s calling for my life might look different from this idea that we a lot of us grow up with that says that you get married, and you have two kids, and you have a little house and a dog, and that’s it, and that’s happiness. And I really had to work to pull apart those two ideas and to recognize that that might not be God’s plan for me.
Once I had sort of checked off everything, we bought a home. We had our two daughters. I was happily married. I felt like I was just kind of standing there waiting like, Is this right? I’m going to feel that fulfillment now, it should come any minute. And it wasn’t coming. And I felt almost a sense of, like, Maybe I didn’t understand God. Maybe all of this was all wrong.
And I had what I lovingly referred to as my Easter morning meltdown. We went to church on Easter Sunday, and I sat there and the church played this video about Jesus and His life. Really, it was about the last moments of His life and what that was like for Him. And as I sat there, tears pouring down my face and thinking—there’s this light show kind of going on around me, and this parking lot filled with SUV’s and people. We’re all sitting around wearing these beautiful dresses and Easter outfits and we’re watching this video of Jesus and His last moments—and I just kept thinking, Was this it? Was this what He endured all of this for so that we could all have all of these material things? And if that’s really what He died for, then why aren’t these material things possible for everyone in the world?
It just felt like something wasn’t right like there was a missing connection there. And so when I went home from that service, I cried out to God and said, “I need you to give me Your eyes. Break my heart for what breaks Yours. If there’s more to this life, I need You to show me.”
“I cried out to God and said, ‘I need you to give me Your eyes. Break my heart for what breaks Yours. If there’s more to this life, I need You to show me.’” – Angela Braniff
And through a series of sort of what most people might consider random events, but I believe were sort of divine providence, God really revealed to me that the place that He wanted me to be was in orphan care and vulnerable children. And I didn’t really know what the next steps were gonna be or how it was all going to play out, but I knew that this was where He was asking me to go, and this was Him sort of giving me His eyes for vulnerable children and where He wanted me to follow Him.
An Unexpected Family of 10
Our journey to becoming a large family—a family of ten now—has been a long one, but really sometimes it feels short. I always say I could have never imagined the life that I have now. In fact, I constantly joke that if you would have told me when I was a teenager that by the time you were thirty-five, you’re gonna have eight children and you’re going to homeschool them, and you’re going to work from home and you’re gonna do all these things, I would have probably just laughed or perhaps run away screaming, terrified because I would have never guessed this is where my life would take me.
My daughter Rosie was four and a half when we adopted her. And when I think back to just the sheer braveness that she showed through that journey of leaving everything she’d ever known—her country, her culture, even the food, and everything was different for her, and she was so incredibly brave through the entire process that it really inspired me to think, I’ve never had to experience anything like that. And if I could just be half as brave as she is, then I would be proud.
And so I think that all of them combined, all of their different stories, they’re all so unique. It’s really opened my eyes to the fact that love is love, and I’ve learned that I cannot fix or heal all of their wounds. That’s not something that I can do. They will grow up and have questions, things I can’t answer, things I can, and wounds that I, in my humanness, no matter how much I love them as their mother, cannot fix or heal. But the one thing I can do is point them to Jesus, who loves them and who can heal those wounds for them.
“They will grow up and have questions, things I can’t answer, things I can, and wounds that I, in my humanness, no matter how much I love them as their mother, cannot fix or heal. But the one thing I can do is point them to Jesus, who loves them and who can heal those wounds for them.” – Angela Braniff, on her adoptive children
Bite-sized Moments With God
You know, Jesus Calling has been a part of my life for a number of years now. It was something that I could pick up and just easily have a bite-sized moment with Jesus. It didn’t matter how busy and crazy and hurried things were, there was always time for that bite-sized moment.
And so I think that Jesus Calling and having that ability to just open that up and take a few minutes at the beginning of your day before your feet hit the ground, and everyone’s tugging at your robe and asking you for things, and you’re scrambling eggs and brushing hair and changing diapers, just taking that few minutes to connect with Jesus in the morning, to give Him that first part of your day is so incredibly important.
[This is the passage from] September 17th.
Just when you think you have prepared for all possibilities, something unexpected pops up and throws things into confusion. I did not design the human mind to figure out the future. That is beyond your capability. I crafted your mind for continual communication with Me. Bring Me all your needs, your hopes and fears. Commit everything to My care. Turn from the path of planning to the path of Peace.
I love that passage so much because I think it speaks so much to my story of feeling like I was planning my life out. I was checking off the boxes. I was doing all the things that were going to guarantee me this happy life, and Jesus was just sort of there waiting, saying, “Hang on. Come with Me. I have something so much better for you. All of this planning and striving, this is never going to bring you the peace that you want, the depth, the meaning. If you just follow Me, I have all of that waiting for you on the other side.”
The depth of love that I have seen, the experiences that I’ve had over the last nine years have been so incredible that I wouldn’t trade them for anything. So I look back and I think, I’m sure that I would have continued on this happy life journey and things probably would have been totally fine, but I know now, through the lens that I have to look back, how devoid of depth and the level of happiness and joy that I’ve been able to attain that I wouldn’t probably have had otherwise. And I just feel like it really is all combined together, you know, that God knows what’s best for us. And while we might think we know what we want, He knows what’s best for us, and trusting that plan that He has is just so much better than any plans we could have ever made for ourselves or stories we could have written for ourselves. His stories are so intricate and beautiful. And that’s where I want to be, is in His story for me.
“Trust that the plan He has is just so much better than any plans we could have ever made for ourselves.” – Angela Braniff
Narrator: You can find Angela’s new book, Love Without Borders, wherever books are sold.
Stay with us for a gripping interview with Jennifer Greenberg, a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse who trusted God’s promise that He would never leave or her forsake her, right after this short message.
Commercial: During times of transition and unknown next steps, it’s more important than ever to cling to the promises of God and to tune your ear to hear what Jesus has to say. Jesus Calling® for Graduates provides guidance and encouragement for new grads as they venture into the next phase of their lives. Follow along with 150 devotions divided topically—on topics such as attitude, discerning God’s will, identity, and worth—that are most applicable and relevant to your life now—a little bigger, a little more exciting, a little scarier—and lean in close to hear what Jesus is saying to you today: words of hope, encouragement, and reassurance of His unending love.
You can find Jesus Calling for Graduates at JesusCalling.com/books or at your favorite bookseller.
Narrator: Jennifer Greenberg grew up being abused by her churchgoing father, yet even those scars couldn’t keep her from the love of Christ. As her father continued to abuse her into her teen years, Jennifer contemplated suicide to end the pain and confusion of being manipulated and used for so many years. She shares how, on the brink of saying a prayer she felt would be her last, what compelled her to keep fighting—and to keep living.
Jennifer Greenberg: My name is Jennifer Greenberg, and I am the survivor of twenty-one years of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse at the hands of my churchgoing father. But God was faithful. He saved me at a very young age, and He maintained my faith and kept me going through a lot of dark times.
I was born in Austin, Texas. I’m the oldest of five daughters. We moved around a lot. I lived in Memphis, Tennessee; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California.
When I was about fifteen years old, I came to a new realization of how warped my dad was. I had known for a long time that there was something wrong, and I had known that he didn’t love me the way that normal dads loved their children.
But when I was fifteen, you know, I’d just gone through puberty. I was turning into an adult. And so I was looking at my dad with new eyes, with more mature eyes, and understanding the things he said and the things he did from a much more adult perspective than I previously had. And I was so overcome by his darkness, knowing that my dad was a sexual predator and that I was his prey.
And I did not think I could live any more time under his roof. For a long time, I had thought, I just need to make it until my eighteenth birthday and then I can move out. I can go to college and I can escape. But at fifteen, I sort of came to a realization that I didn’t think I could make it three more years. And I became seriously suicidal.
I prayed to God and I asked God, I need to know that you are not going to abandon me. I need to know that if I do commit suicide, that you’re still going to love me and you’re still going to take me to heaven. And I need you to give me some kind of sign that you love me.
And as I prayed that, I heard an audible voice that said, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.” And at that point, my tears of sorrow turned into tears of joy, because I knew that no matter what happened, God would never forsake me. He would never abandon me. And, you know, I’ve never been a very superstitious person, and I’ve never put much stock in my emotions. And part of that, I think, is because my abuser so often ridiculed my emotions and said that my feelings weren’t real. So the fact that I heard that Voice not merely speak reassuring words, but speak words that I knew were straight out of the Bible, I could not deny that God said those words.
“I knew that no matter what happened, God would never forsake me. He would never abandon me.” – Jennifer Greenberg
And so that gave me profound hope. And ironically, it gave me the courage I needed to keep living. Because I knew that God was faithful, that He loved me, and that He is involved in my life.
Reversing the Damage of Abuse
I live in Houston now, currently, with my husband and we have three little girls. We’ve been married thirteen years this September. And now as an adult and a mother, you know, I look back on my childhood and it makes me angry because I think, How could a parent put their child through that? I can’t imagine treating my children that way. Becoming a parent caused a hole—I talked about that shift when I was fifteen and I started seeing my dad with adult eyes. When I became a parent, I began seeing him with a parent’s eyes. The more I matured, the more I realized how messed up it was.
When you grow up with abuse, that is your normal, you are acclimated to that environment. And so when you start to leave that environment, whether that be going to school, whether that be going to a new church or leaving home, getting married, no matter what it may be, you’re going to come to new realizations for how dysfunctional your past environment was, because suddenly you’re like, Oh my goodness. Not all men are violent. Not all people are perverted.
“When you grow up with abuse, that is your normal. And so when you start to leave that environment, you’re going to come to new realizations for how dysfunctional your past environment was.” – Jennifer Greenberg
And so you go through this process of just unwinding the knots, the emotional knots that your abuser has tied your soul in. And it’s a painful process, but it’s also very relieving. The more you unwind those knots, the more freer your heart feels. And the more you’re able to enjoy healthy relationships.
You have to become vulnerable, which is so frightening especially for an abuse survivor because you’re so used to being on the defensive. You’re so used to suppressing your emotions, to minimizing what’s going on around you because it is literally too painful to deal with. And so you’ve got to kind of unclench yourself. You’ve got to relax your heart, relax your soul, and learn to trust again and learn to relax again.
What Past Abuse Does to Present Relationships
I’ve written this book called Not Forsaken, and it shares my story as well as the process that I went through during my recovery. I decided to write my book originally because I wanted to explain myself to my husband, Jason. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s a great dad. But, you know, he’s never been abused, and he’s never experienced depression or anxiety. And there were certain stories in my past and certain feelings that I felt that I didn’t know how to verbally tell him.
And so Not Forsaken began as a series of letters to my husband to try to help him understand why I am the way that I am, why there are certain relatives, family members, who I cannot have in my life, that I don’t speak to. And because it’s such a complex situation to be in, I wanted to explain myself to Jason.
After I wrote probably one or two chapters, I realized that potentially this was something that could help other husbands as well, and maybe it could help pastors, and maybe it could encourage my fellow survivors, maybe it could even inspire a victim to finally leave an abusive situation. Or if God chooses to use it this way, maybe it could even a spark inspire an abusive person to change, because they realize now how damaging their behavior is. And so that’s what inspired me to begin writing Not Forsaken.
My husband went through, I think, a big learning curve with me as well. He was really my rock as I was diagnosed and recovered from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, which is the sort of thing that people associate with soldiers coming back from war. But you can get PTSD from any number of traumatic events. My husband had to walk with me through that. He had to learn what my triggers were, what set off my anxiety, my depression. We’ve really learned to kind of walk in step with each other, and so in a real way, it’s made our marriage incredibly strong.
How Do We Forgive an Abuser?
A lot of times I have found that one of the first things people say to me as a survivor is, “Have you forgiven your dad yet?” In fact, when I first told anybody that my dad was abusing me when I was probably about eighteen years old, the first thing that someone told me was I needed to forgive him. And the problem with that is that they completely skipped repentance.
So every time we talk about forgiveness, we need to talk about repentance. Is the abuser repentant, and what does repentance look like? Is repentance merely saying, “I’m sorry?” Because anybody can say “I’m sorry” and then return back to their previous sinful behavior. And that’s the pattern that I found with my abusers. My dad would—I wouldn’t say he frequently apologized, but he did sometimes say that he was sorry. But then he would return to his abuse and his evil, and so that repentance was false.
So in my book, I have a chapter on forgiveness, and I break it up into two different levels, or types, of forgiveness.
The first is limited forgiveness, and that’s when you’ve got an abuser who is not genuinely repentant. I was able to come to a place in my life where I realized that the reason I was angry at my abuser was that I was angry at evil. And you know what? God is angry at evil. And knowing that, realizing that God is angry with the wicked every day as the proverb says, I realized that I could trust God to be angry for me. I mean, you think about it, Jesus took all our sins on His back to the cross. So I told Jesus in prayer, I said, “Look, I’ve got this anger in my heart. It’s ruining my days. It’s causing me to have a lack of joy. It’s toxic. It’s damaging me. And I need to be able to let it go, and I need you to take it from me.” And when I came to that milestone, God freed me from that anger, so I was able to let go of it and be at peace. Now, that doesn’t mean that I trust my abuser. It doesn’t mean that he’s part of my life. But I am free from my anger.
“I was able to come to a place in my life where I realized that the reason I was angry at my abuser was because I was angry at evil…I realized that I could trust God to be angry for me.” – Jennier Greenberg
The second type of forgiveness is reconciliatory forgiveness. That’s when you’ve got an abuser who is genuinely repentant. Not only have they apologized, but they’ve attempted and are attempting to make amends for what they’ve done to change their behavior. And you know, a truly repentant person, they will realize the gravity of their sin. And if you tell them, “You know what? When you send me emails or text messages, it causes me anxiety,” they’ll stop doing that if they need to step out of your life in order for you to have a happy life and a peaceful life. A truly repentant person will step out of your life because they will understand that what they’ve done to you is so terrible, and they will not feel entitled or privileged to demand reconciliation, to demand to be in your life despite what they’ve done. So that’s a key factor in knowing whether someone is truly repentant, whether they’ll actually give you the space that you need to recover, and to be an emotionally stable and healthy person. So, you know, if you have an abuser who’s genuinely repentant, you can move on to reconciliatory forgiveness.
There were so many times when I really felt like I was losing it, you know like my sanity was becoming unraveled. I was ready to die, to lose faith. And, you know, I realized at one point that sometimes we talk about clinging to faith in God, but really, it’s God who clings to us.
“I realized at one point that sometimes we talk about clinging to faith in God, but really, it’s God who clings to us.” – Jennifer Greenberg
I really love the Jesus Calling devotional for March 17th.
Allow the Light of My healing Presence to shine into the deepest recesses of your being—cleansing, healing, refreshing, and renewing you. Trust Me enough to accept the full forgiveness that I offer you. This great gift, which cost Me My Life, is yours for all eternity. Forgiveness is at the very core of My abiding Presence. I will never leave you or forsake you. When no one else seems to understand you simply draw closer to me. Rejoice in the One who understands you completely and loves you perfectly.
When we talk about how the gospel addresses abuse and abuse survivors, one of the things that I found most powerful was realizing that Jesus Christ Himself is an abuse survivor. He was abandoned and betrayed by His dearest friends. His own family called Him crazy. He was falsely arrested. He was beaten. He was hung naked on a cross, humiliated before everyone.
And so, you know, when we realize this, when we put what happened to Christ in the context of abuse, we realize that not only do we have a Savior who redeems us from our sins, we have a Savior who can relate with us in an extraordinarily personal and profound way.
”Not only do we have a Savior who redeems us from our sins, we have a Savior who can relate with us in an extraordinarily personal and profound way.” – Jennifer Greenberg
Narrator: You can find Jennifer’s book, Not Forsaken, wherever books are sold.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, there’s help. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we talk with brother and sister stars of the HGTV Show Restored by the Fords, Leanne and Steve Ford. Leanne and Steve have written a book together called Work In Progress, and Leanne shares how her relationship with God factors into her creativity and willingness to try new things.
Leanne Ford: For me, my relationship with God is so important to my creative life, because when you’re buddies with God, you’re not worried about the little things, right? You’re not worried about the details of messing up, or what people are saying, or what they’re thinking. You’re kind of just cruising along, you know? I look back, and as we wrote this book, it was such a fun time of reflection and figuring out why we are who we are.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/media/video.