She was 4 when given up by her birth mother. She went to live at a cousins’ house where she experienced abuse in every possible way. At age 7 her grandmother would make her pray on her knees beside her bed for 2 hours every evening. If she tried to steal away quietly, the woman would force her back on her knees. A cousin tried to end her life more than once. She knew much bitterness and anger at her birth mother for abandoning her.
But today? She is a powerful woman of faith, ministering to other women in El Salvador. God has brought healing to her heart and the relationship with her mother has been restored. Her marriage to an alcoholic has been salvaged and repaired. She is a mother to 3 and grandmother. Both she and her husband are pastors. All of her children are leaders in their church. Redemption is her story. And yet, she believes that her early difficulties were all part of God’s plan for her life. When I heard her say that, I had a hard time swallowing that concept.
Why would God allow such suffering in her childhood?
I briefly thought of how many hours she spent praying on her knees. Though forced, could it have still made a difference? She recalls not being sure what to pray for so she would simply pray for the same things her grandmother was praying about: her husband, her family. Could it be that God raised up her family through the prayers that she prayed, kneeling beside her bed as a child?
She has contended for healing and has fought through the feelings and experiences in her early life to forgive. And in return, she has experienced the restoration and the healing that God gives.
Another young woman on our team shared her story with us. She was also given up by her birth mother at age 4 and sent to live elsewhere. Sometimes there was not enough to eat. There was abuse from the people that were supposed to provide for her, protect her and love her. When her mother came back to get her when she was 12, she thought she would finally have the ‘ideal family’ she had believed it would be. Unfortunately, her mom wasn’t able to provide for her in the way she needed. She strove to be the best at everything in order to get the attention and affirmation she so desperately craved. When that fell flat, she chose to get involved in more negative pursuits, believing that that would give her the attention she needed. She turned to drugs, dancing for money and other such activities.
7 years free in Jesus now, she has had a complete turnaround and is someone who is so full of joy. Like, unbelieveable joy! Crazy joy! And she spreads joy everywhere she walks. She walks as a daughter of the King, knowing who she is. She wants everyone else to know that they too, are a truly beloved son or daughter, worthy in their own right and purely loved not because of what they do, but because of who they are as a child of God. She is quick to give out hugs, hold the hands of little girls, put her arms (and heart) around a homeless person. I watched her engage with many people on the trip and my heart burst to see her love on them with such great enthusiasm, the same way that I think Jesus would.
It reminded me of a story that Jesus told in the gospel of Luke where he goes to dinner at a Pharisee’s house. There, the host is offended by the presence of a woman who continuously weeps over Jesus’ feet, washing them with her tears and anointing them with oil. Jesus shares a story of two debtors with the judgemental Pharisee. Jesus affirms the Pharisee when he decides that the person who had been forgiven more debt would love the moneylender more. Jesus then tells him that “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
The two women, whose stories I heard, have known great brokenness, great pain and suffering in their lives, and then… Jesus saved them out of that; He redeemed their lives, and gave them joy for their pain. And they walk out their lives with so much love, reverence and gratefulness to Jesus. They speak boldly about the love of God, and tell confidently of his miraculous restorative power – they have experienced it! They approach others and seek to engage them with the love in their hearts that comes from Jesus.
I too, walk as a redeemed daughter of the King. And yet, there is something different …they seem to know a greater joy than I do… and feel a greater sense of wanting to share this joy with others. I wonder why this is. Could it be that although suffering is not God’s will for us, He molds us according to the circumstances we find ourselves in? Could it be, like the woman at the Pharisee’s home, that they have felt the burden of sin and pain in a deeper way than I have because of the life experiences they have had? Could it be that there is such a stark contrast for them between life before Jesus and life after that they cannot help but share? Could it be that in the parable told by Jesus, that I am like the person with the lesser debt that was forgiven?
I want to walk with greater joy, Jesus! I want to walk with a deeper sense of gratitude and love for you. Would you bless me with greater love for every person? I know that You love people extravagantly … but help me do that too! Help me know the greatness of your love at such a depth that it cannot help but spill over onto people that I meet during my daily walk. Amen!