There she sat on our back patio. Vulnerable, emotionally exposed. Events from the past week had spurred this conversation. And now she was opening up about her life for the first time since she’s been here. Slowly, cautiously, and quietly. Careful to not make eye contact. Still and frozen she sat as she answered our questions. A few words at a time. And then her voice broke. And the tears came falling. And they couldn’t stop. There she sat. Broken in every way. Hurting in every way. Raw and ready to cling onto something – anything – that would take the pain away.
Her heart has been destroyed by the sin of this world. She’s been let down by the people who were supposed to love her the most. It hurts her. But it also angers her. She’s tried many things to make herself feel better. But the ‘feel-good’ things become fleeing fantasies, only filling the void for a short time. The pain stays, and she can’t get away. A deep hurt that nothing seems to cover, or fill, or take away.
This was the place that Jake and I had prayed that she would come to. A heart softened and ready for TRUTH to come busting in.
Jake begins to share his story. He knows about the internal prison. He knows what that feels like. Obsessions. Complusions. Racing thoughts. Acting on them so that they would go away. “But it never went away,” he said. “My obsessions just moved on to something else, and it became a vicious cycle. Until Jesus stepped into my life. And then I found freedom from my prison.” He shares parts of my story. Emptyness in the ‘missing piece’ of a relationship with my earthly father. The searching for fulfillment and identity. And finally, the realization that what I was thirsting for all along was actually a relationship with Jesus.
She looks up. For the first time these are no longer just words to her. Her eyes tell us she can relate. She waits for more.
“You can have a new life,” I say. “People will always let you down. But God never will. You can keep trying to chase after the things of this world to fill you up. But they only will for a time. You will just wind up empty again and again. That’s because simply covering up the pain will never get it to go away.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait to go to church on Sunday,” she says excitedly and with a smile.
“Why do you like church so much?” Jake asks.
Silence. And then, “I love the worship time. I love singing to God,” she says.
“You feel close to Him when you sing praises to Him, don’t you?” I say. “I used to feel the same way in college. Church was where I experienced God, where I was pulled in and felt close to Him. But when I left church that feeling would always go away. I only experienced that high at church. Eventually I learned that it doesn’t have to go away! If you put your faith in Jesus he makes an amazing promise to you – He’ll give you his Spirit! He’ll live inside of you! You can have those same feelings that you have in church - every single day of your life! But first you have to surrender your heart to Jesus. Until you do that, His Spirit won’t come to you. God can see right into your heart, and He will know when you’ve asked Him to make His home there.”
This is not the first time she’s heard it. But now it’s starting to make sense. She’s starting to understand that she is talking to two witnesses of God’s transforming power. The evidence sits in front of her. It’s in our words, in our stories, in our past, in our present. She didn't know us then, but she sees it now. She gets it. God has given Jake and I new life, and now our lives are filled with hope. Hope. It’s so attractive to her.
Sunday comes. We sit in church. It is a day for baptisms. She listens intently to a girl from China, who spills her heart open in the baptismal waters. She sits next to me and takes notes as the young girl says, “When I first heard scripture from the Bible, they were just stories to me. I didn’t believe them.” The young girl from China goes on and speaks of her broken life, God’s transforming power, of hope in a Savior who she has now put her faith in. Another witness proclaiming that Jesus is real. His Spirit is real. His offer of life is real. The young girl shares her favorite verse, “1 John 5:11-12 says: This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. ” Her pleading words hang in the air as she goes under the water, and then comes back up to an explosion of applauding and cheers.
Sunday afternoon rolls around. I take a break from cleaning and decide to check Facebook where a sweet surprise awaited. Her status: *I Am Ready To Surrender To My Savior! I Am Ready. Jake Sullivan & Janel Sullivan Can You Help Me? Surrender To Our Savior. I Don't Care If People Make Fun Of Me At Rosebud Or Anywhere I Am PROUD To Get To Know Jesus At Least I Give It A Chance. (: I Want To Share & Help People Learn About Jesus Christ.
She’s ready. She’s ready to surrender her life to the One, the only One, who gave His very life for her. She’s ready to accept His free gift of new life. I go get her and tell her to come upstairs. Jake and I lay our hands on her and pray over her. God’s Spirit floods the room - we all feel it. I lead her through a prayer, but they aren’t just words to her. She gets it. Her heart is genuine. She cries as she repeats my words back to her Savior God for the first time. Broken. And Beautiful.
Our prayer ends and a smile widens across her face. We rejoice together in her day of salvation, not because the road ahead will be easy, but because hope has enveloped her in an embrace. An embrace that will never let go.
She feels the magnitude of her decision almost immediately. Many of her church friends celebrate her faith and encourage her. Many more old friends hear of her new faith and insult her, reject her, and say hurtful things. They de-friend her on facebook and write her off. They tell her they will beat her up if she ever comes back to the rez. Already it’s hard. She’s had to choose Jesus over friends. She’s confused. Why are people making fun of her? Why would ‘friends’ leave her so quickly?
My mind wanders to His words, knowing He too was rejected by the very ones He came to save. It doesn’t make sense. But His words bring light, ‘Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don't like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this (Luke 6:22-23).’
Another reminder that in the end, people will still fail her, and her expectations of them will too. But now she can see things differently. Now she’s committed to following the One and Only True God who will supernaturally meet her needs with His grace, time and again, in ways that I will never be able to explain to her in words. Her Savior has given her hope.
Hope. It's what she needed all along.
A hope that will never fail her or leave her empty the way people and relationships can. A hope that no one could ever take away. A hope that that will always float, no matter the circumstances, no matter the trials, no matter if she fails again and again. A hope for this life, and an eternal hope for the next. This hope will not disappoint her. Ever.
All heaven applauds. The old self - broken. The new self - looking beautiful in the precious and redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. Broken, beautiful, and hope-filled. Let new life begin…..