“Now say ‘I am beautiful.'”
A halfhearted chorus echoed the bubbly African American female detention center chaplain as girls huddled around lunchroom tables in matching purple shirts and khaki pants, lips and ears pierced, with ebony skin and their dark hair decorated in cornrows. A girl who had just received Christ slouched in her seat with tears trickling down her eyes. It crushed my heart watching her, listening to her story as she related to us how her mom hadn’t visited her and she was afraid of her friend hurting herself. These girls were barely out of 9th grade and yet the pain etched into their beautiful faces echoed back at me. It was jarring to realize how sheltered I’ve been. To see their pain and to feel it in my soul as I hugged them and listened to them. Maybe they didn’t really understand what I was saying, but maybe all they needed was someone there to sit with them and show them love. How often am I content with the simplicity of someone’s arms around me? How often do I value my parents’ love? I never had to deal with the reality of their lives . Just realizing their insecurity and seeing myself reflected through it, broke my heart because I am seeing how Jesus sees me. He sees me as beautiful even though I don’t see it. He calls me out amidst this empty, dead world and says, “You are mine.”
I know it’s only the beginning of the story for many of these girls and despite the fact that we ministered to them for such a short while, I’m sure that their lives are full of feeling ugly and terrible and steeped in sin – no young person should have to deal with such a lack of affection, with such hopelessness.
My prayer and my hope is that Jesus will burst through the darkness. In the days ahead, that he would redeem back the time for these girls. I pray and hope that even in their darkest moments ahead that He would enter in and surround them with His love and mercy and grace, showing them His awesome power in a world that just continues to feed lies of how their only identity is found in a boy or in the emptiness of bitterness. Only He can do that. Only He can save.
I’ve encountered so many things this season. I’m not sure if words can even adequately express all I’ve gone through. It’s been a beautiful season, but I never realized that the most beautiful moments come out of pain, that when you’re starving and dying of thirst in a desert, and you seek God desperately, you find that even in those most painful moments, His love wraps around you and reminds you that in his arms you have all you need.
It doesn’t mean it gets easier. Or the pain goes away, or the people stop laughing at you or your plans all fall into place. Sometimes things get worse. The nights get longer and the fears deepen and your heart keeps shattering and you wonder if it will ever be whole again.
But it’s here that I’m learning Jesus doesn’t show up in our lives when they are perfect. It’s like that scene where Jesus and the Pharisees have a standoff and the Pharisees are freaking out that Jesus is associating with sinners.
Mark 2:17 (NKJV)
17 When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”[a]
He meets us in our mess. He sees all of the broken and shattered parts of our lives and has come to make us new. Make us like Him.
When you’ve known a friend for a long time, you assume you know everything about them. You figure that you’ve spent enough time with them in the past. Your busyness crowds out the time you used to spend with them.
I’ve found that I’ve treated God this way in my life.
But Jesus is never too busy for us and He holds the whole world together. I’ve made excuses and been too busy for him more times that I want to admit. But He is always there, waiting for me to return to Him after I’ve sinned – His arms open, drawing me to Him in my suffering, when the pain is too much.
I’ve been so caught up in my career and in making sure people like me that I’ve forgotten that Jesus requires all of me and that the only true faith is a radical kind. It’s faith that hurts when others hurt and prays when there’s no time and it’s faith that forgives even when we’ve been hurt deeply and its faith that expresses itself through love and patience and humility. It’s a continual reliance on the God who loved us so much and died for us to reflect His glory.
Today, I’m so thankful that His mercy manifests itself toward me even after all I’ve done to nail Him to the cross. I once was His enemy, but now I’m his daughter. He made me something new when I came to him years ago. Now He is still working on me, still renewing me. He has never given up on me. And He calls me to a deeper relationship with Him. It’s dangerous and painful and will cost everything, but I can’t help but be excited about this season, to see what my God will do.