Many years ago, while running a ministry for those involved in the sex industry and through a series of other divine circumstances, I met a young woman. There was a noticeable fragility about her; how fearful she was to make decisions and how much she seemed to desire guidance and encouragement. We had a long distance friendship, and as time passed our conversations on the phone turned into visits out to California. The friendship deepened– and my husband Matt and I gained a sobering understanding of how the heart-breaking experiences of our sweet friend had shaped and left her with a broken life, a broken view of her self-worth and a broken view of what relationships should look like. Throughout the years we walked with her through a relentless series of tragedies that seemed as if they would never let up, from losing custody of her daughter, to the loss and betrayals of friends, and then, her mom’s suicide. As her emotional capacity began to unravel, I saw how the circumstances of her life left her completely ill-equipped to cope, and ultimately led to the poor choices she was making in the wake of her pain. What we had learned was that Amber was a victim of the human trafficking cesspool, and we were watching her drown without the skills, resources, or relationships to survive.
I knew what Amber needed. She needed a place to be real. She needed a place to heal and people that loved her to walk alongside her in the process. However, she was 1583 miles away. So began my frantic search for ministries and organizations that would help her through the process of healing. The outcome of my toil was bleak, either Amber was too old, or the organizations were full, or they were about human trafficking awareness but didn’t actually help women. Both dumbfounded and angry, and in full blown research mode, I remember sitting at my kitchen table after midnight becoming so frustrated at the dead-ends, that I was yelling and crying simultaneously at all the people out there not doing anything. That’s when I felt the undeniable reprimand of the Holy Spirit. I stopped mid-tirade at his presence and felt like I heard in my spirit, “Maybe they aren’t doing anything because this is not THEIRS to do. This is YOURS to do.” I was awash with the realization of how hypocritical I was being. God had very intentionally positioned me to be an influence in Amber’s life, with all the resources that she needed in my midst, and yet I was angry that others weren’t helping her. I felt beyond convicted.
Giving What I’ve Been Given
With much prayer, wise counsel, and the support of our community group, Matt and I invited Amber to start a new life in California…to come live with us. Today, not only has she become a part of OUR family, but through her kindness, loyalty, and fierce love, Amber is impacting many other families and students through her friendship and service at Sandals Church. Her story is one of redemption and hope, and a reminder to all of us who claim to be believers that our love can’t just stop at loving Jesus, but it must be extended to those around us. It wasn’t until later that she told me she didn’t think she’d be alive if we didn’t make the choice we did, and in that moment, every opposing argument, inhibition, and anxiety about her coming came to mind, and I realized we had been at war…only we hadn’t known the stakes were so high during the battle.
It would be so easy to stop now and leave it at that, as if I’m a model example of living out our Christian faith and sharing it with others, but the reality is, more often than not, I’m selfish. Even though I know what’s at stake, I’m often more likely to come home, pull in my drive way and hope no one in my neighborhood makes eye contact. I’m often more likely to avoid random conversation while waiting in lines, pumping gas, or waiting for my daughter’s volleyball practice to be over. I’m often more likely to avoid starting a new relationship because our life feels so relationally saturated, like there is not enough time to invest in the relationships I already have, let alone start more. If I’m being completely honest, this is the reality of what happens in my mind..
I think somewhere in me is the idea of “self-preservation.” I feel the need to personally protect my time, or my heart. But this type of mentality is a lie. It comes from the enemy who is subtly trying to keep me from living my greatest purpose on this earth, which is to know Christ AND make him known. We are incomplete and left wanting on the inside if we are not living out this purpose. The reality is that when we risk sharing our lives and our faith with others, we come alive. This girl who tends to insulate and isolate when tired or fearful reached out of her protective barrier and began to receive in unanticipated and incomprehensible ways… I’m so thankful for how the journey of bringing Amber here has awakened me to the needs of the world, refined my heart and taught me how to truly love.
You can read in more detail about Amber’s powerful story from her own words at: http://cultivate.sc/2016/12/01/amber/
When I think of what the world truly needs, my service of trying to create aesthetically pleasing spaces and experiences, can feel shallow, insignificant or unnecessary. Then God reminds me of the “why”. I work toward creating these spaces so that…his beauty, creativity and love are on display in a way that others are drawn in and compelled to explore and experience Jesus in a different way. So that people have a space in which they feel comfortable discovering what it means to be real. So that they have a place to rest their soul-weary heads, so to speak. One of the kindest things we can do is give people a home. There’s something in knowing we have a home that brings an immeasurable amount of security to our lives. A true home, where we are loved and safe and our hearts can rest. A place to come back to at the end of a long day, week, or season of life. A place where we remember who we really are in the depths of our being and begin to piece back together the fragments of our shattered selves that have been broken by the difficult circumstances we face in the world.
I have needed this home so many times. I have several homes. Some are places, others are people. Yet, I am often convicted when I ask myself the simple question-How am I creating a home for people in my world? Am I really a safe haven? Am I extending the love and safety of Jesus to those who desperately need him and don’t even know that Jesus is the home for which they have been longing?
Recently one morning, I sat down with my coffee and I picked up an old devotional that had now sadly been serving more like a coffee table book than something I actually engage…the title that day was “Where the Battle is Won or Lost”. It went on to point out that battles are won or lost in the secret places of our will in God’s presence. I was so challenged by the idea that sometimes God brings us to a major crossroad in life. From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our best for His glory.
This was a personally transformative scripture I read in Jeremiah 4:1-3…
“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” For thus say the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.”
When I read “fallow ground”, I had to discover what is actually meant, not just what I thought it meant. “Fallow ground” is ground that has been plowed and readied for sowing, but then is withheld and allowed to remain unproductive and useless. I couldn’t help think about how tragic to go to so much effort to make something ready only to never have the original purpose realized. I couldn’t help but think that we are all at risk of living out that tragedy…that God would break up our hardened hearts and rescue us only for us to miss our destiny…the destiny of living the adventurous, sacrificial life of loving and bringing hope to others by sharing our life in Jesus with them.
My prayer that day and today, for me and for you…
Father, thank you for your steadfast love. Thank you for your endless supply of grace. Thank you for not giving up on me. Please show me those areas of my life where I am withholding. Show me the territory in my life that I need to surrender to you so that you may sow the seeds you have set aside to grow there. Show me where I am being unproductive and yet you always envisioned a harvest. Do not allow me to be easily distracted, prideful or cater to fear. Give me…give all of us…the wisdom, strength, determination, capacity, energy, life and joy to pursue your vision for our lives…to love you with everything we’ve got AND love others the same. For yours is the Kingdom, power and glory forever. Amen.
Reflect on this…
Who or what is at risk if I decide NOT to share what Jesus has done in my life?
In what ways or in which areas of my life am I allowing pride, fear or distraction to keep me from sharing my faith with others?
How am I creating a safe place for people in my sphere of influence to be real with me about their areas of struggle and brokenness?
Is there someone that God is calling me to extend love to and be a ‘home’ for that may require a real sacrifice on my part? If so, what next steps do I need to take to be available to come alongside the work that God is doing?