Courage

More than two years ago I met a 10 year-old little girl named Reina. She wouldn’t talk to anyone, she wouldn’t shake other people’s hands, and she wouldn’t even look up when people talked to her.

She had a broken spirit – at the age of 10!

But that was going to change.

Her world was not what it was meant to be. Broken men and women with darkness in their hearts had built a different reality around this little girl than what was intended. The result was a distorted shadow of the truth that blocked all that was good and filled the void with nothing but pain, suffering, and everything that discourages.

At the time I met her I didn’t know how this was going to change. I didn’t know the story of redemption that God was planning on writing. But God did.

You see, God was not satisfied with what was going on around her. He had not forgotten her, He loved her dearly, and He was going to fight for her.

And the best part of it all? He was going to win.

The Story

Over two years God has allowed me to be a part of this girl’s redemption story. It has been the most meaningful and overwhelmingly God-infused story I have ever had the honor to be a part of. I have watched as He has provided for her and her family, spoken words of truth to her through His servants, and fought with an unmatched zeal to shine light into the darkness and begin to redeem that which was broken (click here to read more of her story).

I have watched as she has learned how to trust, not only others but also herself. I have watched as she has learned the value of her life, as she has realized that she is the same as others, and as she has internalized the FACT that she is capable, special, and loved.

Where Reina used to look down, she now stands tall and looks me in the eye. Where she didn’t shake my hand, she now hugs me. Where she did not speak, she now not only answers questions, but also asks questions of her own and speaks with more confidence every day.

These changes were on clear display this trip. The whole family showed off their garden to the team and hugged each team member (click here to read that story). Three of the oldest little girls jumped at the chance to work with us on the census and they played an important role in our team. I watched as all of them let the Aggies pour out love on them, praise them, hug them, and walk alongside them. I watched as they smiled and laughed and played. And I watched as they ignored everything around them that told them they were worthless and clung to the truth that they are precious, loved children of our King.

It was beautiful.

Two Moments from this Trip

There are two moments that really struck me. Both came while we were doing the VBS the first day. The first was when we had finished the skit and had broken up the age groups to work on crafts. I had gone to where the little kids were to help translate and get things rolling. I turned and noticed that Reina had followed me but was on the outside watching. I made eye contact with her and she came over.

I asked her if she wanted to help me pass out paper to the kids and she smiled, nodded her head, and stuck out her hands. She passed out the sheets flawlessly and when everyone had one she came back over to me. I turned to her and told her how good of a job she did and she just smiled.

She didn’t look down, she didn’t turn her head, and she didn’t hesitate. She simply smiled a smile that could have brightened even the gloomiest of days. She had never done that before and I knew in that moment that something was different, I just wasn’t sure what it was.

I then made my way down to the older kids to help out there. Reina stuck with me and when we arrived I didn’t have time to ask for her help – she beat me to the punch. She saw what needed to be done and stuck out her hands as she had done with the paper. I didn’t even have to explain, she just started doing it. And then came the second moment.

We were passing out pieces of yarn to each child. Some got green, some got red. Reina had run out of red so she was just giving out green. She reached a boy about two years younger than she and handed him a green piece of yarn. He looked at her and I could tell he was about to cause a problem.

Even amongst the poorest of the poor there are socio-economic statuses. Those of the higher rungs look down upon those below them and try to assert their will upon them to make themselves feel more important. Reina’s family is in the lowest rung of the community and everyone knows it. Based on his clothes I could tell he was in one of the higher rungs and he was about to “remind” her of that. He said, “Why do YOU get to decide what color I get? I want red. Go get me a red.”

Usually in these moments I step in and remind this type of kid that everyone is equal, he is going to get what gets, and that if he doesn’t like it then he can leave. But I didn’t have time. She looked him right back in the eye, stood her ground, gave him a look that said don’t mess with me, and then told him, “You can have green or green.” The boy froze, looked confused, and then, in what I can only describe as a state of shock, he nodded and turned around with his green yarn.

WHOA!! Where did that come from?!?!? I wanted so badly to let out a victoriously yell, to put her on my shoulders and run around chanting “REI-NA! REI-NA!”, or to bust out my patented happy dance – SOMETHING to celebrate this moment! But instead I just stood there, let what I just saw sink in, and smiled.

Afterwards I gave her a big hug, told her I was sooo proud of her, and that I didn’t think that boy would ever give her a problem again but if he did he’d have to answer to me. She smiled and hugged me back more tightly than she has ever hugged me before.

Analyzing

After that hug I stood there blown away for a few minutes, just lost in the glory of the moment. This was not the same little girl I had met 2 years ago. It just couldn’t be. The changes were too great, her joy too deep-seated, and her confidence too strong. “How did this happen??” I asked myself, overjoyed and overcome with the grandeur of it all.

I knew it was God moving, but this change was larger than ANY change I had ever seen in anyone in my entire life. My brain was processing it, my heart could feel it, but my soul was for some reason having trouble reconciling it. And that’s when it hit me.

The reason all of these things were happening this trip was not because of something that had changed in us. It was because of something that had changed in her and had changed in her sisters.

Up until this point they had listened to what we had to say, and somewhere between the first moment we met and this trip they decided to BELIEVE what we had to say, but this trip they took the final step; they stepped out in faith and changed the behavior of their life to align their actions with what they believed in their heart to be true.

They had begun to let the power of redeeming love reshape everything they knew into that which it really is: God’s constant reminder of just how much He loves us.

I don’t care who you are, that takes great courage.

Why? Because them accepting that love as truth is a HUGE risk. They have been let down by so many different people in so many different places and in so many different ways. They have experienced the worst this world has to offer and by all accounts have the most reason to doubt everything we have told them. And yet, in that moment, when that little boy questioned Reina, she decided to believe in something that was greater than her adversary, that was greater than her fear.

According to the world she has the least amount of reasons to trust, but she trusted still.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter where you are, what you have experienced, or how big or how little your life has been; one thing remains constant: love is worth the risk. Especially the abundant, faithful, powerful love of our Father.

Redeeming Love

It is the great redeemer, the great healer, the great encourager, the great teacher, and the great sustainer. There is nothing that compares to love and there never will be. That is why it is worth the risk and worth the fight! Because when all else fails, when sadness has invaded our heart, when doubt is crushing our spirit, and even when death’s cold fingers are reaching out for our very lives, we can stand there, unmoved and undeterred, and shout with all we are that there is nothing we will fear for as long as we have love.

God’s love IS big enough, bold enough, strong enough, and passionate enough to overcome all that is set against us. And the best part? It is ours for all eternity.

Now, can you imagine what this world (or our own lives) would look like if we all REALLY believed that?? What if we REALLY believed in God’s faithfulness to his promises – especially the one about Him being good? What if we REALLY believed that He wants what is best for us; that He is constantly and overwhelmingly battling not just for our hearts, but for a life he has marked out for us to live that is beyond anything we could achieve on our own? A life full of receiving and sharing redeeming love.

And what if we did more than just believe that? What if we aligned our lives to it?

What if we had the same courage that Reina has to stop listening to everything and everyone that tells us that this is as good as it gets? What if, instead of letting our own doubts supersede the size and scope of our King, we listened to the only voice that matters and trusted in the words that He has spoken?

I look at those little girls and the change they have undergone, and you know what? I want that for my own life. I want to be overwhelmed by goodness, redeemed by truth, and transformed by love.

I want to be able to say that I have lived my life with even half the courage of these little girls. That I have given my Lord and King all that I am – my future and my present, my pains and my joys, my hopes and my dreams, my failures and successes – that all of it I have placed in His hands, trusting in His goodness and provision to lead me all the days of my life.

And finally, I want to live my life in a way that testifies every single day that I have been redeemed by the most amazing promise ever made AND that “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

What if we lived like that? What if, starting today, we both did more than just believe?

What a glorious day that would be.

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