Love, Not Religion
When I first met Jordan I was first impressed and intimidated by her size. At seventeen years old she was just shy of 5'11" and had the build most high school football coaches would recruit for a varsity team. She wore black sweats and a red t-shirt (you wouldn't catch her dead in the color blue), her curly brown hair sweeping stiff shoulders that begged for a hug while her chin jutted into the air as if to say, "I dare you to try." She was intimidating, but she had the easygoing demeanor of a big sister. She laughed a lot, but it was more often than to divert others attention from the tears that filled her eyes too quickly. I was eight inches shorter than her and about twenty pounds lighter, but all I wanted to do was pull her into a hug and tell her to just let go. It would be weeks before she'd even let the tears fall.
She'd been in a gang since she was a little girl. There was much of her life that she wouldn't tell me, but when I showed up Monday nights to lead a Bible study she had no problem telling me there was no chance in hell she was going to go. I just smiled and told her she was welcome anytime she changed her mind. When she was selected to join a group going out to EMBRACE, an equine ministry, one afternoon, she was appalled and swept off her feet by the love of Jesus through the hearts and hugs of the staff sharing their horses and God's word. Jordan came to my Bible study the next Monday night.
What has continued to strike me about Jordan's story is that it wasn't by force or will that she came to want to know about Jesus. It was love that drew her in. It would be another few weeks of learning about Jesus' love and sacrifice for her, his forgiveness and mercy, before she broke down in front of me. She sat on a bench with sobs racking her shoulders, tears streaming down her face in enormous rivers staining her cheeks red. Her eyes filled with pools of grief, regret and more pain than I think I've ever seen in someone before or since. She couldn't speak. I just wrapped my arm around her shoulders as she covered her face with the neck of her t-shirt, hiding her shame as she wept. I kept repeating, "You're forgiven. You're forgiven. Jesus loves you, Jordan. He loves you so much..." and all she could do was shake her head as she continued to cry, "You don't know what I've done."
Isaiah 43:18-19 says God makes a new way in the desert. He calls us to forget the former things, things of the past. Psalm 103 says He separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. In Christ we are a new creation. The old is gone, for good. The hard part comes in believing it. Jordan had lived through more pain and suffering than most people have do face in a lifetime. That pain doesn't just go away when you get to know Jesus. But healing is possible. It has to start with believing it's possible.
The truth is, you are forgiven. God provides a way through the pain and hurt by believing that there is a way, and that way is through Jesus Christ being made Lord and savior of your life. It's not enough to remove the things that cause you pain. You have to replace those hurts and hardships with life and love. The only love that never ceases, never falls short and is always steadfast and abundant comes from Jesus Christ. His love never fails.
Jordan completed treatment and has managed to leave the gang life behind. I had the wonderful pleasure of being able to have lunch with her last week and she has more than 250 days clean and sober, was even wearing blue nail polish and was working toward finishing school and heading to Job Corps. Jesus is not yet Lord of her life, but she still wears a cross necklace and reads her Bible once in awhile. God is working, in His time, which is always perfect and good. It's leaps and bounds from where she was when I first met her, and it's been less than one year since then.
Love has led her closer to Jesus, and there is no greater place to be. One step at a time. The leap may look impossible, the climb insurmountable, but with one step at a time Jesus leads us to freedom.