I wrote this post after reflecting for awhile on a friendship I got to watch develop while I was in Belize. One of our team members blew my mind and inspired me with her fantastic grace and unconditional love for one of society’s forgotten children, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
We’ll call her Elizabeth. She is twelve.
Her standard American name does nothing to conceal the reality that her life – with all of its tragedies and heartache and struggle – is far from American.
In her twelve years of life, she has seen more than my sheltered mind can dream of. She has suffered things that no one should suffer, regardless of age. She has been changed forever by things she has had no control over…things done to her by one who should have been protecting her. She lives every day with the consequences of someone else’s impulses and poor decisions. She is mocked…scorned…fearful of showing her face anywhere because, well, what will people say? What will they think? How will they look at her and laugh at her and talk about her?
And what is she going to do? Oh, Jesus…what is she going to do?
Elizabeth is heartbroken and afraid. Things appear hopeless until one day, a mission team comes. On that team is another girl, not much older than Elizabeth. The new friend is American, with another typical American name, and has lived the typical American life. Elizabeth, with her heartache written all over her face, appears to be the elder of the two. Their stories are very different. Their lives are very different.
But the new friend…she looks at Elizabeth like few other people do. She smiles at her not because there is laughter bubbling under the surface, but because there is love and compassion pouring out. She hugs her. She includes her. She calls her “friend.” She voluntarily spends time with her, looking for ways to show her how treasured she is rather than all of the reasons the world would discard her.
For the first time, Elizabeth knows acceptance. Love. Grace. Unmerited favor.
And she begins to smile. As she tastes candy for the first time and collects a rainbow of plastic bracelets and laughs at silly stories with her new friend, she thinks that maybe, things will be okay. No, her life has not changed. No, her situation does not look any better. SHE is different, though. She has looked into friendly eyes and there, at last, she locked eyes with the One who sees her for all that she is. There, at last, she encounters Jesus.
After a few days, Elizabeth’s new friend has to return home to the United States. Addresses are exchanged. Hugs and tears are shared. Two very different lives have changed because of a few days when their paths were allowed to merge.
The mission team will be back, and Elizabeth will be waiting. When that happens, Jesus will again be in the midst of the girls, and He will continue rewriting their stories as only He can.