When you know you are not only accepted, but loved, you are able to be free in who you are.
It’s a beautiful thing to experience. And sometimes, when it’s experienced through people who barely know you, it’s even more potent.
In Uganda, we were accepted. We were loved. And we were free.
We were welcomed with open arms and loved and celebrated.
I believe this is the kind of love Jesus offers us.
When our group helped out with the Beauty for Ashes conference, some of us were able to speak to around 1,000 single mothers and widows on this very idea. Brandi spoke and told to story of the woman at the well. She was a woman who had probably been through a lot. She came to the well in the heat of the day (most likely because she was not welcomed in the morning when the other women were fetching water). Jesus was waiting for her there (he knew he had a special meeting that day). When he began talking to her, she was astonished. “Why are you, a Jew, talking to me, a Samaritan woman?” He talks to her about ‘living water’ and she doesn’t quite understand. He also gently but knowingly tells her that he knows her. He knows her past and her story, although it was a shaming story to her.
He doesn’t condemn, but invites.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4) The woman was perplexed about this statement still, and continued to ask him more questions. Finally, she gets it. She makes a connection with Jesus and realizes He is no ordinary man. She runs into town to tell all the people (probably the people who didn’t want her coming to the well with them), that she met the Messiah. She brings the people to meet Jesus, and the writer says that “many believed” because of her testimony. When Jesus talks about living water, those who knew the Old Testament might have known what He was really saying. In the book of Jeremiah, he refers to God as “the hope of Israel…the Lord,
the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17). At another time, Jesus was talking to a group of people and said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7)
There’s something about living water.
This story is so important and when Brandi shared, she emphasized that Jesus loves even our broken places. This woman had a history of being with many different men. She was shamed by her community, and probably shamed herself as well. She did not feel worthy to be seen or known. But Jesus met her where she was. He knew her. He accepted her, and loved her.
With acceptance and love comes freedom.
Her story is a picture of freedom…she ran to the town and told everyone. And because of her testimony, people believed.
Many of the women at the Beauty for Ashes conference have been hurt and broken. Many have more than 4 children and are trying to make it in a country where resources are not easy to come by, and where women (especially single mothers and widows) are looked at with distain. We encouraged them to know that first of all, they are not alone and that Jesus knows their story. That He knows their story and loves them just the same (if not more!). Jesus came for the broken. He loves our broken places, and He has the power not only to heal, but to use them for good!
What a gift it was to learn again from the woman at the well, and to learn from these beautiful mothers desperate for hope. I’m grateful for the work that Anne and Rita (more on them later) have done and continue to do with this project, and that we get to play a small part in this BIG picture of bringing beauty from ashes. In the midst of it all, I’m learning how to come again to Jesus with my own broken pieces, and allow Him to love me to the point of bringing true FREEDOM.