We were in and out of friendship over the years, some years closer than others. I was never sure why or what it was that drew her to me, but one thing I did know for sure: I couldn’t shake the feeling that Leah was keeping a secret…or hiding herself from me altogether.
A couple of years ago, after not seeing Leah for quite a while, I was asked to share about evangelism at a small Bible study she attended. Our “hello” was warm but distant. The women’s group met in a beautiful home that was one of the most lavish I’ve ever visited. My theme for the morning was “Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone” because that’s what sharing the gospel of Jesus requires of you: stepping out. I asked the hostess if we could sit in her garage for our time that day. I felt we needed to sit on stiff chairs, to be surrounded by blank walls, and to feel the chill from the outside bother us. As women who live on the north side of town, drive comfortable cars, live in updated, decorated homes, have highlighted hair, and wear the latest fashions, we need to be moved from the comfortable to the uncomfortable. If we are going to learn and grow to understand what it really means to be stretched, (and I don’t mean by the hot yoga class at our trendy gym) then we need to “feel the burn.”
As I taught my lesson, Leah sat across from me seemingly unaffected by the stories of life-change and transformation I shared. Meanwhile, the room grew colder and colder; I began to see that I was losing my audience and needed to engage with them in order to connect them to my passion. I asked questions and prompted them into possible scenarios so they could “role-play” along with me. Then came a powerful question: “What do you do if you don’t have the gift of evangelism?” I answered, “You share the love of Jesus anyway, anywhere you can.” I continued, “I am a road sign to Jesus. I don’t need to judge whether someone needs Him for salvation or sanctification. I just point the way to His love and forgiveness.” I also explained that I love to share about Jesus – so much so, it is like an addiction. I can’t get enough of Him!
Not surprisingly, then, the next comment completely stunned me. A women said, “Yeah, well, I’m addicted to other things, and I don’t have time for that much Jesus.”
I sat there with my peer group, these ten churched women who, between them, have the means to feed a third-world country. And I felt invisible. I felt odd. I wrapped up my lesson, said some general good-byes, but Leah and I never connected.
Not long after that, my friend Yvonne mentioned Leah to me. She expressed that she and Leah were having lunch and my name came up. Leah was commenting on the distance that had grown between us, and she was now sure of the cause. My dear friend knew God was up to something. So we prayed.
It became clear to me that I needed to reach out to Leah by inviting her into my home. Leah and her husband Charlie had attended a marriage Bible study in our home when they were just newlyweds. We had developed a nice friendship during that time, and I’d hoped to rekindle that old feeling through hospitality: it has been my experience that having someone in my home instantly creates an atmosphere of intimacy and openness.
So our friend, Yvonne, and I welcomed Leah in as soon as she came to the door, not waiting for her to even ring the doorbell! We chatted and shared our lives for a bit, and then I jumped right in and asked her about her spiritual life. The tears came right away as she shared her heartache over her shattered marriage, her troubled children, and the distance between her and her Savior. She asked us why the Bible seemed so cold and why she was floundering in her understanding to know her purpose in life. I read scripture to her and asked her to let us pray over her. Her crying surged into heaving, and she wept uncontrollably.
When Leah was able to regain her words, she asked me about the stories she saw on the news about my ministry. She wanted to hear more about how it all started, so I shared and she blew her nose and sopped up her mascara tracks.
I told her about Baby Nicholas and then about Nichole naming her aborted child, Natasha. I shared about how we memorialized the babies together and that the healing came over Nichole like a flood of grace. Leah went stone silent. The flowing well of tears stopped as she listened, and I recognized a noticeable shift in her countenance. I paused, sensing she wanted to say something. “I cannot believe you have just told me that story,” she sighed. “I, too, have had an abortion, and I have never told anyone. Can God ever forgive me? Can you ever look at me with respect again?” Where there didn’t seem to be the possibility of more tears, the dam brook loose, and she sobbed two decades worth of tears. Yvonne and I took turns holding her in that silent afternoon at my house. We prayed and consoled our sweet sister who was wallowing in her shame.
I closed my eyes to pray for myself, asking the Lord to minister to her through me. What can I give her to suave this pain and guilt? My eyes were drawn to the porcelain blue and white foot basin my sister Jane had given me after my mother died. Jane blessed me with the honor of that beautiful foot basin because I had washed my mother’s feet when she died. When my mother breathed her last at sunset, the sinking sun staining the water aqua blue that day in June, I called our hospice nurse to notify her my mother’s spirit had gone home.
When Sandy, my angel with invisible wings, arrived she asked us if we would like her to wash our mother.
“Oh, be still my heart, wash her you said?”
“Yes,” she said, “to prepare her.”
Humility and holy dignity filled the room like a cloud. I said, “Yes you may. But I want to bathe her feet.”
It seemed so fitting that I honor my mother in death as I had in her life. The night she asked me to write her eulogy and she explained to me why she choose me, I gathered a basin then, and washed her feet. It was the first time I heard her surrender to knowing she was dying. She held my face in her silky hands and asked me to forgive her for her private failings; I told her I already had. We lingered in the sweetness of grace enjoying a peace between us we had never known before.
And so it was that the night of my mother’s death, I washed her pretty feet. I lathered her Chanel face cream on her feet and ankles with liberty and love. The sacred time of preparation and cleansing was the holiest I had ever experienced. My father watched as we put her white linen nightgown on her for the last time. The funeral home caregivers arrived and readied her to leave: I couldn’t bear to see her leave her home, so I went to lay on the pillow of her bed and smell her for the last time.
Knowing my love for blue and white, Jane found and gave me the basin as a tribute to my mother: that would be the basin I would use to wash this broken women’s feet, showing her by example that her Savior loved her, called her “daughter”, and forgave her with endless mercy. I bowed before her with towel in hand and thanked Jesus for the privilege of serving Him and His child by the right of washing with water and word. The fear, shame and guilt faded away as Yvonne and I encouraged her to live in freedom and to choose by her will to live as a forgiven woman.
Later that week, I bought Leah the book Unplanned with the hope that reading the compelling testimony of Abby Johnson would help her understand the courage, passion, and purpose lived out in her redemptive story. Perhaps, then, Leah would find her path for serving God by reading a story of life change. I had anticipated seeing Leah soon so I could give her the book in person; yet, months and months passed without encountering her. Still, I stayed in touch with her while she continued to report how blocked she was, shut down really, unable to name her child. She spent time with the Lord seeking His heart on this and He seemed silent. I pressed her to be patient and to realize that she had buried this secret so deep for so long, it would take time for it surface in revelation.
More time passed, and we didn’t connect much. Then one day I was cleaning off my cluttered desk when I came across the book I had bought for Leah. I asked the Lord what He wanted for me to do with it, and I clearly felt the answer in my heart: mail it to her. So I did, that very day. The next day I received a text saying thank you; four weeks later, she texted me again to say she had finished the book and that she wanted to meet as soon as possible. My heart felt her passion and sincerity, and I agreed to see her that afternoon. I had an expectant heart and knew God was moving!
When Leah came to the door, she was radiant. We talked with ease and caught up on the lives of our children. The season of celebration was present in her home, and there was joy in her heart overflowing. We talked about the book and how it opened up so much emotion for her: it had even pricked a desire in her to serve in the community. She wanted to know all the possible ministries she could consider serving alongside. Her mother’s heart was full and ready to birth something new.
Leah shared she was ready to name her child but needed help from me to explore how to choose one. She sensed her child was a girl: to help her, I asked questions and shared stories with her about how other women had come up with a name. Leah recalled one friend who helped her with her recovery from the abortion and how she was such a caring comfort to her. Once she knew her baby’s first name was Mary, giving her the middle name Elizabeth, after her friend, seemed right.
We prayed and blessed one another, bonded with the sacred dignity of naming this precious child, who was hidden for so long, but now known and recognized as worthy. Years ago, I suggested to Leah that she receive the online devotion from Christine Wyrtzen’s Daughters of Promise Ministry. I didn’t realize she had faithfully read them daily but just days later, after naming Mary, she sent me a devotion from Christine. She said she was now ready to name the child she miscarried. God was giving her healing upon healing! This name came so much more quickly to Leah. She asked me for some website resources because she wanted to be sure the names had significant meaning. She dug into her conviction to follow through on what God was moving her to do. She told me her name was Danielle because it means, “God is my judge.” Leah then said she was searching for a middle name that meant “obedience” because she said, “I am doing all of this out of obedience.” “Is that weird?” she questioned. The tears this poor woman had spilled in shame have been turned into a waterfall of blessing. God was bringing her into His River of Living Water all because she trusted Him to bring life out of death.
Only two days passed before I received another text reading, “I am feeling like her name is Danielle Christine. Her devotional was instrumental in my decision, and it means “anointed or Christ-Bearer.” My heart sang and I fell to my knees rejoicing and thanking God for all He had done in Leah’s heart, all because she had confessed, trusted, waited, and sought after His holy heart.
One month later, Leah decided to call Life Centers to offer her time and heart as a volunteer. When they didn’t call her back, she asked me if that was a “closed-door” message for her. I told her to just wait. This week at church we were given the challenge to serve in the Kingdom. The ministry highlight was Life Centers, who had a booth in the lobby ready for anyone to sign up or ask questions. The first person out there after service was Leah. She is not asking any longer what her purpose is or what God’s will is for her life: she is only asking, “Where do I sign up?!”