Through our work at Authentic Intimacy, Linda Dillow and I have met hundreds of women on a healing journey. Some are dealing with sexual trauma, others infidelity and betrayal, and still others can’t shake the shame from their past. We have witnessed the power of our God’s healing and believe that he invites each of us to exchange our “ashes for beauty” and “our mourning for a garment of praise.” In our new book, Surprised by the Healer, we share the stories of nine women who have been transformed by Jesus’ love. Angel is one of them.
Angel found the Lord in prison. She was addicted to crack cocaine and was selling her body for drug money. You would never know it if you met her today. This is a woman who has been absolutely transformed from the inside out.
In her own words, Angel went from seeing herself as a "crack whore" to a “redeemed, loved, forgiven, adored, new creature.” This is as much a healing as if she had been healed of cancer. Maybe more so. The radical love of Jesus transformed Angel in a powerful, magnificent way.
If asked, most Christian women would say, “Of course Jesus loves me.” This truth may be the first thing we learn about the Christian faith. How many of us know the song “Jesus Loves Me” but haven’t discovered the radical love that changed Angel?
In the Gospels, we see glimpses of women like Angel who were known in their communities as sinners. Jesus’ love and forgiveness changed the identities of these women. Whether we live on the streets or overlooking a country club, we desperately need the power of Jesus’ love to change us.
There are many, many women who know the songs, have read the books, and heard the sermons telling of Jesus’ love but have never personally experienced it. They may have fish stickers on their cars and John 3:16 plastered on their walls. Or they may be walking the streets convinced that Jesus died for the “church people” and that his love could never make it to their neighborhood. And so the love of God remains a cliché, a nice thought that has no practical power in their healing.
Oh, how we want you to experience the transforming love of Jesus in your brokenness! The Scriptures that proclaims God’s unfailing love is meant to speak of a living, radical truth that applies personally to you.
Angel’s story demonstrates three things about Jesus’ love that may be pivotal to you in your healing journey and to the role you might play in another’s introduction to the Healer.
Angel met the Lord through a tiny, red-haired woman named Becky. Becky walked the streets of her city in the middle of the night to reach out to women like Angel. She visited prisons to share Jesus’ love. Her act of courage changed Angel’s life and many others. Becky didn’t have an eloquent speech or even a hot meal to offer. No building or program. She just showed up with a simple message of God’s love.
While God could and sometimes does extend his message of love supernaturally, most often he loves through the arms of a "Becky." There are a thousand reasons why Becky shouldn’t have visited Angel in jail. Can you hear Becky’s thoughts? I have nothing in common with this street woman. How could I make a difference in this wounded woman’s life? Why would she listen to me? Becky pushed the thoughts away and said, “Okay, God, I’m going. Do your work!”
Sexual brokenness, by its very definition, happens in relationship. The destructive messages that come from abuse, rejection, and sexual sin haunt a woman in the core of her identity. Whether she is walking the streets or teaching a Bible study, she is convinced that “No one would ever love me if they really knew me. I’m damaged goods.” When Becky just loved Angel where she was (in jail) as she was (a crack whore), without wanting anything in return, it forced Angel to consider, If Becky can love me, then just maybe God can too!
As a wise man once said, “We are not loved because we are worthy; we are worthy because we are loved." Becky wisely didn’t march into the prison with judgment or a list of ways Angel needed to change her life. She didn’t present Angel with conditions in order to be embraced by Jesus’ love.
The Bible says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, KJV). If you are under any illusion that you are loved by God because of something you’ve done or who you are, remember that no one deserves the love of Christ. We were all in our own prison, in a fog of sin, and desperate for love. That’s just when Jesus Christ visited us with his grace and mercy. We could never get to him in our own strength.
One fall day my three boys were out playing in our muddy yard. They came to the door looking like three little pigs covered from head to toe in mud. If it had been a warm day I would have hosed them down and toweled them off. But the cooler temperatures left me with a dilemma. The only way to get them clean was to get them into the shower, which happened to be on the second story of our house. Between my muddy boys and the bathroom was a staircase with white carpeting. No way these boys would make it upstairs without staining the carpet. Fortunately, my three little piggies were small enough for me to carry them—and that’s exactly what I did! I picked each one up, carried him to the bathroom, and put him in the shower.
My muddy-boy dilemma is much like how we perceive the love of Christ. We know we need to be showered off and cleansed of sin, but we’re too dirty to approach him. Oh, how many women stay in their “mud” at the front door their entire lives without knowing the love of Christ Jesus! Jesus stands at the door offering to carry you in your muddy state into his holiness. He takes care of cleaning you up. Your only job is to accept the invitation to run into his arms.
While God’s love has no conditions, at the same time, it can’t help but change you. Angel has been clean from drugs for seven years. Instead of selling her body for sex, she is using her whole being—body, soul, and spirit—to minister to men and women in the very neighborhood where she walked the streets as a prostitute and crack addict. Angel is living out Jesus’ radical love. As hard as it was, she chose to forgive a man who brutally raped her. How did these changes happen? Not as a result of Angel’s determination to be acceptable to God, but because of the power of God’s transforming love.
If you were to meet Angel, you would experience a passion for Jesus that can’t be contained. Years later, she is still bubbling over with the astonishment that Jesus loves her. She doesn’t serve God out of duty but out of a profound realization of his love for her.
The greatest evidence that a person has experienced the love of God is that she will be changed—not perfect, but changed. Even if she still struggles with temptation, out of love her desires will be transformed. This is the natural outflow of love.
Who in your life do you truly love? A husband? A child? A parent? The stronger your love, the more you want to please that person. You want to learn what makes your loved one happy and how to tangibly demonstrate the love that overflows in your heart. The same thing happens to us when we encounter Jesus’ great love. We will be compelled to love him, and that love will spill out to others, just as Becky’s love poured out over Angel.
This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. (1 John 4:10–11, The Message)
If you were to meet Angel, you would think, Wow, this woman loves Jesus. He oozes out of her, smiles through her eyes, embraces with her words, and welcomes with her enthusiastic hug. Angel has “Jesus loves you” written on her heart. Even more incredible, Angel has become a “Becky,” walking the streets of the ghetto, loving the broken women there.
Dear friend, Jesus invites you to experience the deep, radical love he has for you. You don't have to live in a ghetto or be in prison to question God's love for you. Wherever you live, you may never have known a love without demands. Perhaps you have been told or shown that you are not loveable. God’s love is different. Humans love conditionally, but God is love. There is no psychological technique or self-help exercise that could possibly replace the love of Christ in your healing journey. Jesus said that he came to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). May you experience this freedom as the truth of his unconditional love for you sinks deep into your bones.
This blog post is an excerpt from Surprised by the Healer, a new resource from Dr. Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow. Out February 2nd, Surprised by the Healer shares the stories of nine brave women who have overcome abuse and sexual brokenness through Jesus. It's a resource that not only showcases the all-encompassing power and love of God but invites its readers to come on the journey of healing as well. To learn more, visit SurprisedByTheHealer.com