It was a bitterly cold Tuesday night when I met Jared. We were both volunteering at the temporary homeless shelter that our town sets up every year from November – March, the coldest months in the Shenandoah Valley. Our church was that week’s location for the shelter and Jared and I introduced ourselves to one another in the kitchen as he brewed pots of steaming coffee and I began to cook enough baked beans to feed a small army. I found out he attended service at our church’s downtown campus, which is why we’d never met, as I attended church at our northern campus. We, along with the other volunteers, fell into an easy rhythm of loading trays and passing plates, as you tend to do when there is work to be done. Other than saying things like “how many more plates of peach cobbler do we need?” and “have all of tomorrow’s lunches been made?” we didn’t really talk too much.
At the end of our volunteer shift Jared asked if anyone could give him a ride a home. I asked where he lived and since it was pretty much on my way I volunteered to drop him off. It was only a ten minute drive, but it’s one I’ll never forget. As we were pulling out of the church parking lot he shared with me that he was about five months clean. It was his second time getting sober after becoming addicted to prescription pain medications many years earlier following an accident and surgery. This last time he’d hit rock bottom. He hadn’t been able to see his 8 year old son for months, and he was days away from being homeless. “That’s why doing things like volunteering tonight are so important to me. Once you’ve been an addict and hit rock bottom, all of your self-worth is lost. This…well it’s kind of a way to get that back.” He was planning to go back the next night, and the next.
In that brief ten minute drive that seemed to last much longer, we talked about the goodness of God’s grace and how unfailing His love is even when we don’t deserve it. He talked about getting to see his son again, and I could tell it meant everything to him. Then he said something that I will never, ever forget. “In a way, being an addict and hitting rock bottom was the best thing that could have happened to me, because if I hadn’t lost everything, I never would have turned to God to save me.” And I knew, right in that moment, it was no accident that this guy was in my car and I was giving him a ride home and we were having this conversation.
There are so many moments in the Bible where we see that God uses the most broken people to speak the most explicit truth. Moments where He uses the most devastating circumstances to reveal ravishing beauty and unmitigated joy. And there is so much good. I think of how He chose a prostitute, filled her heart with faithfulness and made her the great-great-grandmother of a king, and part of the family tree of a Savior (Joshua 2:10-11, Matthew 1:9). Or the Roman centurion who felt he was completely unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus but had faith that caused Jesus to be “amazed” and declare it was unrivaled in all of Israel (Luke 7:9-10). I remember how a boy stolen from his home, sold into slavery and sentenced to jail became a revered and respected adviser to a Pharaoh and saved an entire country (Genesis 37:28, 39:20, 41:39-57). And I remember Paul’s words written from a jail cell, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12,14).
Like Paul and Joseph, I know what it’s like to be in your darkest, lowest moments and have God use those moments to change lives in a way you could have never imagined. Like Rahab and the centurion, I know whats it’s like to be broken and afraid, to feel unworthy of God’s grace, but still be saved and healed and loved beyond belief. Like Jared, I know what it’s like to have the worst moment of your life become the best thing to ever happen to you. I think back to that dark time when I was a scared 13-year-old girl, violated by someone who was supposed to take care of and protect me and then, worse, accused of fabricating a horrible story and forced to keep it a secret. I felt fear and shame, unloved and unworthy, and painfully alone. But that was not the ending God had written for me. And out of that darkest moment came a shining light. I found my way to Jesus. I came to know what it meant to be in relationship with Him. And there was love. So much love. The love of a father and step-mother, the love of a pastor, the love and support of a few special friends, and the unfailing love of a Savior. Eventually there was healing, forgiveness and restored relationships. And then God did the most unexpected thing. He told me to break my silence and tell my story. He said others needed to know, needed to be comforted and loved.
God heals and redeems. He takes our brokenness, our fear, our rock-bottom moments and He wraps His arms around us, picks us up, and creates healing and love and light all around us. He did it with Rahab and Joseph, Paul and the centurion, Jared and me. He healed us and then called us to be His servants. Whether it’s serving food to men and women with nowhere else to go on a cold night, telling our story to others who are broken and hurting, preaching the Gospel to millions, or standing with Kings, God calls the broken to be His chosen.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6
*I have changed the name of the young man in this story to protect his identity.