Trying to love as Jesus loves — even when it goes wrong.
by Lorena Keck
It was late when I answered the doorbell. There stood Karen, a woman who had been attending our church for a few months, and a teenage girl beside her. I didn’t expect anyone at this hour, especially people I didn’t know all that well. “Remember my daughter Kristi?” Karen asked.
Sure, I remembered Kristi. Her mother had requested prayer for her when she was in a car accident months before. Back then, Karen lived in our small Idaho town, and Kristi lived in Oregon.
Karen settled on the couch and looked askance at her daughter. The teenager cowered by the door, car keys jingling and her lanky body rocking from foot to foot.
“Kristi wants to talk with you,” Karen stated.
I couldn’t imagine why, but managed to say, “Well, OK. Kristi, shall we talk here?”
“I like to drive,” Kristi mumbled. Her empty eyes met mine from under her blonde bangs.
I fastened my seatbelt in Kristi’s gray Skylark. Tobacco stench choked me, and empty Diet Coke cans rattled under my feet.
We drove in awkward silence. I had no idea why Kristi felt she should talk to me. As she drove, she swung her arm to the back seat and retrieved some papers.
“Here,” she said, throwing them onto my lap. “Read and you’ll understand me.”
Cry for help
As I read, my heart broke. Kristi’s words cried for help; she wanted to die. No one loved her. Love only hurt. Tears formed as I read her poem “Remembering His Touch,” describing a little girl being sexually abused. Pain and bitterness cried out through her words.
Kristi parked, rolled down her window, lit a cigarette, and turned to watch me. How could I understand her emotions? My childhood had lots of love. Even now, my husband sheltered me.
“Kristi, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say.” My voice trembled as I reached over to pat her hand.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t ever touch me!” she screamed. Flinching, she hurled herself against the car door, and her eyes flashed with fear.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I just wanted to show you I care. Please forgive me.”
As Kristi’s breathing calmed down, she slowly began to talk.
“When I was a little girl, my mother left me with my cousins. Instead of protecting me, they abused me. I learned to defend myself and to lie, since no one believed me anyway. I don’t trust anyone.”
I had no idea if Karen knew about this or not, but I had to say something. “Kristi, God loves you. You can trust Him,” I confidently interrupted.
“God? Ha! My mother calls herself a Christian and preaches at me all the time. She doesn’t love me. She only wants my welfare money.” Kristi spit the words out.
“Kristi, I believe you. I don’t know you well, but I can say I love you because Jesus loves you.” My tears flowed freely as this young girl, so outwardly hard, began to talk.
“When I was eleven, my mother told me that she never wanted a baby. My father was married to another woman and left my mother when she became pregnant. She blamed me for losing the man she loved.” I wasn’t sure what to think about Karen but decided to leave that to God.
“I have been shuffled from place to place,” Kristi went on. “I take care of myself. I steal food and clothes for myself and sometimes for my younger cousins.”
Kristi’s words caught in her throat. “Sometimes I dream about having a real family. When I got into high school, I joined a gang and pretended they were family. We protected each other and stuck together.”
Kristi wanted my friendship but couldn’t trust me. Why was God bringing us together?
Her mother moved back to Oregon, and Kristi stayed with her aunt and uncle in town. As if drawn by a magnet, our friendship grew. I needed to get out of my comfort zone and share God’s love.
From that time on, Kristi’s Skylark became a regular in our driveway. This troubled girl often sat on our couch as I folded clothes or vacuumed.
Several weeks later, after a long talk about Jesus’ love and reading Bible verses, Kristi prayed to accept Jesus. She then looked at me and sheepishly asked if I’d give her a hug. My eyes filled with tears as I remembered her reaction to my touching her hand.
“Yes, Kristi, I’ll give you a hug.”
One evening I found Kristi sitting on our couch. Sensing she was hiding something, I sat beside her, and she slowly rolled up her sleeve. She had been cutting herself.
“My heart hurts so much that it feels good to hurt myself. I can forget one pain when the other pain hurts more.”
I hugged her as she cried. Lord Jesus, I don’t know how to help.
The next day Kristi told her aunt she was going to kill herself. Her aunt took her to a mental hospital — the third time for this sixteen-year-old girl.
She phoned often, and I encouraged her with God’s love, but gradually her calls stopped. So I called her. “What’s the problem, Kristi? Don’t you want to talk with me anymore? I still love you.”
“My counselor says you are a bad influence. It’s because of you that I’m here.”
What is she talking about?
The answer to my question fell like a bombshell. A few days later a police officer arrived at my door and told me Kristi had accused me of sexually abusing her. He issued me a summons to a court in Oregon.
What? This isn’t happening! I covered my mouth to keep from retching.
Kristi had warned me that she hurt anyone who tried to love her. She didn’t want to love or be loved. I was naïve enough to think I could pour enough of God’s love into her that she would heal. I could not.
Scrubbing with soap didn’t rid me of the filth and sickness I felt. Fear, guilt, and doubt took over my life. Why me? Why was I at fault? Should I have not loved? Did God still love me and care when I cried myself to sleep night after night? He seemed so far away.
How could this girl turn my love into something repulsive? Her lies cut me deeply, and I prayed constantly for God’s help and strength. Though I believed He would come through, I couldn’t feel it or sense that He was even hearing me. I clung to the truth in Proverbs 3:5, 6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (NKJV).
In this dark time, my husband, Ted, stood by me and prayed with me. He never doubted that my actions with Kristi had been anything but right.
Two months later, my day in court dawned dark and rainy. During the drive, my husband encouraged me as we prayed together. God’s love and my husband’s trust kept me going.
The courthouse felt cold and scary as I listened in disbelief to false accusations from Kristi’s attorney, all based on information from her counselors at the state hospital. My heart pounded as I denied each charge. My mind was foggy with disbelief.
After I stated, “Not guilty” to the judge, Ted and I walked hand in hand past Kristi. I wanted to reach out and give her a big hug to assure her that Jesus and I still loved her.
Despite my plea, I was charged anyway. I put my head down and walked outside.
Tears streamed down my face, and my whole body shook. Ted and I walked across the street where I was fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken.
My “sentence” was six months of intensive counseling and restrictions of not being alone with a minor. Unfortunately, though the counselor was Christian, he didn’t believe in my innocence. In one session, I wrote an apology to Kristi in which I said I was truly sorry that she had taken my love the wrong way.
When I attended church during this time, I usually ended up crying that my intentions had been twisted into lies. For two years I struggled to pray, trying to feel God’s presence.
Today, years later, I am thankful that God has healed my pain. I realize that though I may not feel close to God when I pray, He is still there.
I still think about Kristi. I pray God has also healed her and has forgiven her mother for having an affair with a married man, damaging and hurting so many lives.
Despite what I’ve gone through, I thank God for choosing me to share His love with a troubled young girl and for showing me that His grace is sufficient for however He wants to use me.
And yes, Lord, I’m available to again let You love through me.
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