Fast forward through the next few years...Though she let me in her world to a certain extent, she wouldn't step with confidence into mine. I told her I knew a love that wouldn't fail her but she couldn't or wouldn't trust it. She would laugh and make snide remarks...but she listened all the same. That was all I could ask for. She trusted cocaine more than me...more than God, and her chosen path led her deeper into darkness. She lived a life completely different than mine, yet her hurts and her needs were so very much the same. I saw myself in her somehow and I couldn't give up on her. I wanted to save her just as I had been saved. I have to admit, Elle was not an easy person to love--she was harsh and uncouth. Her thinking and her life was pure chaos and sometimes very ugly, but I loved her--I saw something redeemable in her. All she needed was Jesus.
I reached out every time I got the chance, praying for one tiny seed to take root. One Sunday morning, I received a call. Elle was six months pregnant and doing two eightballs of coke a day. For the first time ever, I saw her cry. She needed and wanted help. I was determined that nothing would stand in the way. She went to treatment and began to believe that her life was worth saving. She stayed at a recovery center for four months, came home, and began to rebuild her life. Her baby was born miraculously healthy. She and her four girls were looking forward to a better life...Then the baby's father entered back in the picture and she turned her back on all that she had gained for the sake of another fix. Her oldest daughter called me and told me her mom was at the old dealer's house.
This wasn't what I had planned! I wanted to save her and I wasn't willing to lose her to that world again. After a harrowing and crazy confrontation with her drug dealer and about 20-30 of his clients and "business associates"...(I have no doubt God held them back to protect me that night just as He protected Daniel by shutting the lions' mouths centuries ago)...After a wild car chase, and a wildly desperate prayer, Elle finally got in the car with me and tried to refocus on what God had already done in her life.
She was safe again...but was she really? Cocaine and alcohol were just symptoms of a deeper problem--a problem I couldn't fix. I wanted so much to save her but all I could do was point her to Christ. She got back on track, found a job, became involved in church, and finally moved into her own apartment--Elle and all four girls. But life had too often been a tumultuous journey. This family didn't know how to be "normal"--all they had known was chaos so chaos reigned. Elle was far too dependent on me and less dependent on the Christ who redeemed her. Her progress began unwinding...
Another professed Christian "leader" stepped in to help Elle learn to discipline her unruly girls but that leader's motives weren't so pure. She had deeper issues of her own and their relationship became destructive and unhealthy. I was so intent on saving Elle myself, I didn't see it. Like Thelma and Louise, they took a dangerous and deadly dive off a proverbial cliff into the raging abyss. Elle had an even deeper need that hadn't been met. She traded in cocaine for other addictions trying to find what she was looking for. Bad choices, alcohol, sex, and manipulative relationships were just the surface scum of this cesspool. No matter what I said or did, Elle was more determined to circle the drain. Both women turned their back on God's grace for self-gratification.
I had done everything imaginable to prove to Elle that her life was valuable and precious to God--no matter what she had done or where she had been. I so desperately wanted her to recognize that life holds a higher purpose. She seemed so fearless and tough, I misgauged her loneliness and lack of confidence. I couldn't grasp how she could throw grace back in God's face... or in mine. And I was mortified that she sacrificed her hope for this new baby for her own selfish desires. Though I really had no right, I was hurt and offended by Elle's choices and so very angry at the one who used the name of my Savior and "ministry" as a ploy to undermine Elle's life for her own self-interests. I wanted to give up--not just on Elle but on ministry. I was ready to walk away. It was too hard.
But God wouldn't let me go. I wish I could say Elle was the only one that I went so far beyond what God required...when I tried to be the savior. Knowing me so well, He put strong leaders and support in place for me--those who would speak wisdom and truth and teach me--not just in words but also by example. Time and again, I was cautioned about boundaries and replenishment. Too often, I was told, "You're not Superman."
In frustration, I sometimes ranted, "Lord, you move mountains, heal the lame, and give sight to the blind. You can do anything. Why would You let her go? Why should we invest so much in others just to lose them. I wanted to save them."
He quickly reminded me, "I didn't ask you to save them. That's MY job." What a humbling reminder! Too often I try to do more than He asks..to be overzealous. (Maybe that's why I relate so well to the disciple Peter!)
As I began to deal with losing Elle and her girls to another world, I realized that loving someone as Christ loves is NOT about the outcome. If I love as He does, others will see HIM not me. It is not my job to save--only Jesus can save. My responsibility is simply to be obedient to His call--to do whatever He asks of me. And in reality, all God asks of me is to love: to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love others as He loves me....He wants me to love others enough to point them to Him. Elle's salvation--or anyone else's for that matter--was and is not up to me. My identity cannot be directly tied to their choices or outcome. It's not about what I can do but about what God does when I'm obedient...when I point the way and they see the Cross that redeems.
I wish it was easier. I wish I could just say the right thing so that someone I care about would be saved. I wish that people would choose the right way without being completely broken before they finally turn to Christ. I still hear from Elle once in a while--when she's longing for something more than she has. Her chosen path is not so gratifying after all, but she can't admit her choices were wrong. She chooses to be lost. And even so, I still see something redeemable in her but I am no longer responsible for her redemption. All I can do is point the way to the Cross and pray. I may never see the outcome of my efforts on an earthly level, but I have to be faithful to do my part--my 50%. I can only play to half-court. The one in need of a Savior must be willing to go the rest of the way--to cross the finish line herself. She must be willing to follow Him--to CHOOSE Christ. It's up to them.
In Heaven's eyes, Christ has already accomplished the greatest part--His eternal 100%. Before any of us were born, He gave His own life to redeem even the worst of us. Grace is such a beautiful gift and it costs us nothing. But for it to fully be known, anyone in need of a Savior must accept and receive His gift with her whole heart--to unwrap grace, cherish it, and follow where He leads. Along the way, her heart of stone will again become a heart of flesh.
"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD." -- Ezekiel 11:19-20