On a recent visit into the community, I was struck by 6 simple words that a girl who has always, and will always, hold a special place in my heart asked me – “Do you really still like me?”

A year and a half ago she could no longer withstand the pressures surrounding her in the dark community where she lived.  After two and a half years of investing in her life, providing opportunities for her to redirect the trajectory of her future, and fostering the god-given leadership qualities in her, she chose to take a detour from the path God had her on to follow the path the world has for her.  But in all of that time my love for her never changed, I continued to pray for her, continued to visit her at home and invite her to come visit me at ESTHERS.  Yet the shame of the choices she was now making became more evident in her eyes with each visit.  On the rare occasion when she did come to visit at ESTHERS, the stay was always short, and the conversation like pulling teeth.

But something was different this time.  Hope was beginning to return and fill the space that was overtaken by shame.  Her head, that for so long was hung low, was lifted and joy started to fill her face again.  And for the first time in a long time, the conversation was effortless again – like two friends catching up after a long absence.  And that’s when she asked that simple question, “Do you really still like me?”

It was like a window that let me see into her heart for a moment, where I could see all of the shame that consumed her for so long.  An innocent girl trapped inside of someone whose childhood was robbed from her because of the choices others made, and now adolescence being robbed from her because of the choices she made.  But underneath all of that was a girl searching again for an unconditional love that only Jesus can provide.  A girl searching for what all of us are searching for – to love and be loved.

And that’s the love that Jesus offers her everyday – a love that is not conditioned on the choices that she makes, a love brighter than even her darkest moments.

And that’s also the hope that only Jesus can bring to these places – that no matter what, there is always hope for them.  There is always hope even in the darkest of valleys that they travel into.

Is it a coincidence that since this conversation a few weeks ago she continues to go to church on Sunday?  Maybe.  Or that her smile that could bring joy into an entire room is making its way back onto her face?  I don’t know.  But I will continue to pray that it is the redeeming love and hope that comes from Jesus, meeting her where she is and softly calling her to come back to the path that God has planned for her life.

It is a reminder of why we do what we do.  A reminder that we are here to plant seeds and to water those seeds.  But even when it can appear that nothing is changing, God is still right there nurturing those seeds and loving them no matter what.