Pinky, Reesie, La La, Noica—these are some of the names of women my daughter, Alix and I encountered last week in a New York City women’s shelter. Women broken by life and some by husbands. Women mentally ill in some cases. A group of 55 women traveled from Indiana to share the love of Jesus by washing dirty feet, massaging stressed hands, helping them choose a new outfit, styling straggly hair and putting makeup on tired faces and seeing smiles brighten once dark countenances. As we encouraged this women with the words, “God loves you; you are valuable to Him,” we viewed visible changes. Shuffled feet became springy steps. Loud laughter replaced angry words. God visited this place where broken down, discarded women live.
What did I learn on this trip to beautify women who feel ugly and unnoticed?
1. Makeovers can change a person from the outside in. When you feel ugly, you act ugly. It works the same in my own life. The day I throw on my shabby sweats and glasses sans makeup to make a quick trip to the grocery is one in which I prefer to remain incognito. Slink in and slink out because I’m feeling unkempt. These women, however, experience day upon day feeling forgotten and frumpy. As ladies bounced from station to station, whether choosing a new outfit or sitting for someone to apply their makeup, a visible transformation like Cinderella emerging from her cinder-stained face and garments took place. Worn out, lackluster women began to believe the words each station worker voiced. “You are beautiful to Jesus; He loves you; you are not trash.”
2. Even homeless women desire to be heard and touched. I caressed hands and paid attention to some who had lost their identity, values and families. I listened to women speak with foreign accents and others mentally bewildered with stories a mile long. While tragic circumstances and even poor decisions had landed them in this place, my purpose lay in feeling their pain, hearing their cries and conveying that God sees them and knows their names.
3. God doesn’t want me to be comfortable. It’s scary to step out of your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done before. Yet when I feel unqualified, He promises to equip me; I just need to be willing and available. Fear can hold us back from doing things God wants to do in and through us to impact the world around us. It’s the first step that’s the scariest! As I began to massage the first hand, heart thumping in my chest, I felt completely lost. Thoughts swirled in my brain, “What can I say that would make a difference to this wounded woman? How do I help and encourage her?” I jumped in with both feet, like Peter jumping out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus, and each conversation became easier and more comfortable, as God gave me His words and His strength.
4. Serving brings great joy. By the end of the day, I was tired and spent, yet filled with joy because God had used me, in spite of all my fears and feelings of inadequacy. Not only had the women’s spirits brought me delight because of their physical transformations, but also the simple act of pouring out spilled gladness everywhere. Excitement and laughter filled the room as women departed in joyful thankfulness. The act of serving blessed me far more than it did these women.
5. God is in the transformation business, not me. The word says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) My job this particular weekend was not to judge these women or force and cajole them to be different. Too often, I try to manipulate others through guilt trips or other methods. During this experience, my role was to listen, love and pray for these women and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts. After all, Jesus is the only one who can create a clean heart in anyone. How freeing it is to know that someone’s transformation is not up to me yet realize that I have a vital part in relaying the message of love and everlasting life to those living in dark and desperate circumstances.
Perhaps this last lesson hit me the hardest as I reflect on the way I treat my family, my friends and others I encounter daily. My micro-managing and manipulation of others is ineffective and a poor substitute for the mighty power of God to change a life completely. I am to be a vessel God can use, a conduit of His love and grace to those around me, so they can infected with His Spirit. In my willingness for God to work in and through me to impact my children, my church, my community, I pray that God pours out His Spirit in magnanimous ways, that I am not a hindrance to the work He wants to do in someone’s life, and most of all, that I always give God the glory for the changes that occur!