(as told to Helen Grace Lescheid, reprinted from With magazine, April/May, 1998)
Everybody at the mission base crowded around the team that had just returned from an outreach on the streets and beach. "Great stuff!" "Awesome!" "What happened next?" You could feel the excitement in the air. As usual, I stood on the fringe, fighting off panic. What am I doing here? I don't belong in this group. They've got it together, I don't. I pulled at my big sundress draped awkwardly over an eight-month-pregnancy bulge. I messed up; everybody can see that. Standing apart from the crowd, I felt as if I couldn't approach them. I dashed to my room. I had to get alone. Beside my bunk bed, I fell to my knees. "God, You say that You have forgiven me, but I don't feel forgiven. I feel so dirty, so ugly." I reached for more tissue. "God, I feel so useless."
Back home in Dawson Creek, when my acceptance letter had come from the mission, I was psyched. After high school I worked a year to save up money to go. A couple of weeks before I was to leave, I went to my doctor for a physical checkup. I had been feeling ill lately and thought the doctor would give me some medicine for it. Instead he gave me a pregnancy test. I came back a week later for the results.
"Your test is positive," the doctor said.
I burst into tears. "That will ruin everything."
The doctor listened kindly. "You could have an abortion," he said. "I'll set up an appointment."
"That's not the answer," I sniffled.
Dazed, I stepped out of the doctor's office into the frigid February air. A few minutes earlier, the sun was shining. The day had been bright with promise. Now everything had changed.
In high school I had always felt like a nobody. I had no special talents. I had failed some courses and had to make them up. Unlike some of my classmates, I had no great ambitions for my life. The one thing I wanted more than anything else was to do an extended missions service overseas and then get married someday. But getting pregnant had killed everything.
I had to talk to somebody. Ida, a woman in our church, had been a spiritual counselor to me before. I went straight to her house.
"Why did God let this happen to me?" I choked.
I told Ida how I'd broken off the relationship with my boyfriend because I knew what we were doing was wrong, how I had asked God to forgive me, and how I wanted to serve God with my life. "But my life is ruined now," I cried.
Ida handed me a box of tissue. "If you're going to play around, you're going to get caught," she said in her usual, brusque manner. "But never mind, life goes on."
She poured two cups of tea and sat down at the table with me.
"Have you told your parents?"
"That comes next," she said kindly.
Susan's parents had taught her
that when you do wrong you
admit it and take responsibility
for it. Then God's forgiveness
and healing can come.
I knew my parents would be shocked. In fact, everybody in our church and small community would be shocked. I was Susan, the good Christian girl, who always kept herself out of trouble—until now.
As I approached our home, I could see Mother bustling in the kitchen. Dad was away at work. "Mom, I've got something important to tell you," I said. "Come, sit down in the living room."
Mom finished what she was doing then joined me on the sofa.
"I'm pregnant," I blurted out.
She looked at me like I was speaking Greek.
"You're kidding," she said.
"No, Mom, this is serious." I began to cry.
Before long, Mom was crying too.
The next morning my father phoned me at my apartment. "Susan, I hear you're in trouble," he said. "I just wanted to phone and let you know I love you."
Both my parents were incredibly accepting and supportive. They had taught me that when you do wrong you admit it and take responsibility for it. Then God's forgiveness and healing can come. Now that I had admitted it, my mother urged me to tell the pastor and the elders of our church.
"The whole world has to know that Susan sinned," I pined to myself. But I did tell the pastor and elders. They also forgave me and urged the congregation to accept me. They did.
Susan wanted to serve God, but she
just knew her sin would disqualify her.
It didn't. God forgave her.
But most surprising of all was the mission's response to my letter. I had written and told them about my situation. I explained that I understood they wouldn't be able to accept me now and that I wanted my place to be given to somebody else. Instead they wrote, "We want you to come." I blinked. I'm not reading this right, I thought. But it was true. A few days later a phone call came from the mission asking me to come.
So in spring, 1980, I began my seven months of service. Although the staff and my coworkers tried hard to make me feel accepted, I felt different. "They're just being nice because they're supposed to," I thought. "Deep inside they wish I hadn't come. I'm an embarrassment to the team."
The girls in the mission gave me a baby shower. In each small gift I found a Bible verse assuring me of God's love. That should have encouraged me, but it didn't. "God loves me because He has to," I reasoned. "After all, He loves the whole world. But God doesn't like me. How could He?"
Now, on my knees in my bedroom, I told God, "Coming on this mission trip was a crazy idea. I can't share my faith with anybody. Nobody will want to listen to me. They'll take one look at my swollen stomach and say, 'Who do you think you are, talking about God?'"
The next morning during my quiet time, I had a strong feeling that God had someone in particular for me to talk to that day. As my partner and I stepped out of our hotel, I felt excited.
PHOTO BY TERRY WILD STUDIOS
As we walked along, I saw a man, about 45, sitting on a bench reading a newspaper. Somehow I knew that he was the one. I stopped dead in my tracks. "God, you want me to talk to him?" The same strong feeling I'd had earlier returned. Timidly I sat down on the far side of the bench and glanced at the man. His face remained buried in the newspaper. "Sir, can we talk?" I stammered.
He kept on reading his paper as though he hadn't heard. My heart pounded. My face flushed. My palms got sweaty.
"Sir, I'd like to talk with you," I repeated.
The man didn't budge. Clearly, he wanted to be left alone. I got up to leave. Again the old doubts washed over me. Who did I think I was, presuming to hear the voice of God? Of course, a man wouldn't want to listen to me. But as I walked away, I felt a strong impression that God wanted me to speak with that man. "All right, God, I'll try once more." I sat down again.
"Excuse me, sir. God has told me that I am to talk to you," I blurted out.
He dropped his newspaper. His steel-gray eyes scanned my flushed face, then flitted across the bulge under my loose dress, and rested on my left hand.
I could feel his annoyance. "Who do you think you are?" he scoffed. "God has told you to speak to me?" He cleared his throat. "I bet you're not even married."
I became flustered. What do I tell him? The truth.
"You're right. I'm not married," I said. "I know what I did was wrong, but God has forgiven me."
The man stared at me, his mouth a tight line. His lips began to quiver. His eyes became moist. Then he started to cry, big shoulder-heaving sobs. Not knowing what to say, I just sat there. Finally the man pulled a checkered handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. In a husky voice he said, "I have a daughter about your age. She serves God like you—sings with a Christian musical group."
"You must be very proud of her," I mumbled.
His eyes filled with pain. "My daughter got pregnant in high school. I made her get an abortion."
"I'm sure she's forgiven you, sir."
The man stiffened. He balled his hands together. "I haven't been to church since."
"God has forgiven you, too, if you've asked Him to," I said.
"But I can't forgive." His face twisted like he was going to cry again.
"You don't have to feel guilty forever," I said.
The man jumped up, his newspaper falling onto the sand. He turned and walked briskly toward the hotel.
I jumped up too and ran after him. "Sir, God forgives," I yelled. "Please believe that."
As I continued to walk along the beach, I thought about my conversation with the man. I hadn't known what to say to him, but God had. The man had touched my worst fear; I had faced it and told him the truth. And what was the truth? That I had messed up, but God had forgiven me, and that he didn't have to feel guilty forever.
Hey, that truth is for me too! I almost shouted out the words. In the days and weeks to come the reality of God's complete forgiveness worked its way into my heart. I'm clean, not because I've never sinned, but because Jesus Christ has washed me. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). For the first time in months, I felt clean.
When my daughter was born I named her Thalea, Greek for "a flower beginning to open up." Thalea was the joy of my life, but being a single parent was tough. Often, as I watched couples playing with their children, my heart would almost break. Even though God had forgiven my sin, I felt unworthy of marriage. I regretted that Thalea would never have the joy of having two parents. But God had a better idea. He brought a man into my life who wanted to be my husband and Thalea's father.
Some people said that because of my sin I couldn't be married in white. It wouldn't be a good example to the younger girls of the church. At one time I would have agreed with them.
My wedding day arrived, and as the organ played and my family and friends looked on, I glided down the aisle of the church, my dress long and white. It was not, after all, a day to dwell on my failures, but a day to celebrate God's grace in my life. I was as clean, as pure, as any bride could be, not because I had never sinned, but because Jesus Christ had washed me and made me white, white as snow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Helen Grace Lescheid is a Canadian freelance author. She can be reached at email@example.com.