Marcela came to a concert that my band was playing once
in New York City. She took the subway across Manhattan hours before we played to make sure she’d get a chance to meet us. As she approached me, she did so with such timidity that I wasn’t sure I would actually get a word out of her. She was a short Hispanic girl, with long black hair pulled back into a ponytail that hung down her back. She hunched her shoulders a bit, and kept her eyes pointed toward the floor, like she was always afraid of being yelled at.
Hoping to shock her out of her shell, I smiled as wide as I could without seeming like a crazy person, and said, “Hey! How are you doing?”
“I’m good,” she replied sheepishly.
I figured at that point I may have to carry the conversation. I held my hand out to shake hers and said, “I’m Mattie. What’s your name?”
She followed my lead. “I’m Marcela.”
“Well, it’s really nice to meet you, Marcela! Thank you for coming to the show today!”
“Oh, thank you for coming to New York!” she replied as she handed me a poster to autograph for her.
As I signed it, I asked her, “Hey Marcela, do you follow Jesus?”
She looked away awkwardly and responded, “Well… No, I don’t really believe in God,” quickly adding, “But, I think it’s cool that you guys do!”
I stopped for a moment before handing the poster back to Marcela. I wanted to take the time to really see her before our conversation ended. As I looked at her, it was like I could feel the love of the Father for her welling up inside of me. After a few seconds, I couldn’t contain it any longer and I blurted, “Marcela, God loves you so much!”
She smiled politely and nodded her head to acknowledge that she’d heard me.
“No, I mean he really loves you!” This time though, I didn’t stop there. I locked eyes with her and spoke with insight and confidence I knew could only come from God. “He loves you more than you could possibly imagine, and I think you know that! The abuse you suffered wasn’t at the hands of God, but at the hands of godless people!”
I was way out on a limb at that point. I didn’t know how I knew, but as I looked at her, it was like God was showing me the hurt, betrayal, and pain she kept locked inside her heart.
I continued, talking to the top of her head, since she’d ducked her face down, saying, “God’s heart was broken by the evil that was done to you just as deeply as yours was. I think you know there is a God, and I think you know that He loves you. I think you’re just too scared to let yourself believe again. Marcela, the people who hurt you have already stolen so much of your past—don’t let them have the hope of your future as well!”
I spoke very boldly and freely about what I saw when I looked at Marcela. I’d forgotten about the long line of people standing behind her, waiting for photos or autographs. I wasn’t quite sure how she’d react to all that until she looked up from the ground and I saw tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She took a step closer, leaning in to make sure that only I could hear what she said next, and she spoke softly.
“The abuse started when I was seven years old, and it was at the hands of my family members. I felt so dirty and I started to hate myself. Eventually, I worked up the courage to go to my parents about it, but they told me to keep it quiet—they didn’t want to get the police involved because it would tear the family apart. So it just continued. No one did anything to stop it until I got old enough to move out.”
As I heard her story, it was like I could feel her pain. My heart overflowed with compassion and sorrow for her, and I wrapped her up in my arms. For a long time, I just held her there, her arms around my waist as she cried into my chest. I invited her to forgive her abuser and to release the burden she held in her heart, and we held hands as she prayed to ask God to forgive her and heal her, and to forgive those who had hurt her. I watched as the weight of hatred and trapped pain left her and a great, glorious relief took its place. It was, I think, a transformative moment for both of us.
After a few moments, she collected herself, and I watched as the treasure hidden in her began to appear before my eyes. It was like a light bulb came on and she suddenly asked, “Do you think God could use me to help other people like this?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, not quite sure if I believed what I’d just heard.
“Well, I think there are other people out there who have been abused. Maybe I could help them find God and forgiveness too!”
A smile spread across my face. “Marcela, I’m sure of it!”
I told her about a promise of God that I’ve kept very close to my heart through the years. “God is able to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). I told Marcela that, somehow, God could take the painful, ugly, horrible things that had happened to her, and use them for good. I told her something I’d seen proven more times than I could count: If she would let Him, God could make a beautiful future out of an ugly past.
Abuse is a dirty thing. It can harm not only the body, but it can also poison the soul. The beauty of Marcela’s heart had been marred by the violence of the abuse and abandonment she’d suffered at the hands of those she should have been able to trust. Her treasure had been buried by the “dirt” in which she’d lived; but as Jesus got involved in her life, the dirt and disappointment of her past began to melt away, and her beautiful, compassionate heart began to shine through! Marcela came alive at the thought of being able to help hurting people, and realizing that her greatest struggle could become her greatest asset, if she would simply place it into God’s hands. When she finally met someone who cared enough to face her “dirt,” Marcela found the courage to stand up and face it herself.
Marcela went home from our concert that day and reestablished contact with her family. She shared the Gospel with her abuser and forgave him for the harm he’d caused, inviting him to commit his life to Christ as well.
She later said to me, “I won’t put myself in a dangerous situation again, but it feels so good to be free from the bitterness and anger I held inside.”
I saw Jesus wipe away the dirt that had been used to bury the treasure hidden in Marcela’s heart, and show the world what had been hidden for years. It was beautiful—a different kind of beautiful than anything I’d ever seen before. I watched Marcela begin to step into the place she was supposed to be all along.