God often shows me who to pray for in my dreams. I'll dream of someone again and again until I realize that God is pushing me to pray for them. Once I do, the dreaming stops.
Last night I dreamed of someone from my past. I only knew her for six days, but she touched my life and taught me some important lessons.
Her name was Raven. Actually, Raven was not her real name, but that's what everyone called her. Her real name was something much more girly-sounding like Maysie or Margaret.
Raven stalked into my life one August during my late teen years. She had jet black hair cut extremely short and spiked on the top. She wore all black - a black tank top, black leather pants and loud, clunky, black boots. She had piercings in several places, wore chains on her clothing and a spiked dog collar around her neck. Raven's appearance screamed, "I don't care about you or anything else. I'm tough!"
It was a Sunday afternoon when I met Raven. We were both at a camp. She was a camper and I was her terrified counselor. How in the world would I survive a week with a girl who looked like she was going to murder me as I slept at night? And what about the safety of the other girls in my cabin? A girl like Raven didn't belong at the sweet little Christian camp that I called home. Or did she?
That week was hands down the hardest week in my 5 years on staff at camp. Raven wasn't the only girl in my cabin that had me stumped. That week, my cabin of 8 high school girls had lots of issues to work through. One was being pressured by her boyfriend to have sex. One thought she was pregnant. One had an eating disorder and was encouraged in it by her mother. One was lonely. One was under pressure to use drugs. All had the regular social issues and hurts that go along with the teen years.
How does a young and fairly innocent girl tackle issues like that? I was in over my head. And thankfully I recognized that. The only thing that I could give these girls was the hope and restoration that comes through Christ. My heart broke as their stories unfolded over the week. One would talk to me during free time as we sat on our beds in the cabin. One would open up on the front porch steps after lights out. One during chapel time. And some during our evening devotions - which were always my favorite part of the day.
Raven shared some of her story one night during devotions. She came to the camp directly from 2 months of drug rehab. I got the impression that her parents weren't ready to have her home yet and so they sent her to camp. Unfortunately, that 2 month stint was not Raven's first time in rehab. Raven wore her hair so short because she had shaved her head to support her boyfriend who had cancer. He had died. And her pain was obvious.
Raven had been pregnant twice. Both times she had miscarried. The second time she miscarried she was 6 months along and had the baby beaten out of her. Her brother stood and watched. When I met Raven, she was 16 years old.
My heart broke for this girl. There was so much more to her than her tough exterior. Several of the camp leaders held her at arms length, expecting that she would cause problems. For the first couple of days, she tried to live up to their expectations. I can vividly remember sitting with the other counselors at our morning meeting mid way through the week and passionately begging them to give her a chance. To see beyond the exterior. To look at her as Christ did. To notice the changes I was beginning to see.
Raven changed a whole lot that week. She began to smile. She had fun! She made some friends at camp. And most importantly, she recognized how desperate her life was without the Lord. In the day and a half before camp ended, she repeatedly shared with me her fear of going home. Her parents were good to her. But her friends were not. She knew just how difficult it would be to avoid the temptations to slip back into her old ways. She knew that it would be impossible to retreat from the relationships that dragged her down.
I wish I could say that I knew the rest of Raven's story. I wrote to her for several years, but never received a single word in reply. She didn't come back to camp. It's like she just disappeared.
Every once in awhile, God brings her to mind. And I stop and I pray for Raven.
I'm not the good one in this story. It took a week with someone who's appearance and demeanor scared me senseless to understand the truth. To see and finally really KNOW that God does not look at the outside. To Him, Raven was beautiful. He was showing her His love in a way she couldn't ignore. He knew of her pain, her vices, her struggles, but He also knew of her beautiful smile, her laughter, her desire to change. And I'm sad to say it took me so long to see it.
Sometimes I see people in the mall, or on the street or even at church and I look at the outside. It's then that God gently reminds me of Raven. He reminds me that every person is created by God, in His image and has beauty. He reminds me that my response can make a huge difference for good or for evil. What will my response be?