On Dec. 21, 2018, I read Luke 19:1-10 with new eyes. This was my “Ah-Ha” moment. “In the city of Jericho there lived a very wealthy man named Zacchaeus, who was the supervisor over all the tax collectors. As Jesus made his way through the city, Zacchaeus was eager to see Jesus. He kept trying to get a look at him, but the crowd around Jesus was massive. Zacchaeus was a very short man and couldn’t see over the heads of the people. So he ran on ahead of everyone and climbed up a blossoming fig tree so he could get a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. When Jesus got to that place, he looked up into the tree and said, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry on down, for I am appointed to stay at your house today!’ So he scurried down the tree and came face-to-face with Jesus…The Son of Man has come to seek out and to give life to those who are lost.” (The Passion Translation)
As clear as day, I was back as my six-year-old self in my Grandma’s cherry tree, eating ripened, dark-red cherries and looking down at the neighborhood community church. It was a warm, sunny day and people at the church were enacting the Jericho story on their church lawn. One actor yelled out, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately…I have come to save the lost.”
I thought he was talking to me, saying “Cindy, you are my beloved child! Come down, get out of that tree!” In that moment, Jesus exchanged my sorrow for love.
Why was that a moment for me? In my pain, as a child, I was lost.
Each week my uncle would come to my room and molest me. Afterwards, I would climb my grandma’s cherry tree and eat cherries. I was lost.
As a six-year-old, I went to that church and joined the Sunday School classes. I memorized Bible verses and earned picture cards with Jesus on them. I sensed a loving, caring God. I was okay.
One day the abuse stopped. My uncle went into the army. He was gone for four years. When he returned, I was about 10 years old. He continued to abuse me for longer than I can remember. I found neighborhood churches that had Youth groups and I joined them. I couldn’t stop the abuse but I could find places to belong. Eventually, my uncle got married and was out of my life.
I continued to immerse myself in the church youth groups and then in Young Life in high school.
I forgot about what had happened to me. I suppressed all the memories until I was in my early 20’s. I was teaching elementary school and living with friends, right down the street from where my abuse had started in my Grandma’s house. I started remembering what had happened to me and I started to get counseling. This was the first time I had told anyone my story since it had happened. Through a year-long process with my counselor, I moved to a place where I thought I was okay. Life moved on. I fell in love, got married, raised two children. I continued my spiritual journey. I struggled with my self-image, body-image, and self-love. I was part of a loving fellowship group and church. I was good until I knew I wasn’t.
I heard an Oprah TV show on dealing with childhood abuse. I realized there was more I needed to deal with. As a child I didn’t have the language to say I was abused. But I felt that my whole childhood was a lie, I had a feeling of disconnect. I realized that it was not my fault and I was 45 years old. Oprah talked about forgiveness being a road that you take. It takes a lot of work but ultimately it will heal you.
She said: “Forgiveness means choosing to let go of the anger and resentment toward yourself or someone else, to surrender thoughts of revenge, and to move forward with your personal power intact.”
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been different.”
“Forgiveness is accepting that it has happened! And now what?” …. “It’s letting go so that the past does not hold you prisoner.”
I decided, when I heard Oprah share, that I needed to forgive my uncle and tell him that I forgave him. It was the most freeing experience. I spoke and didn’t wait for a response. I needed to move on. I have never seen or heard from my uncle since that time.
On that day, 3 ½ years ago, when I simply read Luke 19, Jesus met me there. That was my moment, the moment I learned I was still in the tree, and that Jesus was telling me it was okay to come down and to walk safely on the dirt once more. I wanted to feel connected to my life again.
Jesus wants to meet you where you are, in your deepest hurt and tell you that you are His Beloved! Go to Him! He will exchange your hurt, your lies, and your mistakes, for His love and grace.