I met Gigi four years ago.  She had been married for six months.  Gigi explained to me how she had sought God’s guidance in her dating life and her decision to marry.  Because Gigi was an orphan, without mother or father in her life, she relied upon her pastor and others in her church to help her in the important decisions she was making about her future.  Gigi earnestly wanted to honor God.  She knew that He had called her to a path of service that she believed would include a ministry in the areas of social justice and racial reconciliation.  She was scheduled to begin seminary in just a few short months to further her preparation for God’s call on her life.  

            Gigi had been married six months when her husband told her that he wanted a divorce.  He didn’t really explain his reasons for wanting out of the marriage.  Gigi learned that he had a secret life that their marriage threatened and he had decided he didn’t want to live between two worlds anymore.  He chose a world without Gigi.  When Gigi came to my counseling office she was humiliated.   She had prayed, tried to obey, sought counsel, and now this already orphaned girl was outcast and certainly feeling like a stranger – a young woman in seminary, already divorced, wanting to serve God, and wondering how in the world that would ever happen.

            For months Gigi and I grieved together over her lost marriage, her confusion, and her anger at a God who seemed to have abandoned her.   Gigi questioned her calling and wondered who would ever want her in ministry with her humiliating credentials.   And yet Gigi continued on in seminary.   She often worked three jobs to pay her bills.  She spent many lonely nights crying out to God about her excruciating circumstances.  

            Two years after her divorce Gigi began to think about dating again.  She wondered who would want an orphan, stranger, and outcast.  She remained steadfast in her sense of calling to ministry and longed for a husband who would share her vision.  She often asked me, “Sharon, do you think my expectations are too high?  Do you think there’s someone like this out there?  Do you think he’d want me?”  I always answered her the same, “I don’t know.  He would have to be a gift from God.”

            It’s hard to believe that God will give good gifts when we are in the middle of the valley of humiliation.  Gigi became a woman of great courage over the months after her shattering divorce.  She told the truth about her life.  She didn’t hide her confusion or anger.  She didn’t stop wanting good things.  She struggled to obey God in the absence of any reward.  She didn’t know it, but she was becoming a woman who was ready for a calling far beyond her meager human imaginings.

          I was reminded of the words of my friend Dan Allender as I wondered how God might redeem Gigi’s broken story: “Some of our stories describe abandonment, betrayal, and ambivalence.  We experience these losses and assaults as orphans, strangers, and widows.  Should it surprise us then, that God wants to make himself known as the Father who protects the orphans, as the Brother who encourages the stranger, and as the Lover who cherishes the widow?  The Triune God who is One wants to redeem our story and restore with love what our story took from us.”

            One year ago Gigi packed her bags for South Africa to complete an internship required for her seminary degree.  She had interviewed with several mission organizations and had been honest about her journey and her sense of calling to a ministry of social justice and racial reconciliation.  Several missions turned her down.  One mission accepted her and then Gigi was unable to raise the necessary funds for the internship.   One week during our counseling session Gigi asked a question that I couldn’t answer, “Sharon, why would God make me for things I can’t have?   Here I am divorced.  I almost have a completed seminary degree that it looks like I won’t be able to use.  I am lonely.  I don’t have any money.  What is God doing?”  

            I did not have a warm and fuzzy answer for Gigi, but I did remind her of the path I had watched her walk over the past years.

            Gigi longed for faith in the midst of humiliating realities.  Her faith grew as she walked in the world without pretense or cover-up.  Her faith allowed her to believe that she was a woman who found favor in God, because finding favor with God means sharing in His suffering.   Whether we have experienced being an orphan, a stranger, or an outcast, we can bless those realities because we share them with Jesus.  Our humiliating relational realities allow us to share in the suffering of Jesus.  They prepare us for our calling to minister to other humiliated people.  And best of all, they allow us to know a Love that is not based on a resume – a Love that is limitless, that never forgets who we are, that keeps believing in who we can be, that holds our hands when we are afraid, uncertain, or filled with anticipation – a Love that loves us when we are good for nothing because it is that Love alone that makes us ready for something!

            I saw Gigi again this week after her year in South Africa.  She called for an appointment and told me that she would be bringing someone with her.  I had received emails from Gigi throughout the year about her work in a church in Soweto, South Africa.  She wrote about the complicated racial realities and the need for a way to minister in Love in the midst of a lot of hurt, hatred, and violence.  I had prayed often for Gigi’s safety, although I suspected that God was up to more than just keeping her safe.

            I greeted Gigi at my front door and immediately noted the man by her side.  He was an elegant man with eyes that held such sorrow and strength that I was a bit taken back upon first meeting him.  Gigi introduced Sihle and told me that he was the pastor of the church in Soweto where she ministered.  Sihle had grown up in Soweto and experienced the absence of a father, poverty, and violence that was true of so many of his countrymen.  His path had taken a strange turn when he came to know Christ and attended Bible college.  His education eventually led him out of Soweto to seminary, but he could never get away from a sense of God’s calling on his life to return to his town and minister out of what he knew of God and how God’s message intersected in matters of social justice and racial reconciliation.

            As Gigi and Sihle ministered together, talked about their callings, and grew to know one another better it became clear that these two orphans, strangers, and outcasts had been made for a time such as this.  Gigi shared with me that they planned to be married and return to Soweto to minister.   I could see clearly how Gigi’s humiliating experiences as an orphan, stranger, and outcast had uniquely prepared her for the life that God had been planning all along.   Gigi and Sihle’s story is not a fairy tale with a happily-ever-after ending.  They will return to a place of violence, misunderstanding, and potential prejudice.  They will minister in the midst of great suffering in hopes of bringing Good News about the favor of God – favor that does not always bring a warm and fuzzy life, but that does bring a relationship with a God who uses humiliating human realities to bring us to a resting place in a Love that cannot be earned and can never be lost.

            “Oh Sharon,” Gigi grabbed my arm as she was going out the door.  “Do you remember all those times when I asked you if you thought I wanted too much and if there would ever be someone for me?”  I remembered.  I have wondered about that question not only for Gigi, but for myself, and for countless others.  I recalled that I had told Gigi he would have to be a gift from God and often thought to myself,  “But God’s gifts are confusing or can seem a long time in coming!”   What Gigi told me next is something that I will never forget.  Her story reminds me that God’s good gifts come in the midst of our humiliating realities.  His good gifts come because we don’t hide from those realities, but we surrender them to His Love and in the process we discover our calling – a calling that grows not out of who we are but out of how we are loved.
              “Sihle’s name”, Gigi explained while her eyes sparkled, “means a gift from God.”