You did not choose me, but I chose you. -- John 15:16a
An unknown author wrote a poem titled "The Chosen Vessel." This poem tells how God searches for a vessel to use. "‘Take me,' cried the gold one, ‘I'm shiny and bright, I'm of great value and I do things just right.'" God passes by the gold, silver, brass, crystal, and wooden urns, and chooses the vessel of clay. The poem explains why:
Then the master looked down
and saw a vessel of clay.
Empty and broken it helplessly lay.
No hope had the vessel that the master might choose,
To cleanse and make whole, to fill and to use.
"Ah! This is the vessel I've been hoping to find,
I will mend and use it and make it all mine."
Throughout the pages of this book, women will share their true testimonies and journeys. As helpless children, they were violated, neglected, and abused—physically, emotionally, and sexually. For many, the pain and impact of this abuse was so profound that it shattered every ounce of their identity.
As adults they struggled with criminal behavior, drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, psychological disorders, and suicide—common problems among adults who were abused as children. Some chose sexually and physically abusive partners; others chose chemically dependent partners. For all of these women, the child abuse of their past contaminated nearly every aspect of their lives.
For nearly forty years I lived with anger, low self-esteem, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and depression as I repressed the pain and reality of my childhood, filled with physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Like most victims, I disassociated from the original cause of my anger and helplessness and found expression in destructive acts against myself and others. I tried to fix everything on my own. I failed miserably.
Completely broken, at the lowest point in my life, I called out to God. The Lord heard my cry and responded to me with his love, mercy, and grace. I'm living proof that it doesn't matter who we were yesterday, or what we did—it matters that God wants to do something with our lives today.
God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His plan to save us from our own disaster is permanent and everlasting. Throughout the ages, from 2000 b.c. through today, God continually chooses to heal and transform the most improbable candidates.
The moment we place our faith in Jesus, he reaches down from on high and takes hold of us, remembering our past no more.
Why would God use such improbable women? I believe it is because the Lord wants to make clear that the power lies in him, not in people. And when people observe such drastic change in broken lives, their eyes turn heavenward.
The last stanza of "The Chosen Vessel" reads:
Then gently he lifted the vessel of clay.
Mended and cleansed it and filled it that day.
Spoke to it kindly. "There's work you must do,
Just pour out to others as I pour into you."
Like the chosen clay vessel, the brave women in this book, who have experienced divine healing and gradual transformation, pour out their hearts to us. Their message is simple: we can be mended and then set free. As their journeys unfold before us, let's walk alongside them and discover the healing and hope available to all through Jesus.
Now meet some of the improbable women of yesterday.
"Elaine, hide under the bed and don't move," her mother whispered.
Elaine crawled under the bed and peeked out from under the bedspread. In horror, she saw her father drag her mother by the hair from the bedroom. Her mother's screams punctuated the early morning peace. Elaine clapped her hands over her ears to block out the sound. How she wished she could save her mother.
The only escape Elaine found from a brutal father who ran with hoodlums was the TV shows of the '50s, Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver. Only on these shows did Elaine learn about a kinder and gentler world outside the four walls where she lived. She couldn't count the times she dreamed of a dad who loved his family and a mom who was safe in his presence.
She knew the reason the kids at school never invited her to their home to play. The kids talked behind her back, calling her "the daughter of evil." This Deep South community knew her dad well. Word spread quickly about his gambling, stealing, and corruption.
Sadly, everyone from schoolmates to neighbors feared Elaine's dad. One day neighbors watched in disbelief as eleven-year-old Elaine got behind the wheel of their big, fancy car and drove her mother, who had been hit by a bullet, to the hospital. They saw the tragedy playing out in the house many other times, as well, but instead of helping, they hid inside their own houses in fear.
One afternoon a pastor from a community church met Elaine's father, Allen, in the drugstore. The two struck up a polite conversation. Pastor John remembered Allen as one of his basketball students from his coaching days. He had prayed for this troubled young man for many years, even before he heard the rumors all over town.
Just as the two were about to part company, Pastor John asked, "Allen, would you let our church bus pick up Elaine to join us for Vacation Bible School?"
Allen reluctantly agreed, but he told the pastor not to get out of the bus when he picked her up. Making certain the pastor understood the gravity of the situation, Allen cursed, then said, "Don't start that church business with me—ever. Don't ever step foot on my property, and never mention God to me. Got it?"
Later, Elaine's father took Elaine and her mother aside and told them what he'd said to the pastor. He pointed a loaded gun at Elaine's head, gritted his teeth, and said, "If you tell one secret at that church, your mother will be dead."
Unfortunately Elaine knew he meant it. He had shot people for much less. Even people who befriended her sometimes disappeared off the face of the earth.
For years Elaine had walked by the pastor's church on her way to the store to get bread and milk. She had peeked into the windows and stared with wonder at the statue of a gentle man wearing a long robe. He stood barefooted with arms outstretched and, curiously, had a ring of thorns sitting on his head.
The day after her father threatened her, wide-eyed Elaine eagerly jumped off the bus and stood right outside the church, gazing at the same statue. Tears slid down her face and she couldn't stop them. Other kids walked by as if they didn't even notice her.
Pastor John quietly waited behind her until she wiped her tears. He whispered to her, "Remember, Elaine, Jesus loves you." She then turned, sniffed, and looked up at him. He gently grasped her hand and they walked through the church doors and into a large room where children were singing.
The words rang out and touched Elaine's heart. "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Years later the words to this song would resonate in Elaine's heart and soul.