“Thank you for showing us what true love looks like.”
A simple statement, made during a prayer around a table, but it leapt out at me and buried itself in my mind. It swirled around that day, that night and into the next morning, as I asked myself, what does true love look like? True love. Two words that inspire songs, fairy tales, poems and epic novels. Two words that keep middle school girls drawing hearts and initials on their notebooks and middle school boys hiding in the bathroom. Two words that extend the promise of joy, contentment and happily ever after. They are also two words that can lead to disappointment, pain, anger, hurt and loneliness - not because true love doesn’t exist, but because we live in a world where true love is sorely misunderstood and horribly exploited.
The woman who shared this sentence has many things in common with other women who live in the home. She has been disappointed, hurt, angry, lonely, exploited and surrounded by pain. Many women in our home have never experienced love in a pure sense. It has been twisted, withheld, manipulated and weaponized from a very young age. Their understanding of what it means to be loved always has strings attached and is dependent upon how much they deserve love - how hard they work for it and behave so they can receive it. It’s not the story for every woman in our home and yet we hear the thread time after time. True love is elusive, and even when they think they’ve found it, it never brings that happily ever after they were hoping for.
So the question continued to rattle in my brain - what does true love look like? Not to me, but to the woman who expressed this from her heart. To the women who nod in agreement. What is it that has prompted such a prayer? Of course the Sunday School answer is Jesus. And it’s true! None of us experience true love outside of the love of Jesus. But there’s more to the story. There is a love from Jesus that is beyond what we can understand - and it is almost always made evident through people around us.
In our home, true love looks like safety: a home in which you have a private bedroom with locks on the doors, food on the table and in the cupboards, fresh clothes, warm blankets and hot showers. And none if it has strings attached.
True love looks like the staff member who takes you to the doctor and holds your hand while they draw blood through veins that are all but destroyed.
True love looks like sitting together as a family for meals, sharing stories and laughter, fears and failures.
True love looks like the staff member who listens as you share your stories, without judgement or shock or pity, and reminds you that you are valuable and worthy and loved by God.
True love looks like making cookies and decorating the room with signs and balloons because you made it through your first 30 days.
True love looks like second chances - and third and fourth and more - and being met with the reminder that we all make mistakes and God is always here to welcome us back.
True love looks like the staff member, who is not at all crafty, who sits at a table and makes homemade cards because she just wants to be with you.
True love looks like volunteers who work for hours in the hot sun, fixing up your backyard with no expectations of payment or compensation.
True love looks like strangers who provide art supplies and gift cards and games and exercise equipment and fancy shampoo for no other reason than they want to be generous.
True love looks like the people who drive back and forth, from appointment to appointment, because they love the conversations they have with you.
True love looks like staff members who are there 24 hours a day, supporting you and cheering you on through some of the toughest things you will ever do, with love in their eyes and bright lights in their souls.
True love looks like a God who searches for the one; who runs toward the prodigal; who hangs with sinners and has words for the religious; who knows each one by name; who loves extravagantly and showers us with grace.
True love looks like a God who puts all of these things together so that exploitation ends for one more girl and freedom and restoration are found. It’s not a fairy tale and there are no strings attached. It’s the truest, purest love imaginable and, on that day, you could feel it in the room.
By: Laura Teske, Program Director