The Story of Sandy: My Friend Who Lives in Heaven

20 May

During my four years of study at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, I was involved in a beautiful ministry called Watered Gardens. Watered Gardens does so much for the Kingdom that I honestly think the list of things they do is basically endless. But in general, they powerfully serve the homeless, poor and drug-addicted through many, many means and in so many ways. I have traveled to many places of the world and I have seen so many ministries, but there are few of whom have my deepest respect like Watered Gardens. I really love those people there 

On Tuesday and Thursday nights, they had door to door outreach, or calling. (I think they did it on other nights of the week but I am not sure when). Anyway, I absolutely loved doing this. Basically, Watered Gardens would help provide physical needs for an individual or a family. Then, the people at Watered Gardens would ask those they helped whether or not someone could come to their house to share the Gospel. If the person or family said yes, then Watered Gardens would send people to do that very work. I loved doing this, and I often tried to take friends with me to participate. It was an awesome time and I met soooo many people! Oh, it was so good to be so deeply invested in the lives of these broken people who desperately needed the Gospel. God opened the doors to many long-lasting relationships through Watered Gardens. I cannot thank Him enough for this.

Well, on one Thursday night, my friend and I went to the house of a woman named Sandy (this was a long time ago, I think maybe as early as 2004 or 2005). I remember walking into her house for the first time:

It was nighttime and Sandy lived in one of the very poor parts of Joplin. We knocked on the door and a short woman with blonde hair answered the door. We introduced ourselves and said that we were from Watered Gardens. She very willingly let us in. Sandy very kindly welcomed us and allowed us to sit in her living room with her. I cannot remember our first words, but we stayed there for quite some time and I remember feeling as though God had really sent us there to that woman.

I could tell that Sandy had done a lot of drugs in her life. She looked incredibly old and tired. Her speech was also slurred and her words were very random, not making much sense. Anyway, Sandy was very welcome and open to the idea of us coming to her house once a week to study the Word. We were very excited and thankful. Little did I know, this was the beginning of one of the longest, saddest, most joyful and frustrating journeys of my life. One of which changed me forever.

I will be honest, life was not easy with Sandy. One minute she seemed so happy to hear about Jesus, and then the next, she was nearly cussing me out for no reason. Sandy also had a terrible drug problem, one of the worst that I have seen in my life. She also had a daughter who was 13 years old at the time who also had a lot of problems. Sometimes when my friends and I would visit Sandy, her daughter would be violently flipping out, screaming and throwing things. Of course, Sandy always wanted us to talk to her daughter…we would try to calm down her daughter…the process often took hours.

Often, when we went to visit Sandy, she was so messed up on drugs that she couldn’t talk or even move. Sometimes, she was literally passed out in the middle of the living room floor. My friend and I often would stay at her house for long periods of time, just watching her to make sure she wouldn’t die. I remember those long hours. My friends and I would just sit there, look at each other with hearts full of deep sorrow and pray. Often, I even felt a demonic presence around her. The darkness sometimes wore me out and even made me physically sick.

This kind of stuff went on for years. In fact, I took care of Sandy throughout nearly my entire college career…and beyond. Even though I was traveling around the world, the Lord always provided opportunities to stay in contact with Sandy. It was very challenging. In fact, my patience was absolutely tested and expanded. And I was just as amazed with my own selfishness.

So many times I wanted to give up on Sandy. I cannot tell you how many times I felt frustrated or impatient. “Why doesn’t she just change? This is really wearing me out.”—I sometimes thought that to myself. It is amazing the potential that I have to be selfish. Without prayer, lots of prayer, I am drawn to selfishness like a magnet. Immediately it comes when I do not pray for hours and hours. Maybe you think I am a prayer warrior, but I’m not. I am just so weak and naturally selfish that apart from God’s power every single second of every single day, I am a very selfish person. I NEED Jesus. I need Him. I am the weakest of all. I am a weak vessel and apart from Jesus, I can do nothing. I learned this clearly during my time with Sandy, I am selfish and I need Jesus so badly.

In many ways, Sandy became like a daughter to me. Maybe that sounds strange since she was about 22 years older than me, but you see, children aren’t the only orphans. Sandy was an orphan. Yes, she had biological parents, but about after 5 years of loving on Sandy, she confessed to me that she was a prostitute and that when she was 13, some of her older family members forced her to into drugs and prostitution. Ever since then, Sandy practiced prostitution as her “career”. It was how she made money to eat and pay bills.

Jesus taught me to unconditionally love this woman and to show her honor and respect. It was truly hard and laborious work, but you see, Gods love endures. His love endures! Think about all of the corruption and evil that has happened since the fall of Adam and Eve. Think about all the violence and injustices that have happened since then. Who knows all the evil that has happened in this dark world, but God’s love endures even still. In fact, I believe the cross of Jesus reveals many things, including these two: The cross reveals God’s eternal hatred of sin and His endless love for mankind. His love endures, hallelujah! His love endures even in the face of rebellious people! His love endures, hallelujah! Do you understand what this means? Truly no one can fathom the patience and loving kindness of God! If not for His mercy, we would all be immediately consumed by the fires of hell, but He is merciful and His love endures forever!

So, anyway, I learned to truly love this woman and weep for her in prayer. Yes, at times, I wondered, “Oh God, is this worth it?” But then I always remembered the love of God, and how He endured with me during my years of rebellion, and how He still endures with me despite who I am. And I remembered the value of this precious woman and that no Word of God will ever come back to Him void. I just had to press on.

After about 6 years of sharing the Gospel with Sandy, she called me one day and said, “Leah, I want to be baptized and I want you to baptize me. I want to do it today, I cannot wait any longer.” She was laughing and so happy. Even her voice sounded different. I nearly fainted.

I had a full-time job in Joplin, Missouri, at the time. So after I got off work (around 4) my friends and I went to pick up Sandy, then, we drove to College Heights Christian church (they have a baptistery), we changed our clothes and I baptized her in the presence of my dear friends, and mostly, the presence of our loving Father. Of course, on the way to pick up Sandy , I was dizzy with joy and even somewhat shocked. I could not believe it. “Lord, is this really happening?” I thought to myself.

When we stopped at Sandy’s house to pick her up, she was so happy! I had never seen her so happy in my life. When we arrived at the church building, we went to the back to change our clothes and we talked about baptism (I had spoken to her about baptism, many, many times throughout our relationship so I wasn’t doubting that she knew what she was doing, but it’s always good to make sure, very, very sure) And man, was she ready!

After changing our clothes, we walked out into the large, quiet sanctuary where I would baptize Sandy. I was actually quite nervous, for this was no small ordeal by any means. Not only this, but I was in a little bit of shock and definitely, full of speechless joy. All those years, all those cries to the Lord, all those tears, all those struggles, all the sorrow was now turned into joy, absolute and perfect joy. God, in His sovereign time, had reconciled this woman to Himself, into eternal life, into His eternal Kingdom, into Himself as His own daughter. The heavens were rejoicing over this one, repentant woman, and I could surely feel it.

Sandy and I sat down in the sanctuary as we waited for a few more of my friends to arrive and witness this beautiful sight. After about 20 minutes or so, Sandy and I went into the back of the stage to walk down the stairs into the baptistery; and there we were, my friend and I were in the baptistery. The water was cold but our hearts were warm with heavenly fire. There was a little seat inside the baptistery, which made it easier for me to carry the weight of Sandy’s body as I baptized her, this is where she sat down. As she sat down, she looked up at me and there was a look in her eyes that I had never seen before. It was a look of relief, freedom, thankfulness, joy, peace and to my surprise, there was a look of sincere love for me. As I fought back the urge to weep, I said to Sandy, “Sandy, it has been quite a journey, but now, God has rescued you from the darkness and He is bringing you into His eternal light and Kingdom.” After this, she publicly confessed that Jesus is Lord and then I dunked her under the water, in the Name of Jesus. She rose up out of the water and all my friends clapped and some even shouted for joy. It was awesome.

Sandy and I hurried back to the changing room. Then, she said to me, “Leah, I feel like a fire is going throughout my whole body, cleansing me from sin. I feel clean from sin. I don’t have that guilty feeling anymore.” I shouted with joy, “He has cleansed you and you are free forever! You are no longer condemned!  You are a child of God!”  We were so happy. It was one of the best days of my life.

I believe completely that Sandy received the Holy Spirit when she was baptized, for she became a new creation after that. She stopped doing drugs for the first time in 37 years (she was 50 years old at the time) and she stopped, also for the first time in 37 years, prostitution. Instead of making money by selling her body, I asked her to clean my apartment for a living. God provided enough money for me in my salary to support her. It worked and it greatly eased her temptation to be a prostitute. God is so good, isn’t He?

Sandy became a new creation. She fell in love with Jesus and eagerly desired to obey Him. She suddenly had so much joy (before she was always depressed and suicidal) and she was hungry for the Word. She also became bold for the sake of Christ. Weekly, she went to a nursing home to help lead bible studies with the patients. She also told her neighbors and even her old friends about Jesus. Some even made of her for it, but she received it with joy.

Of course, Sandy had a lot of struggles; there were so many years of strongholds to overcome. It was very hard, but she did overcome. She struggled with lies, temptations of various kinds, cravings for drugs, but I witnessed her persevere through it all. Thank you, Lord. There is victory in Jesus, and there is so much power in His Name.

Sandy became one of my best friends. She was family to me and I to her. When Philip and I became engaged, she told me all the time, “Leah, you need to have babies right away so that I can be a grandmother to your children.  I want to be a grandma!” She always laughed so hard when she said that, it is a precious memory.

After about 6 months after Sandy’s baptism, I moved to Texas to get married to Philip Nelson (I moved to Texas in the fall of 2011, Sandy was baptized on March 16, 2011). Sandy called me often to let me know how she was doing. She carried on well in Jesus. Yes, she had great struggles, especially with her daughter, but she carried on well in the Lord.

In April of 2012, (just a little over 1 year after Sandy’s baptism), I received a telephone call that shattered my heart. It was about 9:30 at night and Philip and I were just getting ready for bed. As normal, we were both laying down to read before falling asleep, when I received a call from Missouri. I did not recognize the number but I answered it anyway.

“Hello.” I said

“Um, um h-hello. Is this, Leah?” It was a man’s voice that I did not recognize. He sounded incredibly nervous.

“Yeah, this is Leah.” I responded, with great curiosity.

“Ok, well, my name is Chad, I am Sandy’s brother. I am at her house just looking through one of her phone books. I am calling all the people that she has written down in her phonebook because she died last week..” Said Sandy’s brother.

Tears immediately started welling up in my eyes, “Sandy! My precious Sandy!” I thought to myself.

“Oh my goodness, really?  What happened?” I asked, with unbelief.

“She had a heart attack.”  He responded.  There was a little bit of silence.

“Wow, thank you so much for letting me know.”  I honestly didn’t know what to say, but I believe the Lord gave me the courage to speak further, “So, how are you doing?  Are you okay?”  I asked Chad.

“I cannot believe this has happened…I just can’t believe it, I can’t believe it.” Chad began crying on the phone. I felt the urgency to comfort him.
“Chad, I want you to know that your sister is in heaven with Jesus. I baptized her about a year ago. She was a woman who loved the Lord, so we do not need to be afraid of where she is now. She is at home with God now.” I told Chad.

“Oh she was? She was?!! Oh, wow, I am so thankful. I am deeply thankful.” He repeated himself many times, saying that again and again, weeping and raising his voice loudly. I do not believe that Sandy really had any relationship with her brother.

Chad thanked me and then informed me that they were having a memorial service in honor of Sandy. However, sadly, I was not able to make it but I was there in spirit. Then, I told Chad that if he ever needed anything that he could call me and he told me the same. We thanked each other and hung up.

As soon as I got off the phone, I started crying and told Philip that Sandy died and he held me while I cried.  After Philip held me for a while, I went outside to sit under the stars. I cried very much. I just could not believe it. Sandy was a very big part of my life for such a long time and then, all of a sudden, she was gone. I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye, I could not tell her again how proud I was of her, how much she meant to me and how much she taught me. My beloved friend and sister went to heaven.

The next morning, I went for a long, long walk by myself. I informed my husband that I needed to be alone for a few days in order to grieve and reflect, so I did that very thing. I remember sitting in a field under the hot Texas sun. I was weeping so heavily and then, I felt such a great heavenly comfort. “She is home now, she is not in hell, oh Jesus, it is because of you! Thank you, oh God, thank you. Sandy is not in hell, but she is eternally home with you.” I wept for joy, mixed with some sadness.

I cried a lot for about 2 weeks. I really grieved because my good friend was gone. But at the same time, it was far from hopelessness. The comfort I felt was beyond words. Truly, it was beyond words and was straight from my heavenly Father. I hope this does not sound selfish or just completely insane, but I am almost felt like God was rewarding me for the hard, laborious work that I endured for the sake of her soul. I endured with the Lord for her and now, we are all receiving the benefits: Sandy is with Jesus for eternity and I will get to see her again.

During those 2 weeks, I told the Lord, “I will see that you will continue to be glorified in her life and wherever you send me in this world, I will share her story.” And I have done that in America and here in Kenya. I have told the story of Sandy to many people and God has been glorified in it.

A few months after Sandy went home, I looked into my old email account and pulled up old emails from her. I will never, never forget an email she wrote me after she was baptized. She informed me that she had recently found out that one of her friends died from an overdose of drugs. This woman was found dead on her living room floor. When Sandy found out about this, she emailed me and told me that she was devastated to hear this about her friend, but she also said this, I will never forget it,

“Leah, as I found out about my friend, I realized that would have been me, dead on my living room floor, but it’s not. That didn’t happen to me because you never gave up on me. You never gave up on me Leah. Thank you. If not for you, I’d be dead just like my friend.”

Those words send chills throughout my whole body. No, I am not worthy of someone praising me for what God has done in Sandy, but the truth is, I was greatly reminded of God’s patience and His passionate desire for every person to be saved. Also, I thank God, oh I thank Him that He did not allow me to give up on Sandy. Sometimes, I think to myself, “What would have happened if I would have given up on her, like I was tempted to so many times? Would she be in hell right now?” I do not know the answer to that question, but it does pierce me to the core, reminding me of the importance of obeying God and of being patient with all people, never giving up on them.

I learned so much from Sandy. In fact, after working with her, I really changed the way that I see and work with people, everywhere. Yes, even here in Kenya, I am reminded to be patient and merciful with people. Yes, they will lie and steal and persecute you and the list could go on and on, but I remember the story of Sandy and I remember God’s loving patience. I remember His desire for all people to be saved, so I endure, I endure and I endure. I must tell everyone about Him. I know it is worth it. It is worth it! Jesus is worth it, He is worthy of it all and I am fully convinced of that!

I am so proud of Sandy. She is my crown and joy in the presence of God. The memory of her is an absolute treasure from God that He has graciously given to me, and I will carry this treasure for the rest of my life. I thank God for drawing Sandy to Jesus, and that in return, Sandy chose to follow Him. I miss her so much, more than my tears can proclaim, but I know she is finally home now. I know she has been healed from the scars of a hard life and is now in paradise with God. I will tell her story to every place that God sends me on this earth and He will continue to be glorified in the life she lived here on earth. I will continue to proclaim Christ to as many people as I can, and then, I will go home as well. I will preach with the memory of Sandy in my heart and God’s powerful testimony in it all. Hallelujah. Thank you, Father.

Amen.

This is a picture of just seconds before I baptized Sandy.

sandy

2 Responses to “The Story of Sandy: My Friend Who Lives in Heaven”

  1. Monique Canada May 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Amen, Amen and Amen! To God be the glory!

  2. peggy1martin2 May 20, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    Beautiful Leah! Thank you for sharing!! Love you beautiful sister in Christ!

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