"Thank you for saving me," Ali lisped through six-year-old lips. "Jesus, I love you!"
"Ali, look-it's raining. I think Jesus is crying for joy," her mother said.
A bundle of giggles embraced Maggie Jensen and danced about the room in delight. Ali never forgot Jesus' tears of joy. She remembered Him every time it rained, and as a resident of the too-soggy Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State, she thought of Him often.
Ali's family attended church and homeschooled. They watched movies, ate dinners and celebrated birthdays. Ali grew in the knowledge of her Lord and His Word.
Rain fell steadily the day her mother sat down at the kitchen table and said, "Ali, we need to talk about something important."
"What, Mommy?" What did I do? she wondered. Her mother's tone boded no good.
"Daddy isn't coming home anymore, Ali. He loves you very much, but we aren't getting along and we feel it will be better if we stop being married."
"You heard me, baby. Please don't make me tell you again."
Everything changed. Ali went to school and her mother went to work.
"Mom, aren't we going to church again this week?" she asked abruptly one Sunday morning ten months later.
"Baby, I'm sorry. I know you love church, but the people there think I'm bad because Dad and I got divorced. They don't understand."
"I know. I wish I could help you. I don't completely understand myself."
"I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, Ali."
Ali went outside. The cold, misty winter rain chilled her, but she looked up at the grey sky and prayed, "Dear God, please help me and Mom. We miss Daddy. I miss church" A warm feeling welled up inside her. She knew God had heard her prayer. "Thank you, Jesus! You will bring my Daddy home. We'll be like we were before, I just know it." Ali hugged a pine tree and danced around the yard in the mist.
Ali never told her mother about her prayer or the warm feeling. She just waited for Daddy to come homefor years. He rarely called and never saw her mother. Gradually, Ali accepted that he was not coming back.
She grew wiser in the ways of the world. Frequently alone while her mother worked, Ali spent hours watching soaps, reading romances, and gossiping on the phone with girlfriends. Junior high brought kissing parties and slam books.
"What's your perfect guy/girl like?" the question read. Ali scribbled her fondest dream. "A handsome, dark-haired, blue-eyed guy who will love me forever."
"Oooh, I'll take one of those, too," Stacey laughed, as she read Ali's response. "Hey, Josh," she shouted across the cafeteria, "You're perfect for Ali! Will you love her forever?"
"Shut up, Stacey!" Ali cried, grabbing the book. She ran, red-faced from the room. Ali had nursed a semi-secret crush on Josh for six months.
Ali met Jeff when she was seventeen and his family transferred in from California. His blond hair, green eyes and broad smile did something strange to her gut. They became friends-then more. It rained the night Ali gave Jeff her virginity in the cab of his pickup on a secluded beach. The stick shift dug into her back and Jeff's partial beard burned her skin. She cried with Jesus as she dressed, knowing she would never be the same.
Jeff dropped Ali quickly. He went through the girls of her class the way she went through tissues crying over him. One grey, empty day Ali decided to visit her old church.
The foyer smelled the same. Sweet memories cascaded through her mind as hope surged in her heart. She didn't know what she expected, but she felt her heart might pound through her chest.
A new pastor looked at the small congregation with the love of Christ in his eyes. His voice was choked with passion, "It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done-Jesus died for you. His blood can make you clean, as if you had never sinned. God longs to save you. He'll love you forever. All you have to do is believe."
Tears of joy rained down Ali's face as rain drummed against the windowpanes.
Debbie O'Connor lives just north of New Orleans with her husband, Jim, and their two children. Jesus has been her savior for 18 years. Contact Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.