The first time I met Leslie was at a women’s retreat through my church that I was asked to attend and photograph. I was assigned to a room with five girls around my same age that I’ve never met before and yet we developed a special, loving, and genuine relationship that took my years to develop with most people in my life. One of these girls was named Leslie. I didn’t know her story right away, but I knew she had one because of some side comments and verbal cues. It wasn’t long before we talked over coffee where she told me her entire story, her journey of faith, and showed transparency with her fears and doubts.
It’s been almost a year since Leslie was ready to hop on a plane to Youth With A Mission : Indonesia. She had felt a strong desire to move out of San Francisco, say goodbye to her old self, and go to Bali into order to serve people and develop a deeper relationship with God. Just a week before she was supposed to leave, she was in a car accident concerning a drunk driver—passenger side, unconscious at the scene, the paramedics attempted resuscitation—ultimately, it left her in a coma. With breathing tubes attached, severely broken bones, and internal bleeding, it was a miracle that she woke up two weeks later, but the difficulties didn’t end there. Leslie was put into a medically induced coma due to tachycardia and anxiety every time she had a visitor. During a two month stay the hospital, she relearned how to eat and walk, but to this day she still suffers from brain trauma and memory loss. Seeing Leslie’s photos during her recovery and looking at her now is like looking at two different people. I would have no idea the pain she went through and knowing that someone in her circumstance could have died gives me a cold sweat.
Leslie’s physical pain was apparent, but the emotional scarring caused her crippling fear. The spiritual warfare was intense. The subsequent depression, anxiety, and anger crept in, contributing to broken relationships with friends and family, and suicidal thoughts. “The only person left was Camille,” Leslie said, “She picked me up and took me to church every week. She introduced me to Alpha, a course at church that freely explore the basics of the Christian faith, and her small bible study group. She was intentional with me and continues to do so much for me.” It was at Alpha that Leslie found other people who had the same questions and doubts as she did. “You could say and ask anything and no one would judge you,” she said, “I didn’t feel alone anymore.” As friends from her life group lifted her up, she was given rides to and from weekly gatherings, events, hangouts and church. “I love the Life Group because it’s just the eight or so of us,” she said, “I’d rather have them than any of the fifty friends I’ve lost. They are my support system, a group that prays for each other and loves each other.”
Leslie’s desire to find God through all this pain, led her to attend a women’s retreat with her friends. “Leading up to the retreat, I met with my pastor’s wife for four weeks,” she said, “I asked for her council regarding if I should try and go for YWAM again, how I wanted God to show up because I didn’t feel him. It was like talking to a wall. I couldn’t hear him and doubted if he was there.” Leslie applied and was accepted into a program in Australia. A place that was green-lighted by doctors just in case she needed care. However, equating her first attempt to go to Indonesia with the accident, she continued having fears and doubts about going. Fear that she would get hurt again, maybe this time die. “I came to the retreat expectant,” she said. On the first night, Leslie and her friends sat in the back row. “In the middle of the sermon,” she said, “the speaker stopped in the middle of her sentence, looked at me, asked my name, and said, “God sees you and knows you.” The whole back row, even those who didn’t know her full story just started bawling.
“Although fear still creeps in,” she said, “God made it known to me during the retreat, that in my daily life, he sees me and hears me cry out to him.”Leslie said, “I have hope. I was provided with people who didn’t give up on me, a place to ask the hard questions, and God showed up when I so desperately needed him.” She’s decided to take another step of faith and will be participating in YWAM Australia. “I’ve realized that I have no shame in sharing my story because I have nothing to lose,” she said, “We are all vessels and no matter the extent of our story, God will use it to speak truth into someone.”