When Zaeda was twelve, her after school routine started with making sure her little sisters were fed and taken care of. Her half-sisters were two and four. Then she would mop the floor, fold the laundry, and consider the homework she had for the evening. Mom had to work late. She would fix a simple dinner, tackle the dishes and get the girls ready for bed.
Zaeda had just recently transferred to the public school system and was once more facing the daunting task of finding her place in a new school. She had moved schools frequently as a child, having to make new friends every year, never sticking around long enough to put down roots.
By the eighth grade, Zaeda mostly kept to herself, keeping others at a distance. Her anxiety was mounting from continued instability in the home, and worsened when COVID disrupted the school year. Zaeda needed an escape and began turning heavily to substances.
Soon her dad realized what was happening and sent her to New Orleans to live with her aunt for the summer, hoping the change in scenery would do some good. When Zaeda returned to California a few months later, incidents at home forced her back and forth between her dad’s and stepdad’s houses until it was determined more serious intervention was necessary.
Zaeda’s mom filled out an application for Christian Encounter, and Zaeda interviewed on a Monday and came that Friday. “When I got here, I was so hardened and cold. I refused to read the Bible. I struggled with authority and wanted to be defiant to anything that was asked of me.”
Zaeda was placed in a dorm room with two female interns and for a time was the only student in the room. “I needed these strong women to help me adjust in my first two months.” Her interns were firm, yet loving.
Come February, it was time for the girls’ igloo trip. After the igloo was built, bickering ensued as the girls quarreled over sleeping arrangements. The interpersonal conflict amongst the girls had been brewing long before the trip, and now, in a moment of desperation, Zaeda stepped out into the cold to say a prayer.
Zaeda recognized that these extreme circumstances had pushed her beyond herself and her need for control. She recognized that her situation that night in the igloo shifted when she cried out to the Lord. “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.” (Psalm 120:1)
As her heart began to heal, she was ready to start diving into Scripture. “It’s one thing to believe who people say God is. It’s another thing to read the Bible and decide for yourself. I began to see that the Lord is not this angry person when you mess up. I began to understand who Jesus is as I read the gospels.”
“I knew in my heart I really wanted to give my life to the Lord, but I could not give up that control. I wanted everything to be fixed before I went to the Lord.” But she kept reading. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24) So many people had failed her. All fall short. She could never measure up. All have sinned. But Jesus. All are justified freely by his grace.
Zaeda gave her life to the Lord in late May.
With her surrender, Zaeda hoped for immediate fruit and evidence of this decision. She was now facing the question, “What does it mean to live my life like a Christian and to do what Jesus commanded me to do?”
As she read through 1 John, she found the answer: “Love one another.” And then she saw this in action at the Agony Ride as she received love from the riders pedaling tirelessly for 24 hours, and where she in turn served them tirelessly. “It was special to experience the Agony while growing as a new Christian.”
When it was time for the wilderness trip, Zaeda had anxieties of her own about going, but recognized that some of her teammates were in greater need than she was. She clung to the words of 1 John 4:16: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
Her teammates testified to her selflessness in caring for others despite having her own challenges. And to this, Zaeda testified to the power of the Holy Spirit living in her.
Zaeda celebrated her one-year mark at the Ranch at the end of October and continues in Paul’s words in Philippians 3: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”