I Learned to Forgive Myself in the Amazon Jungle

For years, Passporter Liz Hebel felt distant from God. It took her traveling to a new continent to discover how near he has always been.

It’s been four years since I last talked to God.

It’s been four years since I last had a relationship with God. So if you told me last year that I would spend my 21st birthday in the Amazon rainforest with 13 people I didn’t know, doing ministry work, I would have laughed in your face.

I spent four years filling my body with cheap, materialistic imitations; trading a healthy body and mind for meaningless affection and an empty high. I was a slave to the pleasures of instant gratification; always chasing the easiest physical, mental, and emotional way to feel happy and whole.

If truth is light, then I lived in the dark.

I was safe there to hide with my lies, free from judgement, shame, and condemnation. I was an empty, heartless, shell of a person.

I knew something needed to change so I came home from college to focus only on work and school. And suddenly I became obsessed with getting out: out of my past, out of my present, and on to my future.,

I found this trip pretty quickly but scoffed at the idea of a sinner like me going on such a trip. I signed up anyways, and here I am.

The first two weeks of my trip this summer to Peru were a huge slap in the face. Here were all these people with different experiences and God hadn’t abandoned them. How come when I prayed all I heard was deafening silence? How come when I worshipped all I heard was my voice singing the praises of a God who wasn’t even listening?

And then we talked about forgiveness, on how it’s often discussed but rarely practiced. We talked about how it can set you free, how it set me free.

I didn’t have this huge spiritual awakening. I didn’t hear God’s voice in my head. But He showed me the past four years of my life:

On a trail in the Santa Cruz mountains. I remember yellow everywhere. Yellow painted the sky, yellow coated the ground. I’m dancing in my racing uniform with Him.

Fast forward and I’m getting my first set of sorority letters. I’m still on that trail with God, but I’m distracted, my vision is blurry.

Fast forward again and I’m stumbling down this trail in my formal dress, filling my body and mind with useless substances. He is still there but I can’t see Him reaching for me.

Fast forward one last time and I’m sweaty, dirty, enough grease in my hair to rival a can of crisco. But this time me and God are dancing together again.

It’s like God had to show me that He never abandoned me, He was with me the whole time if I had just reached out for him.

I was never condemned, I was just lost.

His forgiveness in my life allows me to forgive all the people who labeled me in the past. Because it doesn’t matter anymore what my ex-boyfriend thinks of me. It doesn’t matter what my family thought about me or how my friends define me.

It only matters what God thinks of me. And in that I can forgive myself.

Who I am is not what I’ve done. I spent my 21st birthday in the Amazon with 13 people I met 3 weeks before. Not where I pictured I would be on this particular day, but I know it’s where I belong.

*photos by Sara Shoup

Have you ever felt like God didn’t hear you? That your past and sin was too much for God?

Are you someone who wants to discover the love of God while serving overseas? Passport is a way to rediscover God by serving the least of these.