No longer seeing life as "all rainbows and sunshine", Lïezel Botha's childhood faith in a 'good' God was severely challenged with the sudden, tragic death of her best friend.
Sitting with her mom in their old, green Toyota at five years of age, Lïezel clearly remembers the day when she first considered what it meant to believe in God.
"I thought that in order to have Jesus come into my life, I had to die and give Him my physical heart," she says with a chuckle. "I turned to my mom and asked if she would give my heart to God for me but she was obviously quick to explain that it was simply something I had to ask God for and He would do it."
Lïezel was surprised that it all seemed so easy at the time. She simply asked God for forgiveness for the naughty things she had done and prayed that Jesus would come into her life and help her live for Him.
Her faith may have been naïve at the time but Lïezel says following the loss of her best friend Sophie, in 2005, she learnt the true meaning of God's 'grace' (his undeserved love).
"My heart turned black and hard as I was filled with such anger, bitterness and hurt at first," she admits.
"I was consumed with thoughts like 'How could He do this to me? How dare God take her away from me? I hate God for not saving her' and so on."
To add to her pain, the week before Sophie's death, Lïezel dreamt that Sophie was going to die.
"When this nightmare became a reality, I blamed myself saying 'I obviously didn't pray hard enough' or 'if I had been a better friend I could have saved her'," she says.
The anger and bitterness she harboured became "like a heavyweight that I was carrying around inside me which I had encased in a thick brick wall so no one could get near to me".
Lïezel says she developed a fear of abandonment and a fear of being vulnerable and admits that she purposefully hardened her heart to 'control' what she felt.
"I decided to stop feeling anything, I refused to let any new people near and I succeeded in my decision to stop crying for just under a year," she says.
Throughout this time Lïezel continued to attend church and youth group, pretending that everything was okay until something triggered in her at one particular night service.
"I cried out to God because I finally saw I was in the wrong because of the hatred I felt," she recalls. "I went outside and just sat down. All of a sudden the tears just started flowing and I could not stop them. It was here that I realized how much I had changed.
"I cried out to God to forgive me, lift my burden and help me heal. And He eventually did through my reading and meditating on the Bible and prayer." Lïezel says from that point on the healing process was still a long and difficult road but people started noticing a difference in her, saying the life had returned to her eyes and her love for others was showing again.
She now understands that Sophie's death meant that she did not continue to suffer from her illness.
"While the loss of my best friend continues to impact my life, through God's strength I have been able to overcome my hurt and use my relationship with Sophie to inspire the way I live," she says.
"I am continually astounded by the grace that God has shown me. That despite fiercely hating Him, He still chooses to love and forgive me and to give me the gift of knowing Him."
Lïezel has had to endure many other hardships since then, including watching her dad suffer traumatically from severe Rheumatoid arthritis.
"Although my family has made some permanent adjustments, the most important one for me was learning to surrender it all to God," she says.
"While it may seem strange, I truly believe that God had our best interests at heart through all of these trials. Dad's illness meant that we learned to trust God, slow down and appreciate every day.
"My hurt has given me a true understanding of what grace is: an undeserved gift and unmerited favor. This enables me to help others through similar experiences.
"God truly does have an unconditional love and an unfathomable grace that I continue to experience on a daily basis," Lïezel concludes with a smile. •