While my wife and I were having dinner at a nice restaurant one evening, we ran into a woman who had shared some pretty painful things with me in the past. As we greeted each other, I asked how she’d been that day. She burst into tears and asked if we could talk further at a later date. Later, at a movie theatre, a similar scene unfolded with a different person. When we got home, my wife said, “So how often do you have a conversation with people who simply start crying like that?”
Hey, it happens.
It happened today. Wonderfully, beautifully, amazingly, today.
We are here along the Texas/Mexico border working with our friends at First Presbyterian Church of Mission and Solomon’s Porch Faith Community to help establish the poor in decent housing. The welcome we have received has been inspiring, to say the least. People are literally lining up to feed us, for one thing. They are listening to our stories, and telling a few of theirs. And smiling. Oh, it is beautiful.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that God seems to care about bodies, the way that we care for them, and the ways that we are His body. That theme emerged again today in marvelous ways. Listen:
The homeowners of the small three bedroom house on which we are working asked if they could share a meal with us as a way to express their gratitude for the work that we’ve done. Of course, the answer to that is always “YES!” The two families got together and fixed a huge dish of carne asada, arroz dojo, frijoles a la charr, and tortillas, along with home-made churro cookies. If that was all that would have happened, it would’ve been enough.
After dinner, I asked one of the young women in the family, sixteen- or seventeen-year-old L, about the shirt she was wearing. She told me about her high school (the source of the shirt) and then about how much she liked her church. As she spoke, she made several references to the fact that no matter where they lived, she felt like it was her duty and privilege to make sure that her younger siblings got to church. I asked a simple question: “Can you tell me about what makes your faith so important to you that you feel the need to share it in this way?”
That’s when the tears started. “I have to!”, she said. “God has been there for me all the time – since I was born. There has never been a time when he has left me.” She told me that when she was born her intestine was tangled around her other internal organs and she was facing certain death, until a Mexican surgeon was convinced to attempt the risky surgery. There were actually two little girls with the same syndrome who received the operation that night, and each set of parents was told that there was a 10% survival rate. The other little girl died, but L survived, only to face another challenge: she needed a blood transfusion but there was not a suitable donor in her village. An uncle arrived in town late that evening, got tested, and proved to be a perfect match. She needed two such transfusions.
Not long afterward, she developed complications, requiring a second surgery. Her parents had to beg a doctor even to look at her – most told them to plan her funeral and think about other children. Finally someone agreed to try – and again, met with success.
Through her tears, my friend related episode after episode in her life where she saw the hand of God unmistakably. Some readers might recall the story I told about the visit to a UN Camp in South Sudan where a young girl sang plaintively wondering whether God had forgotten her. L‘s story became for me the other side of that coin as she said, “I know that God has never ever left me. My parents, my family, the doctors – everyone was getting ready to give up on me. But God never has. And God never will. How can I not share that kind of love with my little sisters and brother? I do not do these things because I think I can pay God back, or because I want to make God love me – I do them because I love God so much for every day I have been given.”
I was privileged to share with her a story from my own past wherein I, too, learned the reality that there are no guarantees, and that all we can do is celebrate each heartbeat knowing that God alone knows how and when this part of our story ends. You may not be surprised to learn that she was not the only one crying at this point.
Yes, that’s right, you get me talking about important things and I can be a red hot mess. That’s who I am.
We closed our conversation by remembering the words of the Psalmist, who wrote
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me…
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:10, 13-14)
It was a wonderful, beautiful, amazing day. Thanks be to God.
Oh, and we also did a lot of painting, drywalling, and construction-y stuff. That part went fine, too.