Women's lives. For 25 years I have been a speaker, traveling around this country, in and out of all sorts of settings, denominations and churches. Frequently, I am with women's groups. Besides speaking for them, I find myself in the role of a kind of sin-bearer for women's lives. Between sessions, during lunch, at my book table, driving to and from the airport, they confide in me the intimate details of their lives, details that could only comfortably be confided in another woman. I have seen their tears and prayed over them, but I've often been frustrated that I couldn't do more than love on them and entrust them to God's care. More often than not, they have blown me away with their strength and resilient trust in God.
Honestly, some of their stories are so horrific they will be with me for the rest of my life. The woman who was sexually abused throughout her childhood, starting before she could barely speak or walk. The beautiful Latino, raised in the migrant fields of our country, working in those fields as a child and then sold off to an older man as a 14-year-old. She was twenty-something when I met her. She was breaking free with the help of the hosting church for these meetings. I wanted to bring her home with me.
Abandonment. Abuse. Betrayal. Cast off. Death of children. Treated like something that was scraped off the bottom of some man's shoe. These are the ABCs of women's loss. I hope I've heard the worst stories I will ever hear, but every speaking engagement opens the door to more shared sadness.
This time I knew her. Steve and I were her youth pastors 30 some years ago. After the first session, she came down the aisle pushing a walker, her hips deteriorated by arthritis. After five children, her husband left her for another woman. Her disability makes it difficult to work. She sews and brings in some income, but its very tough. A side detail of her life that captures a lot--her Ex conveniently "misses" paying the electric bill (part of their divorce settlement) whenever its her birthday or Christmas just to heap more contempt on her. Awful!
We caught up on the decades that had passed. But she wanted to share more than her loss with me.
"God is so good! Like the time we only had two oranges and an onion to eat and four dollars between my daughter and me. What should we do? We could buy groceries, but $4.00 won't go far. Buy gas? Try to pay a bill? We decided to give it to God and so that Sunday we put our precious $4.00 in the offering plate. That night a car pulled up to our house. It was someone from church. Her car was loaded with groceries for us. God is amazing! Every day that week something incredible happened that met our needs."
She shared her $4.00 story with the women at the conference. I asked them to pray for her whenever they saw her during the weekend. Hip replacement surgery is early November.
Did these women ever deliver! All weekend she was the focus of love, prayers and stories of encouragement. She had 350 instant girlfriends. They knew her name, her story and reached out to love on her.
What they didn't know, and what I didn't know, was that it was her birthday. But God knew. He arranged to have love poured out on her like no other birthday she had never experienced--electricity or not!
On Facebook she said, I had an AMAZING birthday spent with INCREDIBLE women! Truly a gift straight from God."
"I hope I didn't weigh you down with my problems," she messaged me later.
"Nope. You didn't. I loved getting caught up with you. And I loved seeing how God has his eyes on you."
When our hearts are broken, our challenges beyond us, the mountains too steep and the valleys too dark, sometimes all it takes is a touch, a small light in our darkness, a smile that lightens our way, something with God in it, something only he could arrange, and then all is bearable because he is with us.
Such graces can even light up a birthday when someone has intentionally left you in the dark without electricity. Happy birthday! Light up the heavens, why don't you?
His grace is delightfully sufficient. I saw it again last weekend.