What a beautiful, simple focus to ring in the new year, and Isaiah's reminder in chapter 33 that He will be the stability of your times--a wealth of salvation and widow and knowledge, and the fear of the Lord is our treasure.
My time with Jesus this new year has been so meaningful...I love that we don't even have to come up with our own focuses, our own renewing, our own determinations...He has them for us, laid out plain and clear.
My readings in Isaiah yesterday alone set me on this path:
32:17 The work of righteousness will be peace,
and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.
33:2 O Lord, we will wait for you, be gracious
be our strength every morning, our salvation in times of distress
35:3-4 Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, take courage and fear not! Behold, your God will come.
29:19 The afflicted will increase their gladness in the LORD, and the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Isn't that enough for a whole new year? Gifts of peace and quiet and confidence, prayers of strength and salvation, charges to encourage and strengthen and remind those around us to take courage, to fear not, God will come! Gifts of joy for the afflicted?
So take courage, friends, and fear not. He comes, and holds out peace and confidence, the stability of our times.
He used us in a neat way a few days ago, the refreshed my realization that just as He uses others to miraculously answer prayer in our lives, He uses us the same for others.
Micheline's life has always been what I would call a struggle...losing her 7-year old daughter to stomach cancer horrifically and painfully our first Christmas here, her husband always out of the country, even still...no support, too many mouths to feed, a deeply embedded voodoo hometown, always illness in her family and persecution from non-Christians.
We have loved each other and prayed for each other for years, and a few weeks ago, she came to help with Nora while I went to work with huge tears in her eyes. This is SO rare...I ushered her into a chair and didn't have to prod long before she was simply bawling.
"I know God promises not to give us more than we can handle," she shared, hiccuping, "But how can He possibly think I can bear this, much less overcome?"
Her tears, the first I have seen in years, quickly led to my own, and as we cried together over some current deep and painful situations with her nearly grown children and their choices, I prayed many prayers over her for peace, for support, for God's strength. I had NO solutions, there are no real solutions, only continued to remind her that God is near, that God is near.
She then took off for a few weeks, and I have been praying and praying that God would be putting family and friends and neighbors in her life to uphold her, help her, support her. I have prayed and prayed that God would show us how, that He would somehow use us to support her in her great and complicated time of need, mocked by her voodoo-entrenched neighbors, no husband to defend their family, no way to fix all the problems.
When Matt's parents arrived, they had a small gift for Micheline, so we headed out the day after Christmas to visit friends and headed to her home first.
Her village was dark and lost as ever, how easy it is to see darkness in people's eyes and homes and yards even as you pass...and when we arrived at her home, unsure WHAT we'd find, her daughters were home, but she and her sons were at church.
We weren't sure what to do, and finally Matt suggested we just go to her church, where the girls said she was working (on her much needed vacation, nonetheless.) So, we piled back in, drove to her church, and were surprised to see about 50 men, women and children there, all pouring sweat and working like crazy, pouring the floor of the church.
It had been gravel for many years, and we quickly learned that they'd been saving and saving, and were finally pouring the floor! All the men were scrapping, shoveling, mixing, all by hand, young boys and women were pumping and carrying water for the cement from the village well, and other women were cooking a big meal for when the work was completed.
In all the frenzy we stood, unsure WHAT we were doing there and feeling quite out of place, and suddenly Micheline's sweet face popped out from under a five gallon bucket of water, and her face transformed to pure joy. You've never seen a sweeter smile than Micheline's true smile, and that smile alone blessed me as answered prayer.
She was overjoyed to see us, quickly took us around to greet her boys, her brother was there and his wife (who had lost their fifth child a few months ago, I had told you about), two of her sisters...it was wonderful to see everyone, but we were interrupting their big project, Matt's parents didn't speak Creole...
We told her we had a few small gifts for her, and she asked us to take her home and open them there. So, we piled in the truck and headed back to her house, where we spent a while visiting, catching up with Matt's parents, opening gifts and talking about how things were going. We all held her shoulders and prayed for her in her home, praying she would be a light, praying God would surround and encourage and equip her.
I silently continued to pray that God would show me something we could do...something to show her our love, something to encourage her, something to uplift her in her community, despite all of her shame over her children, to lift her up in a time of her being so low.
I had nothing.
We finished praying, Lily clinging to her hand, and Matt offered to drive her back to the church so she could help them finish. When we arrived, she told me another friend was there, around back, so Nora and I hopped out to go greet her.
As we picked our way through Micheline's friends and neighbors, many of them non-Christians, helping do the pour for the free lunch, I noticed that the far left side of the church, a long uneven row, was still gravel...about 1/5 of it, but everyone seemed to be finished working.
When I asked her about it, quietly, she said after three years of raising funds, they finally decided to pour it, hoping somehow God would multiply what they had....but that they had run out of cement to finish, so...
She shrugged. That part would be left bare and rocky, and maybe next year. We'll sit on the other side, she said.
Everyone was standing around, ready to work, wanting to finish, having paid for it all and done all the work themselves.
And suddenly I knew. This was it. This was why God had brought us here today, why He'd gotten us to their church, right on the moment and hour they were working, her whole community and family.
This is what we could do.
And this is the kind of giving we love to do...the kind that comes alongside what people have already worked to do themselves...the kind that is unasked for...the kind that is through relationship...the kind that blesses and empowers, longterm.
Micheline walked us back to our car, a totally different woman than she had been weeping and despairing on our couch a few weeks earlier. I told her we prayed for her still, I told her of our love, I reminded her of Isaiah, saying to her anxious heart, take courage and fear not, God will be your defender.
As we kissed goodbye, we slipped the money for the last 7 bags of cement into her hand, and she jumped.
Really, truly hopped, with total surprise and full-joy, and she waved us good-bye and I watched in the rear-view mirror as she danced and sprang her way back to the men eating around the wet-floored church.
She was lifted up, quite literally, just as I had prayed. She was the member of her community who finished their project, who made it possible, through whom their long-awaited task was accomplished. She was encouraged, she felt supported, she had hope.
I was lifted, too, not only at her improved spirit, but at the reminder that God continues to be actively at work, answering prayer, increasing the gladness of the afflicted, making the needy rejoice! He brought us at just the time on just the day, with just the right amount of money, and answered my very prayers.
Like He does. Still and will.
|Our annual Chinese New Year's Eve...|
|New Year's Day, Pork and Cabbage with Uncle Dave and Aunt Marilyn|
|Today, Lily turns 8!|