"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Now, frail, weak, a mere shadow of her old self, but still the strong spirit of the mama I used to know. Squeezing my hands the meaningful three squeezes while I held her hand, she mouthed the words, "I love you." It wasn't much, but it was a sign that her sweet heart was still inside trying to reach out. So, my short visit in February, was meaningful to my heart's cry for my mama, who I have been missing for several years, even though she is still here but losing touch with reality day by day.
She has a strength inside that still she chooses to exercise, even though she is in pain and uncomfortable every day. She brings memories of delight to me. Not perfect as a mama, but generous in love and in the end affirming me as her daughter.
The spirit of a woman can be such an anchor to a home and family. If a woman learns to embrace the challenges of life head on and is determined to bring light into darkness, celebration into the mundane, forgiveness to the offenses, grace to the ugly, she can help to determine the way all who are in her home see and learn to love God.
And so, pondering her life, I have remembered details of my own life that I have not thought about in years, but all tied about the strong spirit of women.
To be able to live peaceably with hard and perverse persons, or with the disorderly, or with such as go contrary to us, is a great grace.” -Thomas À Kempis
As I was sharing some thoughts on this at my conferences this year, a long ago forgotten story seemed to bubble up in my heart. Hidden in the treasure chest of my own heart, I realized this memory helped me to shape my understanding of a truly dignified and strong force that a woman could bring to manifest God in her home.
Ten years old was a difficult age for me. My family moved from the town I had lived in my whole life to Houston, Texas. For two out of 4 months, I was out of school, at points, close to death because of twice battling with double pneumonia. As a premie baby, with a history of asthma and respiratory problems, having lung failure and challenges and breathing issues was not new to my mom. "If you want this child to stay alive, you must move to a place that is higher and dryer, as she is deathly allergic to mildew and mold and Houston is filled with it."
And so, my father found grace with His bosses and was transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for my sake. It was not an easy move for any of us, as we were quite lonely and had to start over for the third time in one year, with transfers to schools between the moves, rental house and finally home that we would stay in until I graduated from high school.
Grace was the name of the woman next door. My mom had met her at a party of friends and she had told us of the home that was for sale next door to her. Sweet smelling aromas always wafted from and around her clothes and being, melodic, deliberate words flowed from her mouth. I remember as a young child, loving just to watch her. Always a smile, elegant, mannerly, sophisticated and feminine to my little girl tastes, and treating me, not as a child, but as a person worthy of a friendship. Looking into my eyes, greeting me and asking me for my opinions on issues stretched my young heart to a noble stature, wanting to live up to her grand expectations of me.
“Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live.” Dwight Moody
Every memory of her was one that brought a smile to my heart. Gracious words, a joyful spirit, flowers in vases, delicious treats, lovely voice floating around now as memories. She personified her name, Grace, and gave me a picture of what I wanted to become. She put me at ease--not many people did.
Early one morning, I looked out my bedroom window, which was directly facing her home, and saw an ambulance in her driveway, lights flashing. "Mama, what is wrong at Miss Grace's house?"
"Her husband, Jimmy, is a little bit sick and they need to take him to the hospital so he can get better," was her short but satisfying reply. After all, he always looked a little sickly and gray.
Mr. Jimmy was tall, skinny, socially awkward in my eyes, but evidently a brilliant petroleum engineer who had been quite successful and made a lot of money. But a shadow of a man, always in hidden places in her house, a bit of a scary mystery to me.
What I didn't know was that he was an alcoholic, deeply depressed and had attempted to take his own life unsuccessfully, and the ambulance had come to keep him alive.
The next time I saw the ambulance a couple of months later, I was to find out he had succeeded in taking his life.
Only now, can I fully appreciate the beauty of Miss Grace's life. Darkness and depression, arguments and death, negativity, and alcohol, and emotional abuse lurked in all the corners and rooms of her home.
And yet, beauty and light seemed to me, to overcome and to be the victor--the lasting, overwhelming distinction of the home where as a child I found life, love, welcome and peace.
She made choices, concerted decisions to keep life afloat in the midst of death. She held fast to the resurrection reality, the power that could not be overcome, the truth that was more powerful than the accusations, the foul language, the hopelessness, where she held fast to His grace and courage.
In this world, you will have tribulation, but take courage. And so she took courage in such a way, that as I ponder all of the adults in my past life, she springs to the memories of my mind as the most gracious, dignified and faithful woman I remember.
The end of her story was lovely. She married a gentle man named Dave, who adored her and treated her like a princess. She still acted the same--the way she had determined to be, because she was intentional about her soul--that it would always be a place of beauty, grace and love, that grew there more and more each day, until she slowly closed her eyes and awaked in the presence of her savior.