Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gina's Boys

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 27:13-14

That's what I read this morning, and after I read it, I couldn't stop thinking about the woman I met on Sunday at church. Her name was Gina and she came in with the cutest little boys. Same height, toddling right on her heels, two years old. They started dancing around, and Savannah was watching them and squealing, so Gina and I struck up a conversation.

When Gina was pregnant she knew there was more than one baby. She was huge, and her stomach never stopped moving. Her husband worked for the government, so even though he showed up to work everyday most months he didn't get paid his salary. About halfway through her pregnancy she had to stop working because she could hardly stand and she was retaining so much fluid that she couldn't even close her hands to grasp anything. Her midwife got scared. She told Gina that she was going to die if she didn't give her money to go and perform ceremonies involving demon worship. Gina refused. She said that she was in the hand of God. Her midwife continued to tell her she was going to die everyday.

When her labor started, her midwife was expecting the worst. One baby came, then the next, then the next. Triplets!!! No C-section, no drama, no problems. Three healthy babies, one healthy mother. The midwife was amazed and that day she gave her life to the Lord. Gina was confident that she would see God's goodness and even when she didn't know how things would turn out, she was completely content waiting on Him.

I wish her story ended there; but there were only two little boys with her on Sunday. After the boys' first birthday, one of them got sick. He had a high fever and wouldn't stop vomiting. She took him to the hospital and found out that he had malaria and was severely dehydrated. They started treatment and then left him alone for hours, waiting for a bribe to come back into the room. Gina begged them to come and look at him again when he became lethargic and blood was climbing up the IV tube that was supposed to be giving him nutrients. In the end, he died in front of her. As she looked at me with tears in her eyes (and quite a few in mine as well) her face lit up with a huge smile and she said, “I don't have a single complaint against God for what happened to my son. All my life, He has taken care of me and He knows better than I do what my son needed. My son is with Him, and I will see him again. Right now I look at my other sons and I know I am blessed, but even if they were all taken away from me I would still know that I am blessed.”

I was floored by Gina's faith and strength. I was inspired by her joy; and I was humbled. After we chatted a while longer I sat down with Savannah and all I could think about was Romans 5:3-4:
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Nobody likes suffering. Nobody likes pain and hurt and disappointment, but when we invite Jesus to come into our suffering, to be with us in our hurt, that's when suffering produces perseverance; and when God gives us the strength to persevere, we develop character; and from the fiber of our character, springs hope. Gina was filled with it.

Sometimes in the middle of our hurt we turn from God. We shut Him out and all we have is pain. God waits for us to invite Him in, so that He can change us. God has used so many difficult things in my life to make me who I am; to teach me more about myself and more about Him. I don't know what pain will come in my future, but I do know that God can use it to strengthen me and to make hope fill my heart and shine from my face. I am confident that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and I'm waiting on Him.

It's not easy to get a good picture on a camera phone in a dark room :-) Gina and her two boys. Their names are in Balanta (her tribal language) but they translate to "God loves us" and "God loves you". The one who died was named "God loves me"

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lord, Show Your Power!

A few days ago I was reading First Corinthians and I was struck by something in a new way. Paul opens chapter 2 with these words:
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”
-1st Corinthians 2:1-5

As I read this, many questions started swirling around in my head. How many times have I prayed that God would give me just the right words? How many hours have I spent planning out exactly what I would say before I speak to a church in the US or a group of women here in Bissau? How many days have I spent praying that God would give me the clearest, most impactful words to share the gospel with a friend of family member?

All of that is certainly part of it, but if that's all I do to prepare, then I've missed the point entirely. Paul doesn't want the faith of the people to rest on man's wisdom. Why? Because it's insufficient. I don't want the message that God gives me to rest on my eloquence. Why? Because it's not enough. People's lives are not going to be changed by the Gospel unless the Holy Spirit comes with power. If I want to see lives transformed, I need to spend far less time searching for the perfect simile and far more time on my knees before an almighty God.

I was thinking about this when I gave Savannah her bath last night. Just this past week she's started to make the transition from playing in the water to playing with the water. While I was sitting next to the tub, she abandoned the rubber ducky that she had been vigorously squeaking between her gums, and decided that it was about time to check out this wet stuff she was surrounded by. She stared at the water carefully, leaned her head all the way to the side a few times, opened her hands and prepared herself. Then, slap, her arms sprang into action like a pouncing lion and her hands smacked each other as the water evaded her grasp. With a confused look on her face she tried again and again and again with the same lack of success.

What Savannah doesn't know is that you can't grab the water the same way that you grab a ball or a doll. It's not something you can pick up and turn around and examine from every angle like her toys. What we forget, is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn't reducible to a scripted sales pitch. The life changing power of the Holy Spirit, like the water in Savannah's bath, isn't something that can be grasped with my hand and controlled. No matter how long I stare at the words I want to say, carefully crafting them into the message I want to deliver; no matter how enthusiastic and ready I am; no matter how much I want to make an impact; like Savannah, I end up with a handful of nothing if I'm doing it on my own.