Tuesday, January 12, 2010

flowers in a sidewalk

several years ago, i read a book called living the questions written by carolyn arends. although i read this book a long time ago, and have long since passed it on to other friends, this story in particular stuck in my mind, and i will attempt to paraphrase it here with as much truth to detail as i can remember. in one chapter, carolyn tells of her aging grandfather who was dying of alzheimers. she recalls how on a particularly "bad" day where he had not spoken at all, they were riding in the car together that afternoon when suddenly he broke the silence and sadness in the air with the quiet singing of an old hymn he had sung many times. she comments on how in that moment she realized that even through the hardness of life, the soul survives and will reveal a person's character even when all mental/physical capacities have been taken away. and if this soul has been nourished with the beautiful things of life, and particularly the Truth of life, then it will bloom forever no matter what the circumstances may be...

much like flowers growing up between the cracks in a sidewalk.

a few months ago, i wrote about a lady from tintauleu and her five children, struggling to find a way to make ends meet after her husband passed away from an illness, but holding onto her hope and faith in jesus and his promises to carry her through. i have watched and talked with this lady now for several months, coming in every two weeks to receive the food help we can provide her with, a smile on her face and laughter and giggles coming from her children, with her often bringing us gifts of homemade cheese (bought locally) and local produce that grows readily in her village. i have listened (through our translator armando) as she has never once asked for the food that we offer, but instead when i have asked how she is doing, she will tell me of the different odd jobs she has found, going to a town 45 minutes from her village at times to find work that will pay her in daily meals for her and her children.... no money, just food. and as she has described the work that she has done, i have watched armando's eyes grow wide and his astonished "really?" in spanish/quiche as he then turns to tell me that the work she is doing is "man's work" and work that even the men won't humble themselves to do most of the time. and i have been amazed and inspired by the quiet strength and happiness that emanates from this woman's very being. so, a few wednesdays ago, right around christmas time, we packed up a few christmas presents and aaron, armando, our friend oralia and i all went out to talk and pray with her, encourage her, and see how she was doing. when we got there, she was working at a house a little bit away, but we waited a couple hours and were soon greeted by her smiling face, her childrens' giggles, and a three liter of soda that she quickly sent her daughter out to buy. as we spent a little bit of time with her, aaron and i mostly just watching her, oralia and armando converse in quiche, i again was struck with how the presence of God just seemed to flow from this woman and her children. as armando and oralia offered to help her in different ways through a prospect of moving closer to town where her kids could go to school or through nutrition help for her youngest baby at the orphanage, i watched as she humbly, gently, and quietly declined, explaining that this is her home and that the most important thing to her is her children and that they grow up together and in their home... how her heart "would explode" if one of them were to leave... how they were doing well where they were at, making ends meet and holding onto God and each other through this time. and if anyone doubted anything that she was saying, it only took one look at her children - happy, carefree yet hardworking, giggling, playing with each other, and coming to give their mom kisses and hugs - to see that every word she was saying was true.

a few fridays later, i found myself in a setting that was almost the most extreme opposite of the lady in tintaleu that i could get. we walked into the home of a guatemalan lady we know in the city who has grown up in the kind of wealth that most of us only read about... family money that has been invested in things that have only caused it to grow, a house furnished with items that each cost more than our entire house and its entire belongings are worth, a lunch cooked by her cook and served to us by her servants. we sat at a large table in one of her dining rooms, and i looked around me, caught up in the artwork, the trinkets, the gardens, and the woodwork that created her home. i sat entranced during lunch as she told (in perfect english) story after story of a life of privelege with boarding schools in other countries, travels to half of the world, dinner parties where she hosted presidents of countries, ambassadors, and other high up political leaders... and yet, also a life of sadness with abuse and control by her wealthy husband who died a few years ago, a daughter who was kidnapped for ransom money (a plight that many wealthy in guatemala city face) and then murdered, the recent death of her son, who also got saved after a life of drug abuse on the streets of the city, and just the emptiness that faced her... until the night that she found God after reading a random christian story about 20 years ago and the nights that followed of secretly reading her Bible in her bathroom in the middle of the night to get around her husabands' threats of abuse if he ever caught her. and then i understood why her eyes beamed wth that glow of one who knows love and promise through each of the stories she relayed... why through tears of sadness, she could still look us in the eyes and state that she knew that hope was not gone... how she poured out everything that she had to offer us with a graciousness and selflessness of one that has learned to not hold tightly to the things that will be left behind when we leave this earth... how after 70 years of a life where she had all the worlds' desires handed to her on a silver platter, she had discovered that the only True thing in this world worth giving your entire heart and life over to is our Creator and Savior and his Word.

and for some reason, in the middle of this conversation, this little lady from tintaleu came to my mind, and i suddenly realized that these two women were not really that different from each other once all outward circumstances were taken away. that though they glorify god in extremely different circles and settings, they both have traveled hard paths, having loved ones ripped from them, fighting to hold on to the important things in life - God and family - even when it seemed impossible to do so, and how now their lives invite all to enjoy the beauty of life no matter where we are or what life is holding for us at the moment. they are a testimony to all of us...

much like flowers growing through the cracks in a sidewalk.