An emerging theme in my life lately has been God’s ongoing faithfulness – His ability to overcome, and even use, my weaknesses for the glory of His kingdom. The ways He has revealed this to me so far are perfectly placed as I enter into a season of new risks and uncertainty, and I pray that He opens my eyes to see His faithfulness in even more areas of life.
Back in Appleton…
Let’s go back a year, to when I first moved out of my comfortable “Lawrence bubble” into a different part of town to begin the Reach House program. Pretty early on that fall, I began to notice a woman in our area. Whenever I saw her, she was just sitting with several large purses and apparently with no place to be. I wondered why it didn’t look like she was going anywhere, why it often looked like she had been crying, and what she did with her time. Something about the situation didn’t seem quite right.
I was pretty slow in any attempts to reach out and talk to her. I prayed for her from time to time, when God would invariable bring her to my attention, but I’m not great at initiating conversations with strangers. And by not great, I mean I try to avoid it with every fiber of my being. Eventually I was given a couple opportunities to say hello, but she either didn’t hear me or ignored me. I got the sense she just didn’t want to be bothered or didn’t want to have to explain herself to anyone. This went on for the six months I lived in the Reach House – knowing that somehow I was supposed to reach out to her but having absolutely no idea how. Then I left for Algeria for three months.
Having completely forgotten about her by the time I came back, I was surprised to see a familiar face come through the café I worked in. Immediately the sense that she had been put in my path for a reason came back. I didn’t say anything to her that day, but resumed praying and knew that if God wanted me to encourage her in any way He would make our paths cross again.
A while later, she came through the café again. She seemed really distressed about something that had happened to her. She didn’t give a lot of details at first, but I knew she was trying to last-minute see the doctor and had been hit hard on the head. Little by little, as my co-worker and I tried to be hospitable while she waited for the doctor to have an opening, I began to hear more of what was going on in her life. I really had nothing substantial to offer her – just an open ear and my non-judging trust.
After that encounter, I felt like it wasn’t enough. What else could I have done though? I felt utterly unequipped to be of any help – I have never helped anyone through any sort of crisis and I wasn’t familiar with much more than my comfortable, easy life. All I could do was listen, but I wanted to offer more than that.
As my summer in Appleton was coming to a close, she came through the café again. She seemed genuinely pleased to see me and asked if I worked there every day. I told her that I had, but that today was my last day since I was going back to Algeria. Her face dropped and she told me that she was really sorry to hear I wouldn’t be there anymore – she said I was a “light in that place.”
I was caught completely off guard with that comment – I had no idea that listening and caring, without having anything to offer in terms of help, could be so appreciated. I mean, I knew we all need someone to make us feel loved, but I honestly didn’t see that as something I was any good at.
Something still felt weird after that though, and I knew right away that I had just taken the compliment for myself rather than point out that the light she saw is Christ in me. I failed to give Him the glory. I’m not any different than anyone else she had ever seen. Anything that made her feel loved was definitely coming from Jesus and not from me. I felt that weight of not having told her throughout the rest of my shift. When I stopped at ShopKo on my way home, I ran into her there again… and still didn’t tell her.
As I biked home I prayed. I knew that even though that was my last day in the café and I would be leaving Appleton soon, that couldn’t be the last time I saw her. I told God how much I wanted to tell her the truth about how much He cared about her, and how I needed Him to give me one more opportunity to see her. I thought of how he had given me so many chances… almost a year of them in fact. I knew that if He had given me so many opportunities to show her the light of Christ, and if He accepted my slowness in pursuing them, He wouldn’t just let it end like this.
During my last few days in town, I passed a Subway and thought I noticed someone I recognized inside. I tried to walk away as fear gripped me. What would I say or do? I heard God tell me right away to turn right back around. This was my chance, and I had to take it.
So, I went in, and long story short, we spent that entire day together. She needed rides to several places – to replace items in a bag that was stolen and to run other errands. I had a car waiting at home and a free day ahead of me. While those 7 hours we spent driving around town were incredibly exhausting and way outside of my comfort zone, they were God’s answer to my prayers.
I found out she is going through some pretty horrible stuff, but she already has a strong faith in Christ’s ability to conquer whatever she faces. Even if just for a day, I was able to provide my friendship and some help. I don’t know how much just a day can actually make a difference, and I don’t know how to help with any of the more serious problems she faces, but I trust that God can take care of her. He already is.
I don’t know if that was the end of my time with her, but I trust that God will put others in her path, as I know He already has. It feels like I wasn’t able to do that much for her and I still wonder if I should have done more, but I trust that God can use whatever I had to offer.
The God of many chances
God used that entire experience to teach me. He took me to a place where I was definitely not comfortable or qualified, and He sat with me as I continually failed to step out with all the strength He gives. Even though I constantly fell short, He never ceased providing me with new opportunities, patiently waiting for me to grow in faith. He taught me to trust that His grace truly is new every day.
As I enter into my time in the desert, this lesson is being refined in various ways. Sarah and I talked about the way God has been faithful to give us new chances when we mess things up. She relayed a story she remembered about her last time in the camps, and I was reminded of this story from my last year. In both stories the theme was the same – we are weak, but His grace is sufficient. We make mistakes, we say or do stupid things, we back away… but God pursues us with His endless grace and reminds us of His ability to use us.
While in our first team church service, the verse 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 was read to us. I instantly knew that it was confirming a significant theme for my 8 months here (and frankly, for my life).
He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I am going to have to trust God in my weakness and not let my failures hold me back from what He has called me to. Whether loving, learning, sharing wisdom and truth, having compassion, advocating, teaching – whatever it is that He sets in front of me for the day – I may fail. I may fail several times. Yet He will ultimately accomplish His purposes and invites me into them.
I am encouraged every time I remember this. Instead of guilt or shame when I feel like my efforts don’t measure up, I can have hope that God has a plan to use me regardless. He has an endless treasury of opportunities and grace. There’s nothing so useless about me that He can’t make use of me anyways. All I need is a heart that is willing to accept His grace.
Linking up with Ember Grey for Grateful Heart Monday 🙂