As leaders, we can become isolated from the suffering nature of love. To be present, to pay attention, listen, and come alongside a lonely soul. It's easy to get lost in laptops, meetings and 'important' things. Over the past year, due to Covid regulations, we've been unable to gather our local widows for fellowship. One of our volunteers became ill and was admitted to the hospital this week, which gave us the opportunity to drive out an area village where a handful of precious widows live and work in their gardens without end!
One of our visits was with babushka Galia. She’s 84, and has quite an operation farming more than a small garden. She has sweet corn, potatoes, cucumbers, and all kinds of critters pecking about. She’s struggling to keep up, and recently had a heart attack that left her in the local hospital for over a month. She teared up as she explained the stress she feels to keep up with the garden and daily chores on her own. I tried to encourage her to scale back and take care of her health, but that’s an exercise in futility with these grandmothers. Their life is in their garden, it’s all they know, it gives them purpose in the morning, day and fills their thoughts at night.
She has kids, but they are all in the bigger cities, and only come to visit when there’s a problem. I asked her what brings her the most joy, she easily replied, “children, I miss being around children.”
It was so quiet in her village, buried in the forest. It once had a school, a store, but no more. Now, it’s just a handful of houses and some overgrown forest covering what used to be well traveled roads. It’s like stepping back in time. I saw her blood pressure readings, having gone through a season of monitoring my own last year, I noticed some dangerous spikes and asked if that was from her working in the garden. She replied, “maybe, but it’s probably from the stress I have with my neighbor. My garden weeds are reaching over to their yard and they are angry with me about that.” Isn’t it interesting, no matter how quiet, isolated, and seemingly without the stresses of our modern world, she shares in the struggles of the rest of us.
Hung on her walls I noticed some orthodox Christian imagery, icons. Thankful I was able to study some of the hand gestures of Christ (Greek sign for Trinity) and the elements in iconography that point to the true icon, God become flesh for us. After each visit, we close with prayer, and often the grandmother will cross herself, three times, in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. The hope of Jesus resurrection is so meaningful when physical death is looming, God’s loving offer of friendship and eternal life met with willing hearts – especially if embodied among the family of God.
Well, that’s my story from yesterday. There’s more I could share, like the 96 yr old neighbor grandmother that has sleepless nights, dirt floors and grossly misshaped toes/feet. Some of the sights, the smells, reminding me that this ministry is truly about entering the pain of others, taking it on, and a certain emptying must take place for this sort of path. To empty oneself of all that we consider spiritual from our former dualistic concepts, to see the upside down kingdom, God in the material here and now, among us in the forgotten, outside on the fringes. To go there, requires an embracing of death early on in our journey, not late towards the end of life when all our vigor and energies have been spent on our anxious search for meaning. When we stop striving, we can be present, we can love those in front of us in actuality, not in words, but through embodying the love that has been poured into us by our Creator. I don’t confess knowing this pathway too well, I’ve only started walking its path, the trail is not worn, but I’m seeing it, and I think that’s a start.
Jesus be with dear Galia. Be with all your dear widows, and empower us by your mercy to love them as we experience your perfect love.