As we entered the village that day, the sun shone hot and the clouds moved lazily through the sky. The afternoon was cheerful and the ownership of plans in tact. We were to wash the children's hair with shampoo and speak to the families with smiles and an equally cheery countenance. These were our only mission points, so to speak. We just wanted to help the children with their lice and the families with their hope. God had a different plan for me that day. His plan would wreck me. His plan would set my heart on fire. His plan was not my plan. His plan was not for me.
The children were laughing at all of the silly American antics as we walked and my young Cambodian friend told me more of her dreams of the future with each step we took. She wants to be a pastor. She's sixteen and very determined to share the love of God that she has received. We walked on and finally reached the wooden open air hut we were aiming for. We did wash the children's hair and there was even a tiny little girl, staying in the hut with her aunt and uncle next door, who I gladly conversed with (She spoke English very well!) until the moment of all frozen moments of my Race happened. It just happened.
I looked up from the tiny head I had just washed clean and saw a woman in her 40s, rubbing a large coin across the arms, back, and legs of an older woman laying flat and with nothing on but an old blanket. I rounded the group of children and with a pounding heart, approached the scene of deliberate life giving motion from a daughter for her mother. She was working the body back and forth with her coin to bring circulation to the weary veins of a woman she loved, trusted, and had been cared for by many years before. Honor. I saw honor in this picture and could only take it in with short breaths.
The chorus of lively children seemed like a stark and almost slap in the face kind of contrast to the reality of this broken woman lying flat against the war of time. She had been strong and now, even in the face of obviously great pain, she just lie there. Still. Unwavering, not knowing what state she was in... no, not caring. She just didn't care anymore and you could tell. Her daughter cared though and so she rubbed on, over the bodily signs of fatigue and the pooling of blood shown along the outside lines of her frail, hungry frame.
If I had been shocked by this picture, I would have been shocked by a thousand others the ten months prior. Instead, I stood there staring utterly connected in spirit with this elderly woman, tired from years of something she never asked for and yet was born into by divine appointment. Here she was, lying still. So still. And then there was her face. Wow. The look in her eyes as she opened her weary lids left me speechless and in a split second I made a choice. Slowly my hand reached forward and she stared back much like I had just done. She looked from my hand to my face for a few seconds and then also made a similar choice. She uncurled her arm from under her bare chest and slower than you can imagine, reach her worn fingers towards mine. My arm was fully outstretched, if you can picture it, because I was standing on the ground and the landing she was perched on was at shoulder level for me. For 45 uncomfortable minutes, we stay as this. Me reaching out in great feelings of sympathy and she holding on for life.
Sorrow. Her eyes held so much sorrow, my stomach turned in knots. My friend, Hannah, joined me for a while and even cupped her hand over ours for a bit but soon was, believe it or not, redirected to this elderly lady's sister who was also "bed ridden" behind the sheer and tattered curtain on the other side of this worn out porch. There were two of them. There were two of us called to their sides that day. I was glad to not leave my new friend's side. More than anyone else the entire 11 months, this angel, this tired angel, needed me to tell her it was okay, without saying a word. And so I did. The Spirit of a very living God told me she was sad and we never said a thing. He said she was so sad right now because she was missing her husband. I didn't know why exactly, assuming by her age that he had long passed. I began to intercede for this woman and specifically her broken heart.
Those long minutes passed but our eye contact never faltered. I soon realized that this grasp was not enough to release this woman of her inner agony. More action needed to be taken... and with that, I bounded the few steps to reach her level and with a gust of emotion, laid down right next to this precious woman. There might have been times on the Race when I worried about cultural norms or the need to fit into a society nothing like my own but this moment called for an unsung courage that I do not possess on my own. This moment was about her and there was something she DID need from me that day. The love of my Jesus, face to face with her... to carry her burdens far from her. To take on her fears, sadness, and desperate loneliness. It really did take lying flat on the hard wood to win over her trust. We began to sing.
A song filled my heart and I began to hum... still no words necessary. She hummed along. I had yet to hear sounds from her mouth but here they were, quiet. Sure. I looked deeply into the pools of blackened sorrow that shaped her almond eyes and I told her something with my own blue eyes that was only a message from heaven, "It's okay. You mean the world to me and your heart will feel better soon. You have done so much... been so much to a family who needed you, to a village that needed you. It's time to let me love you. You've done well. You are beautiful and I want to take your sorrow from your bones so that you can lie in peace for the remainder of your days, though they are few.
Wrapped up in the love of the moment and the serenity within the shrill shrieks of the exciting day in the village, I almost missed the rolling in of the dark clouds above our heads or the feeling of chill gradually filling the humid air. As the thunder sounded and the lighting began to streak across the now rugged sky, the translator was asked to make a few specific inquieries about the family, the two older ladies and more. We found out that the two elder sisters were 90 and 91, mine being the oldest of the two. We also found out that a big portion of their issue at the moment was that they were starving... to death. The family had not expected them to live as long as they had and could not afford their meals on top of the rest. I did find out that her husband had only died the year before leaving her so alone and beyond broken.
Even though the religioius statistics of the country would project otherwise, somehow I knew she knew Jesus and when I asked about this very thing, this old woman's daughter looked at me instead of the translator and said in another language quickly translated, "She and her husband ran the missionary church in the village over from here. She hasn't been back since her husband died and she is brokenhearted." I knew the timing was perfect. I knew this woman's incredible heavenly Father had planned this. And I knew that I was at the right place for the right time to share an unspoken message with her that would determine the rest of her long lived short life. She was finished and her Papa just wanted her to know that she had done well and that He loved her.
I finally pulled away from the old woman that had stolen my heart for an hour and a half... maybe a lifetime. The single stream of tears down her right cheek was slowly wiped away and although she never smiled with her mouth at any point, her eyes were definitively lighter and held a speck of light that was unmistakable. She would live well for however many days she had left because she knew the truth. My friend and I were able to bless them with $5 each... all we had on us since we didn't typically give out money. I wouldn't even tell you that we gave if it wasn't so key to what I want to share with you in this story... $5 equaled enough money to provide a MONTH of food for each of them. The mother smiled broadly as the translator shared that she would be back to check on the use of the funds. She would be a good daughter. No doubt in my mind. She already was.
As Pay Pond slid her weathered blanket further up and over her shoulders to reveal her feet to the cold wind, rain began to fall. Rain began to pour.
Who knew that my return to the Race, following a short stint of celebration at home, would bring the absolute best moment of the entire 11 month journey?? Some people mentioned to me that they would have stayed home given the chance but I always knew that there was more that God wanted to do and for humbling reasons that I certainly cannot explain, He had chosen to use me.
In church this past Sunday, the pastor on the simulcast spoke words that have stuck with me into the week. He said, "The Spirit of God is always raining down on God's land. It's those stepping into the rain that reap its' rewards of refreshment, renewal, and powerful love." I've noticed that I often feel tired, weary, and even fragile in this life I live whether walking on the dusty road of Cambodia or driving the paved Scenic Highway in Pensacola, FL USA. It's certainly easy for me to forget the power of God that He filled me with long ago and for Whom I claim to live life dedicated to each day. Many times the simple act of walking out into the showers of what He is offering is all it would take to encourage me or create in me a selfless outlook into the impact I could make in that day. It's perspective. It's acknowledging what's already there and taking place whether I join in or not...
So I pray that I will always acknowledge the rain of the Spirit all around me. That I would live better than without and larger than too small. He wants every person to feel the intensity of what He shared with How Sieng through a single stare. Even me. He wants me to know Him and hear His messages. He is not hiding. He is allowing the rain, even on the sunny Florida days. This rain isn't depressing as some are... it's empowering, invigorating, and enticing for an amazing life just waiting to be discovered.
I did have to walk away from Pay Pond, maybe one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. She will only live days and I know it and then she will be waiting on me. I like that thought a lot! No more pain, no more sorrow, only beauty, and altogether perfection in the arms of the rainmaker.
As Hannah and I held each other and walked home that day, the rain came down so hard that our vision was blurred and yet we shared the same feeling of walking above the ground just a bit because of 1 hr and 45 min of heaven on earth with Pay Pond and her sister, How Sieng. This rain felt just how I described God's rain above.
There will always be this decision... to be in the rain with the Spirit, instead of staying under the shelters that we make for ourselves to protect us from the hurts of the world.
I want to be soaked through.