“My name is Nancy, and this is my granddaughter, Niki.”
“Oh! I am with my grandmother too!”
My sticky, crumby fingers (thanks, orange jam) reach for the gold-plated teacup to the right of my china plate. The taste of perfectly warm English tea is refreshing; I sigh in delight as I carefully place the cup back on the table. The gold silverware are placed in perfect position, the table linens are iron-pressed, and a stack of intricately decorated pastries lie before us.
As the etiquette guide suggests, I look into my cup as I sip, not over.
I don’t know the first thing about proper etiquette except for the quick briefing I received years ago from Michelle when I visited her home in England.
Luckily, I attended this church’s Christmas tea last year, so I certainly know what to expect. Don’t chew with your mouth open, pass the tea to the right, and for goodness sakes, don’t break anything. Easy enough, right?
My grandmother and aunt have attended this holiday tradition for six years and so I feel all womanly and grown up to be involved now too. Gathered at table 11, we are ready for prayer, scones, and a short drama about Jesus’ birth.
This story, though, isn’t just about this lovely gathering of family with light conversation. This is a story about God.
As the cuppas were poured, soft laughter ensued and conversation shifted from crocheting and cookies to life situations and God’s faithfulness.
Nancy, the woman who first introduced herself, reveals that she is excited to join us for Christmas tea today because she “doesn’t get out much.” I tilt my head in curiosity and she explains further, with far more detail. She’s an older woman, but a strong woman, and so I wanted to know more.
For the last 10 years, she reveals, she has been her husband’s caretaker. Determined and resolute, she explained she could never place him in a facility. Cooking, cleaning, bathing, everything: she does it. In awe, my mouth dropped. She wasn’t even finished.
A deep passion began to resonate inside of her, and with outward boldness she declared that this was marriage to her; 60 years of it taught her as much. “I want young people to know…when you sign up, you sign up forever. It’s not easy! There are good times, and there are hard times, but love is sticking through it. You just keep going…It’s through sickness and health. Through everything.”
I wanted to give a standing ovation in that moment; the best I could do was mutter a meek “wow” and say, “that’s amazing.” Luckily, God would allow much more room to speak.
I ate my cheese and couldn’t stop thinking about what she had said. It reminded me of the kind of love I had seen in Garry & Grandma as she was dying slowly and painfully years ago. That’s a really special kind of love. I wasn’t sitting there in self-pity; actually, I was sitting there in deep gratitude. To see that kind of conviction is a blessing; I can tell that God has placed Nancy in just the right place, at just the right time. And, perhaps, has done so for years and years of her life. That’s a special kind of faithfulness. That’s only God.
Five cheese cubes later, my work with the Women’s Bakery arose in the chatter. I explained further about the women that we work with and why working with them is just so special. I could feel myself glowing – like bragging on an over-achieving child or something – as I shared the commitment I saw in the classroom to learn and to believe in their own capacity in ability. I too was quickly on a soapbox about women’s empowerment and the importance of allowing women a voice in the world. As I spoke, Nancy was quick to write a sizable check and pass it to me with grace and with humility. Shocked, I left my seat to get close to her, to hug her, and to express my amazement at her generosity.
The exchange went something like this,
“Oh honey, I want to keep on contributing. I don’t have a computer, but I will keep it up. I just know this is important…”
Stuttering, I say, “Oh!….Um…I will write you a letter…”
“That would be great darling.”
“And, I want to say, it was also a blessing to hear what you said about marriage today. I’m really inspired by your commitment to your husband. It was an honor to hear about your life. Thank you.”
She smiled ever so softly.
“Just wait, dear! Just wait. Wait for the right person and you will see God provide for you in ways that you could not imagine. Let me tell you something. My granddaughter here, Niki, was in a traumatic car accident when she was 11. She had to re-learn everything. To speak, write, think, walk…everything. Her father never stopped supporting her. Her mother too, always encouraged her to remember that despite her disability, she could still do anything God set her mind to. When her mother died, her father never stopped serving and loving her. That’s love, my dear. That’s love….You just have to wait. You have to be patient.”
I turn to Niki, Nancy’s granddaughter, “You are a miracle. I hope you know that.”
Nancy nods and continues, “Yes, she is. God has done amazing things. For all of us. That’s how I was raised, to know God is able, God is mighty, and God will do great works.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“Right here in Denver! But you know what, my mother was actually raised in Atlanta. And she wrote a book about her mother, my grandmother, who grew up in an orphanage. She would always tell us, ‘find a way or make one!…If you are dishwasher you will be the best darn dishwasher that you can be. If you are failing, you must ask WHY? God has given you the greatest gift you could ask for: life. So live it. You must live it’ ….But anyway, the orphanage would later become Spelman College – you know that place? – and my mother wrote a book about it. I would love to share that with you sometime, I can definitely get you a copy…”
I realize in this moment that God did far more for me in this interaction – in this day – than I could have ever imagined. He answered my prayers.
To be honest, as I drove that morning over the long, black highways of Aurora to get to this tea gathering, I doubted a lot of things. I reflected on some of the people I had met on my recent adventures in Kigali and thought, “how am I going to have that kind of fellowship with people here…? People drive everywhere! People are on the move, God, how will I find community here?” While living in Rwanda does bring it’s own set of difficulties, it is often easier for me to adjust there. It feels more natural to me, frankly. And so, coming back to the USA, prepared or not, is always a struggle, particularly in the spiritual realm. My life in the USA always brings a falsehood of control, and when I realize how much I don’t know, I get a bit unsettled and freaked out about where my life is going.
I listened to this woman speak so much truth and it was clear. Community is found in waiting and in trusting patience. I learned that from Nancy – because of her own relationship with the Lord. And while her truth was a sweet blessing for me, my ability to listen was just as important for her. To be heard – that’s a gift, that’s fellowship, and that’s the foundation of a community. I didn’t realize that my community might come in the form of 78-year old women, but God is always doing things that we don’t expect. God allowed me to be blessed in a collision of people where I could be a blessing too. Um. THAT IS SO COOL.
“Nancy, I would love to come over and hear more of your stories. I really would…”
That’s all it took. Quickly, she was writing her phone number, her address, and her name on a scrap piece of paper.
“That would be so great. Please, let’s do that.”
Her eyes looked surprised, content, and thankful. This woman of God inspired me in her faithfulness – in her life, in her relationship with her husband, and in the way that she carried herself.
For me, I was just grateful that God could use someone like this to remind me, once again, that above all of our fears, questions, and doubts, we just need to love Him, and love others. He will build our community; He will deliver His plan; we just must wait. In hope, in expectation, and yes, in love.
I read a beautiful, small and timely piece of scripture this morning. It pointed back to Nancy, it pointed back to God’s calling on our lives, and really the wonderful gift of freedom we have in our lives – no matter where we are, no matter what we do, and no matter our circumstances –
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.”
Yes. Find a way or make one. Trust God, because He – above all things – is faithful.