Early last year, I inadvertently learned of some unsettling, sad news: A woman I’d met once and long admired had reached the end of her battle with cancer and was moving into hospice that weekend. She would leave behind her husband and their six children, all of whom had been adopted.
I read this announcement on Facebook, posted by a mutual friend, and experienced the news like a punch to the gut. I’d never seen, spoken with, or kept in touch in any way with Cathy. She wouldn’t have remembered me, not from our one interaction in the summer of 2000 in Chicago.
Back then, Cathy–a single white woman–had embarked on the journey of foster parenting. She had adopted an African-American little girl and was fostering another, going on to adopt three children while single and then three more once she married. I just happened to be along for the ride in this conversation that summer, 18 years ago, tagging along with other people who actually knew Cathy. Then I never crossed paths with her again.
But her life, her love, left an indelible mark. I spent the rest of my 20’s and almost all of my 30’s envisioning myself as a some-day foster mother, an adoptive mother, primarily because of Cathy’s example–one she never knew she set for me.
Cathy didn’t approach me with a challenge to love the poor or serve the needy. She just lived her life in obedience to God, to the invitation to be part of His work that He’d extended to her.
About five years ago, I gave this dream of fostering, adopting, or both, back to Jesus. Those means of caring for children are not part of my life and probably won’t ever be. But Cathy’s influence wasn’t for naught. Over the years, I’ve attempted to serve children in need through supporting orphan ministry in Russia and Moldova; by supporting a child through Compassion International; by purchasing (along with my former women’s service group) over 1,000 diapers for a local rescue mission. Taking God up on His invitation to be part of His work to care for those in need. Like Cathy did.
I read the story of Joseph recently, in the book of Genesis. Some of Joseph’s many brothers wanted to kill him, but Reuben convinced them not to. Instead, he suggested they place Joseph in a big pit and leave him. Reuben planned to return and rescue his brother, but before he could, the others sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph ended up in Egypt, where later he played a significant role in saving many lives–including those of his brothers.
Had Reuben not persuaded his siblings to leave Joseph alive, Joseph wouldn’t have been in place for the life-saving work God had planned for him. In some ways, this hinged on Reuben’s obedience–on his simply obeying in a complicated, dysfunctional situation. Like Cathy did.
Today, at church, our body welcomed a handful of individuals into new leadership roles. Before they officially took on those responsibilities, other members spoke in support of these folks. One of the women beginning her role as deaconess today–a friend of a friend–has faced mind-bending tragedy in her life, part of which involved the loss of her husband due to disease. The member sharing about this woman’s qualifications for deaconess spoke some powerful words, so striking that I wrote them down on the bulletin: He stated that she possessed “strength full of mercy, forged in the fires of pain and loss.”
How did she get there? To this merciful strength after disaster and grief? I haven’t asked her, but I think I know–obedience. I think she must have regularly–perhaps daily–made a choice to trust God more than she could feel, more than she could see, and to keep doing that, over and over and over.
Simple obedience that adds up over time.
Obedience can preach a sermon, save a life, change the course of history. Let us never discount the value of simple obedience.
“Never doubt that God uses small things for all eternity.”–Jennie Allen