We serve God by showing up. When we make the choice to be Christ’s ambassadors in another culture, we may or may not find we master the language or understand its people in the way we want to. Things rarely go as we would plan. But, we can show up! And when we do, God will love people and redeem the day through us. As I look back on my years in France, God demonstrated to me many times that just being available to Him, in all my weakness, could be a powerful thing. This was most real to me during the years that my children were very small and I had little energy left over after a day with them to do much of anything except sleep.
I remember one icy-aired morning as I sat at the kitchen table and opened an in-organizational newsletter. One article held my attention as I read about another of our agency’s global workers who taught aerobic dance classes in the German town where she and her husband were working. Leah’s exploits were glowingly outlined in the piece, which described her as “flying out the door in her warm-ups” to the aerobics class, where after teaching, she would hold Bible studies with the women.
Gee, and did Leah also do the ladies’ spring cleaning on the side? In the tired fog of my life during that time, it was a strain even to imagine there could be someone out there like Leah, who not only “did ministry”, but flew over to do it aerobically. I was isolated most of the time with my two babies in an apartment on the edge of our small French mountain town. As I read about the energetic things Leah was doing in Germany, I asked myself if there was an antonym to “flying” strong enough to convey the way I was doing ministry at that time in my life. I decided that “ooze” might be just the word.
A particular morning came to mind. The simple goal had been to transport myself, The Toddler and The Baby less than a kilometer by foot from our apartment to the home of a new Christian. We had arranged to get together regularly to talk about her new life in Christ.
Visions of me, a woman of legendary spiritual proportions, began to sharpen and glow in my mind as I anticipated this meeting with Sido. In the spiritually airbrushed vision, I was the wise and serene young mother, the Florence Nightingale of the field, on my way to bind up wounds and smooth our rough places in Sido’s life. This saintly image floated across the screen of my imagination on a cloud of song, beautifully coifed. She possessed wonderfully relevant mental discipleship manuals, shining and ready to impart many wonderful things to the lucky friend, all in unflawed French. Also included in the vision were clean children whose noses were wiped, diapers odorless and intact, while the plastic training toilet and all necessities were tucked into a perky and organized diaper bag on the serene person’s shoulder.
I held sweet communion for several months with the amazing Me of the vision, gleaning spiritual insight and wardrobe tips from her anointed lips. The experience of imagining myself so put together brought a temporary euphoria most pleasant. But, alas, the Me of the vision began to fade, waving a knowing goodbye as she receded into the mist. Reality pressed in from all sides. We were running late and I was astonished to find myself impatient and cross. My hair was the “before” picture in a magazine beauty makeover. My French felt fuzzy. The Baby whined at my pant leg: a tortured, jelly-faced midget plucking at my sweater. By the aroma wafting from his general direction, I could only assume The Baby had just spit up a hearty breakfast. The perky diaper bag of the vision was nowhere to be found.
Barking something cryptic to The Baby like, “Can’t you grow up?”, I crammed all necessities into a ripped plastic grocery sack and clattered down the stairs of the apartment building, children and stroller bouncing behind. Amazingly, our trio landed on its feet. I took a deep breath as we slooooowly began to oooooze down the dreary winter sidewalk toward Sido’s house. Twenty yards out, my legs already ached with the strain of moving so slowly. Like a chunky snail, The Baby meandered at my side, inquisitive eyes taking in his surroundings. At fifty yards, The Baby halted, bent over and looked up at me with glazed eyes.
“Micah’s gotta go potty.”
“Oh honey, that’s so great, but can’t you wait till we get to Sido’s house, huh?”
“No. Micah’s gotta go potty.” The look of determination on the small person’s face was impressive.
“Please Sweetie, just wait until we get to Sido’s. Wait, huh? Half my kingdom, anything, O.K.?”
The Baby’s face was reddening rapidly, my babbled pleadings making no impact. Frantically, I whipped out the training toilet and pulled down his pants, despite the raw November wind that switched around us. The Baby began to cry. Passers-by glared reproachfully at the heartless bag woman with that awful ripped plastic sack, exposing her child’s bottom to the elements.
As I began to rail at heaven for ever having given me this “ministry opportunity”, a passing dog entered the scene. The dog paused, went to the bathroom right on the sidewalk, regarded us philosophically and moved on. Fascinated, The Baby leaned over the potty and squatting down, began an expansive commentary.
“Who went potty? Mommy, the doggy went potty. Actually, the doggy doesn’t have a big boy toilet. The doggy…”
“OK Buddy, that is a great, fine observation. Let’s go to Sido’s.” I pulled on the pudgy arms in an effort to straighten the child’s body to a standing position.
“No! No! Micah wants to see the potty.” The Baby plopped himself stubbornly onto the cold cement, his face mere inches from the potty. My mind raced.
“Hey Buddy, there’s a doggy at Sido’s! I bet he has some potty. Can you wait until we get to Sido’s and check out the potty there, huh?”
Was I witnessing a miracle or was this a mirage? The lure of Sido’s dog and the hoped-for potty got us quite a way down the road. Then, the Inevitable Toddler Junk Collecting Impulse was upon us.
“I’m gonna collect rocks for Micah. David and Goliath need rocks.”
“Honey, wait until we get to Sido’s…”
“I’m gonna collect sticks, too. These are ski poles.”
“No! NO!” Memories of a thousand other toddler junk collecting episodes surged through my nervous system, sounding the alarm to protect the vestiges of my sanity.
About a year later, now engaged in discreet teeth gnashing and head aching, my pockets bulging with filthy rocks and twigs, we ooooozed slooooowly into the home stretch to Sido’s house. With the house in sight, I could only now allow myself to imagine the delicious moment of repose in Sido’s cozy living room and the cup of tea I knew she would offer to me as I settled into a soft and friendly chair.
But these things were not to be until the weary pilgrim had crossed those last few feet. A longtime later we arrived on Sido’s doorstep. By then, The Toddler’s blood-sugar had plummeted, bringing on whining at the professional level. The Baby had begun to express a heart-wrenching angst. I too probed deeply into my own soul, asking myself the question, “What is reality anyway, and why bother with anything unless there’s lunch on the other end?”
On the other side of the opened door, Sido looked as haggard and tense as I felt. She explained that all her kids were sick, that she had tried to call me for the past hour to tell me not to come, that she had hardly slept all night. There was a moment of tension, neither of us knowing what to say, both numb, disappointed and spent.
Then something flashed between us. There was a spark, then a mutually felt something, and suddenly we were laughing: cleansing, uninhibited laughter! We leaned there in Sido’s entryway and abandoned ourselves to the futility of potty training until adolescence, the frustration of endless laundry piles and the strain of nights of interrupted sleep.
It was not just the laughter that felt so good. It was that probably for the first time since I had known Sido, I was being myself, not feeling I owed her a pretense that I was more on top of things than I really was. What a relief to have this moment as a grubby mere mortal in all the disappointments, fatigue and sincere-though-faulted expressions of my life in Christ.
There in Sido’s doorway, in spite of me and without a word of my shining wisdom, ministry took place. In Sido’s eyes I could see she understood this. I had come in Christ’s name and somehow we were both strengthened and drawn closer through that simple human need to know we are not alone in it all. And, isn’t that a great deal of what
real Body life is all about?
Then it was over. Sido needed to go inside and help someone throw up and I needed to start the long ooze toward home. Relaxed and suddenly energized, I felt good enough to dance – even aerobically!
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.