I met Miss Mae in a Bible study at church.
I was the new girl in town–400 miles from familiar faces–and was grateful for her easy smile and gentle words. She accepted me into the precious group of women who met on Tuesday mornings to turn the onionskin pages of their Bibles and pray for each other’s burdens. (Oh how this group loves to pray!)
Holding her Bible firmly between both hands, she always had a sweet comment to whisper in my ear on her way out the door. She would say something encouraging–generally about God’s goodness–and then point to the ceiling and smile, her eyes twinkling.
A widow over 40 years my senior, Miss Mae never made my contributions to the Bible study feel as meager as they likely were, considering the group of ladies could lap circles around me with their wisdom and experience.
And then one morning I learned that Miss Mae’s grown son–her only child–was dying of cancer.
By her own admission, my dear widow friend was losing her last link on earth.
I remember a poignant conversation in which Miss Mae asked me who would treasure her son’s carefully clipped baby curls–kept in an envelope at her home–after she, too, was gone. I spluttered something about keeping them for her, but I’m sure it was as helpful as a screen door on a submarine. Her point wasn’t that she needed someone to hold an envelope–it was that she was the last guardian of these cherished memories.
There were tears, lots of them at Bible study; we all grieved with her.
As God would have it, our group was studying James–Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3).
I wrote these words in my notes–
To the extent that our trials make us want and need more of God, they are a gift.
(Note to self: Far easier to write that sentence during a Bible study than to believe it in a moment of crisis.)
On a frigid afternoon in late February, Luke and I drove to the funeral home to hug Miss Mae and tell her how sorry we were for the loss of her son. It was easy to see she was broken and hurting, yet when we approached her, she smiled through her tears, pointed to the ceiling, and said one word:
And I knew with that tiny, one-syllable word that she was referring to something bigger than life–joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
Her theology found itself on display as all our theology inevitably does. She knows the joy of the Lord like an old friend because in her moments of discomfort and uncertainty she has found everything she needs in the Giver and not the gifts.
This week I finished copying James 1 into my notebook.
In the stillness of those moments–copying each word by hand slowly enough so that their certainty made contact with my heart–I came to one conclusion–a truth for difficult days:
My comfort does not produce my joy.
All of the good gifts mentioned in James 1 (steadfastness, completion, blessing, etc.) come at the cost of testing. The strongest faith in the world is of no value until it is tested.
It is not until the bad days–when relationships fall apart or someone we love becomes sick or everything we trust collapses around us–that we discover whether or not God will truly meet us in our need. Is He enough? Is He available? Does He care? Does He love me?
My YES to those questions–doggedly clinging to the truth that God is good and the trial is for my benefit–will result in joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [I] may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
Like my sweet friend, Miss Mae, I want to want joy more than I want comfort. So I will return to copying James 2 this week. You are welcome to join me.
Feel free to follow along (or not) as I fill my notebook with the riches of His grace. See you Friday.