I was unprepared, basket of peppers and zinnias in hand, yard-sale pots and pans in the back of the car. I was unprepared when she opened the door, ninety pounds of worn woman with black eyes deep in malnourished sockets. Black eyes that lit up and shone bright with delighted surprise at the simple gift in my hands. This was my first welcome, my first fresh-from-the-camps encounter, my first standing-so-close to the edge that I could almost see what her eyes had seen. I was unprepared. I may never find my breath.
I saw her again yesterday, walking in the parking lot of the apartments many refugees call home. I did not recognize her at first, long black hair shining down her back, cheerful blue skirt billowing in the breeze. Our eyes met. She smiled and waved furiously, recognizing the car that brought the basket. Her eyes, her wave, her posture: all revealed the beauty that hope brings, the health that nourishment brings. #Godatwork
photo by Astrid Westvang, used under a Creative Commons license
A delectable aroma escaped the opened door. I hurried to leave my shoes on the step alongside dozens of other pairs as she took both my hands, ushering me into the crowded front room, into a birthday party unlike any I have ever attended. A pastor stood by the window, crepe paper flowers alongside his worn bible, speaking in one of the languages of Burma. I was quickly guided between rows of young children (sitting quietly! listening!) to a seat on the couch. My sister-in-Christ, Julia, friend of the family, partner in mission, sat on the floor next to me.
We listened. Our ears did not understand but our spirits were in agreement. We sang the songs with them, two languages at once to one tune. I wondered if this was how God hears all of us at the same time, hearts attuned even if the words are different.
We prayed, ending with the familiar “Amen”, this language of Hebrew knitting us. In harmony, in one language, we sang Happy Birthday, with an added verse: “May God bless you always.” The food—fried chicken, noodles, shredded vegetables, soup, agar, watermelon, pineapple cake with strawberries—poured out from the tiny kitchen in a steady stream, served by children, loaded onto 6’ round tables with 8” legs. Knee to knee on the floor, conversations and laughter flowed.
And what of the woman? She beamed. She glowed resplendent in lavender, in a handmade, wrapped-and-tucked skirt and side-buttoned blouse sent in love from another woman half a world away, where her two eldest children had remained behind. Today she was celebrating birth and life. Today, she welcomed friends and church. Today, God was evident. #Godatwork
Today, she wrapped her arms around me.