You know how there are stories - events, moments, incidents - that just somehow stick with you? And long after they happen, the weight of them is settled in your soul, where they press and shape and influence you much more than you'd ever imagined they might?
Well I've had one of those stories lurking in the back of my mind for a few weeks. I've probably blogged about this man more than once. His story is so unexpected and beautiful and filled with hope and gratitude. Maybe I hold it so close because I want those qualities to rub off on me. I'm not sure.
It was a hot sunny Sunday in Zambia. I had walked to church on a path of fine, soft, incredibly dry dirt; the sound of rich, joyful singing growing louder with each step. Butterflies swooped and trembled in patches of shadow and sunshine, and army ants marched in strict formation.
If it wasn't for the gorgeous singing I'd have been hard pressed to go inside. But there is nothing - really nothing - like Lunda harmonies. They just get into my heart and make it soar. In Zambia I really began to understand the verse that says God inhabits the praises of His people. He is right there in the living rhythms.
Because of the number of short-term volunteers in the area, there was often a translator, but not this day. I enjoyed the chance to practice my Lunda a bit, but I wasn't sure I was following the message. The speaker was an elder, a short old man with tears glittering in his eyes and an unmistakable joy on his face. His text was Ephesians 3:8, so I was expecting a message on the riches we have in Christ Jesus. I tried to pick out words I knew, but I just kept hearing him say death, dying. His sermon was punctuated by heartfelt amens, hallelujahs, and vigorous nodding from the congregation.
The missionary beside me leaned over and explained the gist of his message. He's all alone, she told me, his grown children have all died, his wife just died, and he's rejoicing in the riches we have in Christ.
I looked at this man, this old man who clearly had no earthly riches - not even the comfort of having his family around him in his old age. And he was standing there, fiercely rejoicing in the sureness of the riches in Christ.
His wife and children are all in heaven, my friend continued, they are suffering no longer. He has peace and joy in the confidence that he will see them again, and that they are now happier than they could have ever been on earth, because they see Jesus' face. He is encouraging us to remember the riches in Christ that we have now, and to set our hearts on things to come. He's praising God for the hope He gives His people.
I was deeply stirred and challenged by this. If I lost all of my darling family, would my testimony be one of hope and gratitude? Would I stand and proclaim His excellencies with fervor when my heart was overwhelmed?
And it stuck. It plays in my head and echoes in my heart and pulls my soul to dig deeper - to push away the shale and pebbles of transient comfort and seek the rich soil of this sureness: my riches in Christ.
This past week was rough. Patrick was away and I was parenting alone for six long days. We had spills and upsets, forgotten appointments, tantrums, storms, and just the plain old wear and tear of a long week without the one we all love. Hearts were tired and tempers short. Braxton Hicks decided to move in permanently and that isn't my favourite. I found myself grumbling an awful lot.
But this story kept beating in the background like a distant drum, and when I finally paid attention to it, I heard its message. Why am I complaining? I have a husband who works hard for his family and loves us like crazy. Our hearts are lonely for him precisely because he's so wonderful. I'm tired because I have three busy kids with healthy bodies and vivid minds and they need me to keep them that way. My burdens might take a lot to carry, but they are worth carrying. I am rich.
And when it's all over and I find myself empty-armed and exhausted at heaven's gate, I will see Jesus. I will walk into His heaven and be welcomed as a daughter. Entirely because of His mercy and totally apart from anything I've done, I'm forgiven, chosen, loved, blessed.
Rich in Christ Jesus.
I don't know what kind of storms and loss are breaking around you these days, friends, but I pray that your hearts will be planted firmly in the joy of the Lord. I pray that you will stand strong with tears on your face and a heart full of hope that every one of your burdens is a good gift.
And when all around you is swept away, I pray that your heart will sing and blaze, knowing you are so rich - and the best is yet to come.