She sat before me in tears. Pain poured out of her, assault after assault. her frail body shock with emotion. She was an older woman, 91 to be precise. She had picked cotton in the Deep South. Her hands and face were weathered. Her heart had been crushed, broken more than I could ever imagine.
She was my “Surprise Me God" hero.” How did I meet her? I wandered into a restaurant in Florida wanting some good “southern food.” It was also Valentine’s Day. To celebrate this day of love every year I prayed God would bring me a widow I could bless. God brought me Agnes. But I didn’t really bless her, she changed my life. In this brief yet profound encounter she taught me that in our poverty we can look away from ourselves and look to Him. Christ Jesus fills poverty, our human desperation with eternal hope. She was wearing a big hat. I asked her and her niece what that hat signified. They replied “Agnes always wears hats, to protect her from the hot sun as she picked cotton for years.”
As I listened to the pain, her voice and body trembling I asked her how she got through it. “I learned to ‘give thanks to God in everything.’ I would sing Spirituals in the fields. When I couldn’t sing out loud, I would sing inside. A grateful heart protected me from the pain that was my constant companion. Ms. Julie,” she whispered now, “I’m thankful for the scars.” She then rolled up her sleeve, and she had deep cuts up her arms. Her niece said there were also need scars on her back.
I was taken aback. I didn’t have the words, so I prayed, “God help me love her with tender words.” This woman was incredible. “How Ms. Agnes could you be thankful? You have gone through so many assaults.”
“I knew even when bad things happened, I had to stand up and be victorious. The only way I could do that was stay true to God. God means everything to me. Even when my children were being hurt, even when we were hungry, even when I was being whipped (I had a deep sense she was downplaying the pain). Ms. Julie, not everything in life is good. There are some evil people out there, but you hold fast to this.” As she said this she took my face in her weathered hands. “God is good ALL THE TIME! He can take everything bad and make good of it. My children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have learned to be thankful in the worst of times.”
“They have become successful and are living their lives centered on God. I would not allow anyone to break me and the love that God had for me and my children.” Agnes had learned to live in hope despite the groaning inward. She taught me that it’s great to await eagerly for the joy that God has for us. IT’S RIGHT HERE! I admitted to her that I had a constant inner reservoir of love and joy but with so much betrayal and assault, that reservoir was running dry. She encouraged me to follow the words of Jesus. Set your heart on God’s kingdom first…and all other things will be given to you as well. That God’s active presence of His Spirit was within us, always offering us the love, joy and freedom we truly desire. Don’t let your heart be preoccupied with so many things, Julie. You can experience the reality of His existence right here! God is the source of everything you need to live. You don’t have to look anywhere else. It can never be taken from you. When you worry, you forget that God is good all of the time. Pray, don’t panic, worship, don’t worry.
Ms. Agnes radiated love, it seemed to shine out of her. Her face radiated love, her whole being was love. They asked me to join them for lunch. I had planned a meeting with a few accomplished Christians, but I quickly postponed it. I did not want to miss this divine encounter, even if the others would be upset.
As the waitress came to serve us, Agnes started singing a Spiritual. Softly at first, and then her niece joined in, as did I. Tears from all of us flowed down our faces. I asked Agnes if I could kiss her. I kissed her tears away, she then kissed mine. It truly was one of the holiest moments in my life.
This brief encounter in a Southern restaurant taught me how powerful thankfulness is but mostly of the victory in staying true to God. Regardless of her circumstances, Agnes didn’t focus on the many afflictions she had been handed. She couldn’t afford to! Otherwise it would have been easy to fall prey to failure and despair. I shared a little of my story with Ms. Agnes. “Ms. Julie, you take those wounds, your broken heart, your sufferings to Christ, he will join his wounds with yours and mine.
We, my sweet one, are broken wine and poured out wine in the hands of Jesus for the sake of others. That is the goal of our lives. To represent God to a hurting world. Show them your wounds. God has answered all of my prayers. I am unapologetically myself, grateful to have lived this journey so I may be able to open others eyes and soften hearts to the one who holds our hearts and loves us. You go now, Ms. Julie in love, stand up tall, be YOU! Unapologetically you! God will have all of the victory.” She pulled out her big worn Bible. I was shocked. It was almost bigger than she was with a torn cover marked up all through it. Some of the ink was blurred making it hard to read. “Tell me about the blurred words,” I asked. “I have had this Bible for decades,” she said. “I received it from my Grandmother when I was in my teens. The blurred words are my tears that flowed freely as I read the Scriptures. It’s Okay Ms. Julie, I have almost the whole Bible memorized by heart.” She then looked deep into my eyes and repeated the words from memory Philippians 4:19, “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” and then
Psalm 16:1-2, “Protect me, God because I trust in you. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, every good thing I have comes from you.’ You remember Ms. Julie that GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME! GOD IS GOOD!”
My question for you now, the reader of this story, is:
-How has worry affected you physically? What about emotionally? Spiritually?
-When was the last time you worried about something? Five minutes ago? Last week? Are you worried about something right now?
-Spend some time right now giving your worries to God. What difference does it make?
This is one powerful story from Julie’s upcoming book, “Surprise Me God!” Astonishing the World with Christ’s Love.