“Stories of Resilience, Part Three”
One common theme in the stories of resilience is that each recipient of God’s abundant love is inspired to pass it on. I forgot to mention last week that Julie and her husband Glenn are also involved in the Hospitality Ministry at our church. After receiving love and support from their church family, they work to make sure all are welcomed into the Platte Woods UMC family.
This theme also resonates throughout Melissa and Casey’s story. They are both faithful participants in a small group study through the church. Melissa is also a volunteer leader for our Single Mom’s support group. She offers unconditional positive support to the women who attend.
Melissa’s story begins in her 20s when she found herself struggling in her marriage. She worked hard for two more years to try to keep the marriage together. She did not want to be the first in her extended family to be a statistic. Years later, she heard a pastor state during his sermon that marriage is not truly 50/50 as our common wisdom suggests. This pastor suggested that marriage is 100/100 and if one partner is not giving 100%, the marriage will not be healthy. As Melissa listened to this, it was like a missing piece to the puzzle in her healing process. She may have been giving 110% those last two years of marriage, but her efforts alone were not enough to save a marriage.
Allow me a moment to tell a side story. As I share, I hope the connection will become obvious.
Listening to reports about Hurricane Laura reminded me of 15 years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit. In December of 2005, I traveled with a team of volunteers to Mississippi to help with cleanup. We camped in a Methodist Church Family Life Center. The wide-open space had been turned into a storage space for supplies, like bottled water, as well as living quarters for volunteer teams that came and went. Once there, our team was led by a Master Builder who provided guidance to our tasks each step of the way. He even taught several of us how to use power tools. The one bright spot in an otherwise sobering trip.
I remember one house in particular that we helped with. Katrina hit in early September. We were there in early December. Still, we were the first team to help the woman who lived in this house. Water had saturated the lower level of her home for weeks. Once it subsided, she tried to move back in. For nearly a month she desperately sprayed her walls with bleach every day to try to get rid of the mold. The mold won the battle.
Several members of our team comforted her as the Master Builder showed her how much sheet rock was going to have to come off. We would need to remove at least 6 feet from the floor. She was expecting this news. She knew the destruction would eventually lead to the rebuilding that needed to happen so she could move into a healthy living environment. However, he also showed her mold on the back of some of her furniture. This she was not mentally prepared for. She wept as a china cabinet that had been in her family for generations was hauled to the curb. The amount of mold would not have allowed for a full restoration.
Whenever I listen to stories of divorce, I often think of this woman and her desperate and single-handed attempt to save what was broken beyond repair. With a divorce, the legal action of declaring a marriage dissolved is deeply painful just like the destruction of hurricane winds. However, the deeper struggles have to do with the standing water. It’s the years of hurtful patterns of relating to each other that never get healed or resolved that most people discover they need help healing from. This is where Melissa found herself after her divorce. She could have stood and stared at the mold behind all the sheetrock of a difficult and painful marriage. Fortunately, someone encouraged her to start looking for where God might be at work in her life.
This change in focus led her to new insights and new discoveries that she openly shares in the Single Mom’s Group. The first is, that God has a plan for you, even when it is not the plan you had for yourself. As I listened to her share this, I thought of how important this is for all of us to hear right now. Nothing about this “pandemic season” of our lives was ever part of our plans. And yet, if we open our eyes, we can begin to see that God is at work. He has a plan. Just as the prophet states in Jeremiah 29:11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.” (NRSV)
It wasn’t long before Melissa noticed a young man named Casey. She was surely not looking for a new relationship. This was not her plan for herself. Yet, here was someone who was kind, who listened, and who treated her daughter well. Slowly, Melissa opened her heart to new possibilities.
Another lesson Melissa discovered as she pulled her focus away from the mold in her previous relationship was that the unconditional love of her family made all the difference in the world for her. There were people in her world who accepted her for who she is. The fact that she was divorced and a single mother did not change how they saw her. Waking up to this blessing in her life, Melissa discovered a deep well of compassion for women that do not have this resource available to them. So, for many years she waited for God to place an opportunity in her path for her to share this compassion.
Today, Melissa is one of the group leaders for our Single Mom’s Ministry. She understands the heartbreak of a dissolved relationship. She also understands what it means to lose your dreams for the future. She gently reassures others to trust that “God has a plan for you” even when it does not match the plan you had for yourself.
In this ministry, Melissa has once again found purpose, one of the Resiliency muscles we all need to practice. She shares unconditional acceptance with others. She also encourages them to practice the Resiliency muscle of connection to others by providing a safe space for them to meet as a group. And she models the Resiliency muscle of “Embracing Healthy Thoughts” by encouraging others to turn their focus to where God is at work in their lives rather than staying focused on the mold.
This week my prayer for you is that your eyes are focused on where God is at work in your lives. May your Resiliency muscles grow stronger and stronger every day!