Wednesday, June 28, 2006

True Grit

Some of the stories we heard in the village were mind-boggling and heart-breaking. After our VBS activities with the kids in the afternoon (we spent our mornings in prayer and preparation as the village didn't start waking up until around noon), we visited adults in their homes. The missionaries suggested people they hoped would invite us in, so every evening we would go "calling." Some days, no one would answer our knocks. Other times, we were invited in and had the privilege of hearing amazing stories.
One evening, Kim, Kathy and I visited Paula and her family. Paula grew up in the village and then raised her seven children there.
Only the women in the family are still living.
Paula told us that her oldest son died while serving in the army and then her second son drowned (most likely in an alcohol-related incident). After her husband died suddenly from a heart attack, the youngest son became despondent and committed suicide.
I have known the pain of losing a son, but I was speechless. The typical words of comfort didn't come. In the awkward silence, Paula's youngest daughter, Regina, showed us a family portrait. The faces of the seven children and two parents radiated with shy smiles. A beautiful family, now ravaged by death.
In the village, however, life--no matter how painful--goes on. Paula is now raising several grandchildren (belonging to a daughter who has moved out of the village).
And she is fighting breast cancer.
"I haven't had much energy since my last cancer treatment," she told us. "I just haven't felt so good."
Paula may have been physically ailing, but her heart was strong. She laughed often and spoke of her faith in God's healing (she is Catholic, like the rest of the village). Despite the tragedies that had befallen her family and the cancer that invaded her body, Paula exuded strength and hope.
She showed us a notebook filled with the photos of quilts she's made over the past few years. The last few pages of the notebook had pictures of beautiful beadwork: coin purses, gloves, moccasins and barrettes and other wonderful things. The women in the family all do beading and then sell their handiwork at craft bazaars in the village and sometimes in Fairbanks.
Impulsively, I purchased a beaded purse. I not only wanted a precious memento of our time in the village, I also wanted to invest in this family. Rather than whining and complaining, or just giving up, they have chosen to press on and leave a legacy of hope to the next generation.
Before we left, we asked Paula if we could pray for her. She nodded in agreement, and we lifted up a simple prayer for God's grace and healing in her life. After the Amens, there were tears on Paula's cheeks.
"Thank you," she said, as we hugged goodbye.
Several days later we saw Paula at the rec center, playing cards with her friends.
"I'm feeling better today," she told us, not looking up from her cards. As we left, I smiled as I heard Paula's laughter filling the small room. What an example she is to me!
(If you would be interested in purchasing beadwork from Paula and her daughters, leave a comment and I will get you the contact info.)