This month’s letter will be a long one because I want to recount the 2 yr saga of my efforts to obey Jesus’ command to care for “the least of my brothers.” The French are good at caring for the poor physically, as they are housed and fed and have access to job training and full health care. However, their souls and spirits are bound by generational sin, a victim/poverty spirit, and demons of addiction and mental anguish. My efforts to befriend my neighbors have fizzled for some of those very reasons.
Now let me introduce you to a lady I call Ma Belle, a saved member of our congregation. She could check all those boxes, except addictions, but lived in a codependent situation with her son, who was an alcoholic. They have lived in the area their entire lives and are well-known by local churches and social workers. They both have learning disabilities and live more like a street people since they can’t drive and avoid their apt during the day, not letting anyone in.
So besides attending free workshops for retired and mentally handicapped citizens, she started attending most of our House of Prayer sets where she loves to draw. But she was in constant turmoil, always asking for prayer for her son to get help (without being able to set any boundaries,) for her heart condition (which seemed to come and go) or her irrational fears (like being evicted.) Since she still didn’t want anyone to interfere and wasn’t a victim of domestic abuse, all we could do was pray with her to get her through another week, and hope that her son would be removed and that she would let him go.
This is how David and I got to know her better in the last couple of years, often driving her home after evening sets, wondering what she went home to, but relieved to see that she was in a decent little historic building, rather than an ugly high-rise. I was one of the few who greeted her on Sunday mornings and celebrated her birthdays. Then last spring, we started Sozos when she decided to break off an unhealthy relation with a man. With her son still at home, I wasn’t sure it was worth it, but then I decided it might free her of soul ties with both men more quickly. We did 6 sessions over the summer, when she easily forgave every single person in her whole life who had mistreated her.
And that was just about everybody.
When she stopped making progress, I said we needed to wait until her son was out of her life. And to everyone’s amazement, he was accepted into a rehabilitation community at the beginning of Nov. That same week her water heater broke down, but she refused to call a repairman because she was too ashamed to let him in. Everyone told her to call me as the best candidate for help, but it took her 2 weeks without heat to finally surrender. Don’t ask me to do hospital visits; I don’t have the stomach for it. But filth and clutter have no hold on me. The dirtier the job, the more excited I get about changing the atmosphere!
The odor she carries fills the hallway before you’ve opened her door. Inside, all the drawers and shelves were broken and emptied, leaving 3 years of stuff on the floor a foot high. She blamed her son’s violent outbursts for all the damage. Her bedroom was intimidating, but the salon where her son lived was overwhelming. So I started with the easiest and got her entry, bathroom and kitchen floor clear in 3 hours. Now she could let a repairman in.
On the next visit, the apt was warm and the floor was still clear, so I was motivated to keep going and coerced David to change a light socket and unclog her bathroom sink. I got her a hot plate and pot from the church kitchen to heat food since all of her appliances were broken, washed mountains of laundry in vinegar and swapped out her rotten mattress for her son’s, giving her fresh bedding from my attic.
She wasn’t a hoarder and every little advancement made a huge difference. Yet she would still apologize for being a burden to the point of wondering why she was even born. My response was that she was teaching us how to love like Jesus did. I dreamed of having it all done in time for Christmas and started contacting social workers about how to get some help to empty that salon. I also wondered if I could get hired as her personal house keeper in order to earn enough money to take care of some of her needs, as well as mine. In the end, it sounded like I was on my own. I couldn’t hire strangers to clear it out because they wouldn’t be patient with all the sorting and Ma Belle’s potential reactions. And I couldn’t afford it anyway. And while everyone admired me, no one was interested in getting their hands dirty. It was feeling heavy and I needed reassurance that Jesus was going to make this burden light.
Then I looked at my calendar and saw that our missionary care weekend was coming up, (as described in the last newsletter) and David agreed we needed to take advantage of it. I reserved on-line and got a personal message back saying that the other reservations had cancelled and so all the pampering would focus on us! A team was there from the states to take our portrait, cook us a romantic meal, (besides all the others) and give us free counseling sessions!! This was my reward!!
We drove through rain, sleet and snow 3 hrs through the countryside, arriving at night to a darkened village. And it was absolutely surreal to knock on the front door and be warmly welcomed by gushing Americans!! It was a delightful escape that ended on a magical note: The ancient village church wasn’t open that Sunday, so they got the keys and we had an (unheated) English Advent service all to ourselves! Wrapped in blankets, we sang carols and hymns in a cappella that I hadn’t sung since I was a child. God bless the Sutherlin family!
On our return, Ma Belle’s heart started acting up, so my break continued over the holidays and I started talking to the young adults who help me clean the church about this mountain. At the same time, we welcomed Emilie, our pastor’s niece, as our new boarder. (Priscille ended up staying only through Oct.) Emilie’s joyful presence especially brightened up our holiday week without family and relieved financial pressure.
So this month, after 4 more tedious hours, I finally got her bedroom floor completely clear, allowing David and Thibauld, one of our young men, to set up a proper bed frame and repair her broken bedroom furniture. She was so happy that she bought me a gift. A gift I loved.
And Thibauld ended up being the key to conquering the salon. As a mover, he’d seen worse and even had a trailer to haul stuff to the recycling center. So the mountain became a molehill when he along with 4 other volunteers showed up for 3 hours last weekend to get the worst of it into the trailer to haul away. Believe you me, I’m taking it as a prophetic sign for the work still needed for our church building!
David got this verse for 2018: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” What a great image of our journey with Ma Belle thus far. And even if you never meet her here on earth, you certainly will on the other side, when she will be transformed back into the beautiful woman God created her to be. And I’m sure you’ll recognize her because she’ll be the one that smells the sweetest!