Recently, my younger kids have become obsessed with the game Five Nights at Freddy’s. I have gathered, through half-listening eavesdropping in the car and around the house, that the premise of this game is walking around a house, scaring yourself silly in that you-know-it’s-coming-but-can’t-keep-yourself-from-jumping-anyway kind of way. It’s described by Google as a “survival horror video game.” Gee, sounds like a barrel of laughs. Who wouldn’t want to play…other than me and most sane adults?
In looking for a silver-lining to this otherwise mind-wasting pastime, I guess there is a bit of life wisdom to be gained from a game designed to frighten you despite your being prepared. Sounds a lot like the reality of living in a fallen world. Learning to survive the unexpected. You know something bad is lurking just around the corner. Only question is when and in what form it will pop out and give you a fright.
Last month, I had one of those experiences. It was a sad rather than frightening event that nonetheless reminded me of this world utter lack of predictability. My aunt, a godly, loving woman, had a massive stroke and passed away. She has suffered from a brain abnormality all her life and despite knowing the odds were not in her favor, I was quite shaken by her death. It was one of those moments, like playing Five Nights at Freddy’s, no matter how much you think you have prepared yourself, it still catches you off guard.
I had the great blessing of growing up surrounded by family. Both my mom’s siblings and her parents lived nearby and we saw them often. My aunt and I were close and in spite of my innumerable failings, she loved me fiercely. When Jim and I got married and had children, this fierce blanket of sometimes near-suffocating love enveloped them as well. I am quite certain she annoyed people on a regular if not daily basis telling them all about our comings and goings. She was this way with all her nephews and nieces not to mention family and friends. She was like Geico—loving people was just what she did.
I knew that when she died, our family would lose our biggest fan. What I didn’t know was the scope of her love for others outside our family circle. Here was a woman who on paper didn’t have a lot to offer the world. Due to a series of strokes, she was no longer able to drive or walk without the assistance of a walker. She had long since retired from her teaching position and for as long as I can remember could not use her left hand. And yet, on the night of her memorial service, we stood for hours while person after person shook our hands and told us of the deep and meaningful impact my aunt had had on their lives. Person after person after person. For hours.
In the eyes of some, my aunt might have seemed to have little value in this world, but through her willingness to serve, she became a humble vessel of God’s love and compassion. She also served as representation of the brokenness that we all carry through life. She was broken physically, but managed to do mighty things for the Kingdom. She taught me that God’s work in and through us all starts at the place where we admit we can do nothing. That we are nothing without Him. Standing in the receiving line, I came to understand that my perspective on what is and isn’t important in life is often bass-ackwards. It is the phone call you don’t put off or the card you send or the small prayer you pray that make the world a far better place than any issue you blog about or book you author or check you write. Those things are needed too, but without a sense of humble service, they will all turn to ashes in the refining fire of God’s judgment.
I can’t talk about my aunt without mentioning my mom. If you look up humble service in God’s yellow pages, I am sure my mom has a full-page ad, though of course she would never have placed it herself. Hopefully, she won’t read this post or I will be in big trouble for putting her in the spotlight. My aunt served and loved many people, but she could never have done so without my mom, quietly balancing her checkbook, driving her to seemingly endless doctors’ appointments or coming over to clean up after my aunt had had an accident. She could have easily seen my aunt as a burden. And being human, I know she had days when she struggled to be patient or kind. But just as my aunt showed me unconditional love that was blind to many of my flaws, my mom has taught me unconditional love that sees you warts and all and loves you anyway. She has taught me that Christian service isn’t for Pollyannas and Suzy Sunshines. Jesus didn’t wash the disciples feet because he thought it would be a fun party game. He got down in the dirt, saw their filth and loved them anyway. He got on that cross because I wasn’t worthy and He wanted to make me so in Him. He died in agony so that I could follow His example and the examples of my mom and aunt, so that I could love as I have been loved. His death made me capable of receiving God’s love and His resurrection makes me capable of showing that love to others.
In the weeks following her death, I have gotten great joy in imagining my aunt, whole in body and mind, doing things that were impossible for her this side of heaven. But I have also come to understand that her disabilities are what made her work here on earth possible. She was able to serve in her unique and God-orchestrated way, not despite her handicaps but because of them.
Her limitations helped her to see the limitations of others and love them anyway. Her limitations also gave others, like my mom, the opportunity to serve. God was glorified in and through and because of her impairment which in the end was not an impairment at all.
I hope to honor my family’s legacy of service by looking for those less capable in whatever way and offering assistance when I can. But I also want to honor them by accepting my weaknesses and looking to see how God might use them to bring Himself greater glory. I want to see where He has disabled me in order that I might serve him more.