Linda R. McKenzie's Story
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord tells Paul “… for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is the message I discerned from observing my orchid (pictured above) several years ago. The blooms had died in the year before and the plant consisted only of its rich green leaves and a broken stem.
Months later, I happened to notice growth emerging from the broken stem. That was odd enough, but upon close inspection, I could barely ascertain a connection. The two stems were barelytouching. As the weeks passed, the new growth blossomed into a bouquet of three beautiful orchids, yet the connection was as tenuous as ever. I was reminded of what Scripture says about the faith of a mustard seed, how it can move mountains. And then I concluded that God was giving me a message: that despite my brokenness, as I continued to hold on to His unchanging Hand, I would blossom, just like the orchid.
As always, our God does not disappoint, and in this narrative, I will gladly give my testimony about the evidence of God’s power in my life and lay the groundwork for determining ‘meaning’ in one’s life, which leads to an understanding of our worth to Creator God.
As a baby, I was in my grandmother’s care, and she was not able to provide adequate nourishment for me. She made the agonizing decision to have me become a Ward of New York State, and so she brought me to the neighborhood precinct. The officers on duty convinced her to think it over and she agreed. After consulting with family members, she brought me to the home of her eldest son (my uncle) and his wife, both of whom were overjoyed with their new addition to their family. I remained there and like a fairy tale, lived happily ever after.
Fairy tales are found in books, and my fairy tale is also found in a book – the Bible. As I reflected on the story of Hagar and Ishmael in the Book of Genesis a few years ago, I found myself. Hagar found herself abandoned with her baby, and after depleting her supply of food, she laid her child down, sat across from him and cried, expecting him to die. God showed up however, and provided what was needed for them to live, while letting her know the plans He had for her son. The likeness of Hagar’s story to my grandmother’s was startling. Neither one could continue to care for their child and came to terms with the inevitability of losing their young one. Both felt they had no choice in this matter. They had one plan but God had another for their respective babies. He intervened and His Will was done.
Finding myself in Scripture gave new meaning to my life. Even as a baby, He was aware of my existence and had plans for my life. I was worthy of his attention and provision. But most significant to me is that His Word, the Bible, includes my story. The meaning that I derive from my story is based on His truth and not the ‘truth’ found in the world. Hence, I know my worth.
Taking time to reflect on events in our lives is a worthwhile exercise. Even if the reflection is a painful one, it helps us become aware of who we are (on a deeper level), who those around us are, and aids in processing our interactions and circumstances. Taking the time to reflect on the stories in the Bible will give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to provide much needed insight and discernment. It is at this point, when we combine our reflections, that we will recognize ourselves in Scripture. This exercise is called theological reflection and it can lead to an awakening that evokes meaning for your life or for a particular situation – meaning that is based on God’s Truth. Meaning from finding ourselves in Scripture.
Which brings me to Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, another story found in the Bible. I found myself in Naomi too. This is what she says in the Book of Ruth: “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20). As background, the name Naomi means “pleasant” and the name Mara means “bitter.” So Naomi now wants to be called “Bitter” in accordance with how she is feeling. Her husband and two sons die while they are escaping a famine in Bethlehem and living in Moab. She is left with two daughters-in-law and not one male in the household. She returns to Bethlehem with Ruth, where she adopts her new name.
After 29 years of marriage, I, too, found myself absent a husband due to divorce. I would read Naomi’s story and identify with her. “Call me Bitter too,” I would say privately. But Naomi’s story didn’t end there, and neither did mine. The events leading to our (similar) circumstances may have been different, but this chapter of our lives ended the same way. Ruth married and presented Naomi with a son, whom she cared for. My son presented me with a baby boy as well, and I continue to care for him to this day. He is 12 now and actually lives with me during the school week since I live closer to his school. When I spoke of him just recently at my Ordination Service, I referred to him as a blessing from God, born just for me, to fill a void in my life at the time.
Now when I read Naomi’s story, I smile. I identify with her as grandmother and caretaker. Scripture tells us that the women in her community said to her: “He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.” Yes, of course he will. And so will my grandson. After all, this is another one of my (personal) fairy tales, which ends well. And why wouldn’t it end well? The story is found in the Bible, where God’s love, truth and justice prevail. As Hagar said, He is the God Who sees me.
Rev. Linda R. McKenzie