Mary was born deep in the countryside. It was one of the poorest nations in the world. From the moment she could walk she fetched water, cooked, and farmed until there were deep callouses on her little hands. She was taught that life for a woman meant two things: commitment to the local religion and bearing children. Before she was old enough to think otherwise, her face was tattooed with religious symbols she didn’t understand and her hand promised in marriage to a man she didn’t know.
Mary began marriage barely a teenager. She became pregnant soon afterward. For reasons known only to him, Mary’s husband then decided to leave her. She was ridiculed as rumors flew. Eventually the entire village turned against her, condemning her to solitude in a communal society. Her only refuge was a friend’s family who tolerated her until she gave birth to a tiny baby girl.
Malnourished and without medical care, Mary and her baby became very sick. They fled the countryside for a nearby city. Knowing no one, they ended up on the streets. The baby was days from death as Mary had stopped producing milk. Only a few more desperate thoughts and Mary was going to abandon her daughter on the stoop of an orphanage.
In a rare moment of grace, however, someone directed Mary to a local Christian shelter for women and children. There, the hopeless mother and child were fed and given temporary housing. That was when she began working for one of my teammates. Mary worked hard and quickly became a beloved member of the household. Still, the evidence of her story was written in perpetual frown. She avoided eye contact with most everyone, especially men. None of us know what her laughter sounded like. She only responded to conversation with hushed, one-word answers. Mary expected she would soon be hated like usual. At best she hoped to just be ignored.
These heart-bound troubles only relented when Mary encountered the good news about Jesus Christ. At first it was hard for her to believe in such a man since almost all men she had ever known were harsh and abusive. But Jesus, though she had never met him, was almost more real than they. Slowly, Mary began to smile and converse. She even laughed in the company of friends.
One day as she was cooking in her one-room home, her baby girl, now a toddler, fell into the fire and was severely burned. Mary was despondent. She was terrified for her daughter and charged herself with neglect. Even worse, for the first time she faced the bitter question of God’s goodness—”Why would he allow this to happen?”
As her daughter healed up, however, so did Mary. “She is not my child,” Mary shared. “She belongs to God and I trust him with a whole heart.” Perhaps her resilience was learned in a lifetime of trials. Yet she credits it to the kindness of Christ. And she does so while sharing that kindness with women all around her.
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.