As I prepared to enter the Steiners' apartment where Carol spends almost all
of her life, I wondered whether I was carrying on me any invisible substances
that might be threatening or harmful to her. But there she was, welcoming me
with a great smile and wide, expressive eyes, not looking the least bit
threatened or even concerned. Halfway through the conversation, I asked tentatively
if she was sacrificing her health for this visit, and she replied that, no, I
wasn't going to affect the air at all.
Carol has an environmental illness that prohibits her from going places
where the mold count and air conditions affect her negatively, which includes
most buildings and even the outdoors on many days. "It started out with
allergies which stress my immune system," she said. "Later, I developed many
How did you find Jesus?
I wanted to hear how Jesus is working in the life of this woman who is part
of my community, but who almost never accompanies her husband, Albert, to
worship, common meals or meetings. How can she bear to be a member of a
community where she lives a life of such isolation? What does she do all the
time in the apartment with the thoroughly filtered and conditioned air? Most
importantly, what is God saying to her, and how is she growing with him?
"There are things in my life that I would never have chosen, and yet I would
not choose my life now without what I have learned through dealing with those
things. The most significant of these is what I have learned about Jesus," she
Carol struggled with depression before she came to the Fellowship in 1965
and had been hospitalized for a time. "Through a thirty-five year process, I
have discovered what lay underneath a lot of the depression that I was feeling.
I had subconsciously chosen depression because it was easier to live with than
the anger inside me, and the anger was easier to live with than the fear, and
the fear was easier to live with than the pain, which was easier to live with
than the emptiness, the feeling of nothingness inside," she slowly articulates.
I wonder, "How did you find Jesus in that pain?"
"Jesus helped me through the life of the Fellowship," she asserts. "Love was
here, which I hadn't found before. This was a place where I could be honest
about who I was and that was OK. It was a contrast to everything I had growing
up. Here, people trusted me and cared about me. And when they hurt me, I knew
it wasn't coming from somewhere malicious. But I'm still learning how to let
Jesus be with me in the pain."
God's love came through a new family:
"How does God communicate love to you?" I ask. "One important way was
marrying Albert and having Karen. Albert prays for me, listens to me, and just
loves me. Well, not just. We've been married thirty-four years. The thing that
challenged me the most was trying to break the patterns of the generations that
came through my own family. RPF women were my mentors. In some ways I
succeeded; in some ways I failed." It's interesting that while her immediate
family was where Carol experienced the most pain as a child, as an adult she
points to her husband and child as the main ways God shows his love for her. In
that I see the sign of a life being redeemed.
"Intercession is a way to get beyond myself. I have contact with the people
I pray for. And I think the Lord draws on my own pain and struggles. When I
open my heart and mind, He often touches things in my own life that challenge
me. When the Spirit leads in this way, I can really pray from my heart."
"I do face anxiety and fear-daily," Carol admits. "My hardest struggle with
the environmental illness has been letting go of my hopes and dreams. I am just
moving to the fun part of life as a grandmother, but visiting my granddaughter
is extremely difficult. I love to make things for her, but I don't have the
energy, and it's hard to find materials I can tolerate. I had always hoped we
could go somewhere in mission with the Mennonite Central Committee after the
family was raised. I envisioned my time spent in the church and the community.
Instead my energies have gone toward learning how to deal with my illness. I
can't get out much. What I miss the most is worshipping with people and the
Lord's supper. I miss receiving it from someone and giving it to someone. I
feel out of touch with RPF. We used to groan at having to have meetings. Now I
miss them, miss talking with people and participating."
How did Carol begin to get beyond these tragic losses and find a way to
maintain the purity of heart that shines clearly through her character? "I
stopped hoping for a ‘normal' life. The Lord wants me to be free to live in the
moment, whatever my circumstances." My mind is triggered by that sentence.
That's one of the things God is teaching me right now, too-not to wish for
control over my circumstances, but to approach them with the security I have in
knowing He loves me.
"Sometimes I get so tired I hurt," Carol admits, "and I ask, ‘How can I do
this, Lord?' Then I am given energy for the task I'm facing -but the energy
goes away as soon as I finish. He's saying, ‘Trust me, Carol.'" As Carol says
that, I think of the situations here where I have no realistic hope for
something God seems to want to do in us. That's when the Fellowship, like a
huge tent collapsed by heaviness and tragedy, shifts to reveal an open doorway.
Then I realize why people are always talking about living by grace alone. The
tragedy in Carol's life is teaching her to trust beyond tragedy. May the beauty
of your trust and mine become as precious and as evident as hers.
"The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
thy steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of thy hands." Psalm 138:8