How does one help the widow practically? Even as I am currently teaching a class on mercy at the seminary, I am being taught this anew by my congregation.
On Saturday afternoon I had the privilege of joining around twenty men and young boys at the home of Nellie, who with her four young children tragically lost their husband and father a few years ago. One of the elders in our congregation, Herb, has organized a remodeling project on her old farmhouse that the congregation has slowly but surely been working on over that time. A new porch and kitchen have already been added, and the next phase will add on some living space and much needed bedrooms. In order to accomplish this goal, the old kitchen had to be torn off the back of the house.
So that is what we did Saturday. By the time I arrived, the men, wielding crowbars and sledgehammers, had already knocked down the walls and removed much of the roof. Nellie’s dad’s truck was piled high with the beams and boards, then taken to a big pile in a nearby field to be unloaded for a future bonfire that will undoubtedly make a huge blaze. Teenage boys shoveled plaster and insulation onto 4 x 8′ pieces of plywood, which was then carried off by five or six of us to a growing rubbish pile. Reusable siding pieces and beams were stored in piles for future use. Her children and young nephews were right there helping the whole time, their job of prying off the floorboards rewarded with the discovery of an old cat skeleton hidden underneath.
The most rewarding time was pulling the remaining shell and roof framing down when only two posts were left holding it up. Herb used his sawzall to cut through the first one, then tied a rope around it for the men to pull. We struggled to pull it out until Ethan, a former wrestler, joined the tug-of-war and with his helpful yank the post broke free. However, the remaining post held the roof up stubbornly with only a partial collapse occurring. So the final post was cut through also. With most of the men grabbing and pulling together on the rope, it finally gave way. The roof swung down with a satisfying crash followed by a loud cheer. The coming weeks will see a deacon in the church excavate for the foundation. Then Herb and a few others will frame the addition, using heavy beams recovered from an old barn to give the room a warm and fitting atmosphere.
The time was encouraging and satisfying in seeing everyone working so well together. Yet still it was a reminder of the daily pain Nellie and her family face. At one point I was carrying some of the floorboards out to the bonfire pile and passed Nellie coming back. She quietly commented with a reminiscent look that it was hard in some ways to see the boards go. As I went on and laid them on the pile, I realized the boards held for her many happy memories from former days. The joy of seeing the love of God working through the church to bring the project to completion is also mixed with the sorrow that her husband is not here to work and enjoy it with her and the children.
When God brought Israel out of Egypt to take them to the Promised Land, one of the great reasons for him doing so is brought to our attention in Psalm 68. After describing him as a mighty warrior driving away his enemies, a chief purpose for settling them in the land is stated thus:
A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely…” (verses 5-6a)
As I looked back from the woodpile, I saw the others in the church seeking to make these words a reality. Yet I was also reminded again of how important it is to pray for God’s presence to make it so.
Author’s note: I did seek and receive Nellie’s permission to share this article before posting it. Though reluctant in some ways because of the personal and painful nature of these matters, she said that she wants to “show forth God’s goodness to me and my family for all to hear. He is the center of this story, not me.” She also shared these verses, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:3-4).