This is why I almost didn't go to a conference today. I was overwhelmed with the work in front of me. Although I really wanted to hear the lunch speaker, who I heard had a great story, it was my friend, Dulce, the conference organizer, that sealed the deal. I made a promise to be her helper during lunch. Did I mention that Dulce is a kind, giving soul, who radiates light and love? It's hard to let someone like that down no matter what kind of stress you're under.
Gracia Burnham, the speaker, had quite the story to tell. She and her pilot husband were Kansas-natives, who had been missionaries in the Philippines, when they were captured in 2001 by an Islamic group. For over a year, a whole year, Gracia and her husband were hostages and forced to witness unspeakable horrors in the jungle. Before being rescued, she was shot in the leg and her husband in the chest during a gun battle. He died in the jungle exactly one year and 11 days from when they were first taken. Gracia returned to her three children in Kansas.
She talked about all the prayers from back home that lifted them up in that year in the jungle. She talked about her captives, many young boys, and where they are today (a few even write her from prison). And Gracia spoke with great wisdom on forgiveness and God's power, but the tears came down in earnest for me when she reflected on why God chooses one path for one person and then quite another for the next.
"The strong one [Martin] died and the weak one [me] got to come home and tell the story, to carry on the mission," she said. Really hard to understand.
I don't understand much about life, but I know I was supposed to be in that room today. I needed to hear her story, her life-changing message. When I was given the job to pass out her book at the book-signing table, so she could stand up and hug people and write a message of hope on the inside page, I felt something shift inside me. It got filled suddenly with something better, though most days, the Lord knows, I feel so unworthy.
"God bless you, Heather," she writes on my page. No words come out, so I just hug her tight. It's not enough, I know, but I make a mental promise to pay it forward. Life is too short and precious to do otherwise.