Olinda is a mother, grandmother and spiritual giant. Like so often when humble people just keep moving in faith through brutal storms and arrive safely on the other side, one would never know the entirety of their struggle. That is where the power of story comes in. I love the map of hope which God reveals through the stories of other people. It awakens empathy for the individual but more than that a holy confidence in God.
New Orleans was Olinda’s birthplace. She had few resources, many siblings, a parent with a quick temper and a neighbor who brought her to church. She grew up, worked, married and began a family. She kept the faith and instilled love for God and others to her children. One day, her adult son was tragically killed at an ATM machine in The Big Easy. A few years later her daughter died. Just days after losing her daughter, Hurricane Katrina wiped out her neighborhood. She lost everything. In the profound devastation of the flood, she never even had a memorial service for Arneker Denise.
John interviewed Olinda and one Sunday played the video for our congregation. He is doing his Doctoral Thesis on the power of story within faith communities. That morning as The transplant’s account unfolded, the tears flowed. Not from the teller so much but rather from those of us hearing this for the first time. As if reading from a script, she recounted matter-of-factly the major events of her life. The compounded loss was just unthinkable to me. We remained quiet as the video came to completion. A holy hush of surreality descended upon the chapel. Against all odds and in the face of grief of Biblical proportion, Olinda still loved God. I was completely astounded.
When The Spirit moves, amazing things happen. Ralph, an Elder in our church, was touched by Olinda’s story and approached John about having a long-awaited memorial service for Arneker Denise. What a brilliant idea. That service is happening tonight. This evening we honor someone most of us never knew who died more than a decade ago in a city at the opposite end of our state. We memorialize this child and stand amazed at her mother whose story has impacted us all. She is a flesh and bone example that God can enable a soul to enlarge when all circumstances would dictate it shrivel and disappear. That’s faith. That’s love. That’s one amazing story.