3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. Malachi 3: 1-4
When I was 12, we moved to the Philippines. Dad felt the call to go back home and serve the people who called him to ministry to begin with. So we packed up all our stuff that wasn’t auctioned off and moved from small town Iowa to the Philippines–a place I had visited a few times but never lived.
There were customs to get used to. A language to learn to speak and all the other do’s and don’ts you sometimes only figure out by trial and error. Not ideal for an awkward tween already trying to deal with adolescence. One of the things I did remember was the common practice of hand-washing clothes. Most folks didn’t own dishwashers or washing machines. Many of the domestic tasks from dishwashing to washing clothes to cleaning the floor were done manually. The cost of electricity and water were just too high and it didn’t make sense to buy expensive equipment for something you could do with your own two hands.
So we hired a labandera–-a laundrywoman-–a role just as common as a nanny for your kids [which was pretty common] and one that crossed socioeconomic lines. You didn’t have to be rich to have someone help with laundry or childcare.
Every week we got our dirty clothes ready for Aling [A title of familiar respect for a non-family member] Connie. She chatted with us as she prepared the soapy water and asked how our studies and life in general were doing. She told us about what was going on in her life [and sometimes the lives of others]. Her motherly instinct was always felt as we were separated from our own mother for a period of time while she worked in California.
Aling Connie approached her work with care and pride. She would ask for certain kinds of soap because she knew that washing the white school uniforms of three adolescent girls was going to take work. And she wanted to do her best work. She wanted to present us with the whitest, cleanest clothes. Regardless of the condition in which the clothes arrived in her hands, they hung on the clothesline looking brand new. A task not many are up to, yet have to take on. Allowing Aling Connie to handle our clothes week in and week out required a level of vulnerability. The garments we wore most close to our bodies, she was responsible for making clean. It was not just this level of intimacy that enveloped her work, but the love with which she carried it out.
I have shied away from the image of God as a refiner’s fire, as we hear in this passage from Micah. But this image of Aling Connie, I find familiar and comforting. She’s seen our clothes–-and sometimes us–-at our worst. Yet she still showed up and every week I knew that at the end of her time with us, I’d have clean clothes to wear to school, maybe a few new stories, and someone who cared enough to check in with me.
We are in a season of preparation. Of anticipation of this promise that we will be refined and cleaned and prepared with loving hands so that all we offer might be done in righteousness–-in alignment with God’s Shalom. Where our relationships would be loving and just. But what will it take for us to prepare ourselves for that time?
A little honesty that we aren’t living as people of the promise, perhaps? Maybe even a little vulnerability as we carry around these dirty clothes ready for the wash?
A reflection by Sophia.
Sophia Agtarap serves as Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church with United Methodist Communications, and is a candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference. She spends lots of time musing and crafting stories of and for the church over a good cup of coffee. Sophia tweets @SophiaKris. She also blogs at wanderingnotlost.com