Steve flipped on the light as he burst into our room, and I woke up. He seldom sleeps through the night, but this night he had. An email came as we slept. Would the first pastor to read it please contact her? Her husband just died.
They wanted some time to rest, so we went to them later.
My friend went to bed as a wife on Friday night. When she heard him fall early Saturday morning, she was most likely already a widow. The EMT's assured her and her grown son that it was probably that fast. They did everything right. They did all they could. They knew he was gone, but there was time for goodbye between the leaving of the emergency vehicles and the coming of the...what do they use? I didn't ask. It's not mine to know. I don't want to know.
Several years ago, I was halfheartedly looking for a job. I needed to make some money but I also needed flexible working hours since the girls were still young. Our friends told me that they were looking for someone to take over a portion of his job as the librarian of a theological library. He was also an Army Reserves chaplain, and was going to Iraq in a few weeks. Would I be interested in applying? I was. I got the job. He gave me a crash course in cataloging books, showed me all the resources that were available, and told me he trusted me. He, the librarian with two masters degrees and two doctorates trusted no-library-experience-included me. His one year deployment turned into more than a year. Shortly after he returned, he went away to language school. A few months later, he went back to Iraq for another year. When the budget and the powers that be determined that the library could get along without me, he was my advocate. My one year temporary job lasted four years.
The seminary that we worked for does not have a permanent location. This is by design. There are four small learning centers with four small libraries located in churches in four states. I didn't work in a library very often. I worked most of my hours for the library in my friends' basement. She worked for the library too, and she was married to the librarian. She already worked a few hours a week, but she increased her hours and took over most of the other aspects of his job while he was gone. They gave me the key to their house, I memorized the security code, and spent the next four years coming and going as my schedule dictated. It was a strange and wonderful arrangement.
Our first day working together, she invited me to sit down with her so we could pray and be reminded from scripture how to treat one another. We friends, co-workers, sisters in Christ sat down at the feet of The Master before we went to work. Mary, then Martha.
My friend says that it was a blessing to have me come into her home so often while he was gone. I brought in the newspaper and I dragged the trash bins to the garage. We tried to have lunch together on my workdays. Me, leaning on the counter beside the stove, she at the computer or doing dishes. She quickly became at ease with me there so she no longer worried about being dressed first thing in the morning or whether the dishes were all done. Her kids were grown and gone, her husband was in Iraq. She worked at home. She deserved to wear her bathrobe all day if she wanted to. Did she? Her secret's safe with me. She is a hugger, and I tried to be generous with mine. It was a pleasure to her that I would come in, unannounced, as family.
I also saw their real life, their real marriage, as family. Their marriage was a marvel. They truly did love, honor and respect each other. They worked on their rough edges together. I never heard a harsh word spoken between them. When they disagreed, it was done most agreeably. Affectionate? Playful? Definitely. Committed? Fully. That's what I saw. I'm not the only witness.
Listen and learn, little sister.
Sometimes the phone rang for her, the shepherd, the teacher. She tended her flock of young moms while he tended his portion of a multi-national coalition. His flock of many creeds and colors. Sometimes I worried that the phone or a knock on the door would bring bad tidings. I prayed it wouldn't, but I tried to be prepared in case it did. How do you bring comfort to a comforter? I stopped holding my breath when he returned. I wasn't prepared for this punch in the gut.
It's been a year since I gave my key back. The security code is still filed away in my brain. I remember where to find the light switches, forks, and the spare toilet paper.
We came, at the agreed time, as family who knocks first. She sat on the couch. I sat at her feet.
I watched, I listened, I learned. Peace that transcends all understanding. More than could be asked or imagined. The heart of the wise in the house of mourning. Eyes fixed on the unseen eternal.
Then I answered the door and the phone. I took notes. I wrote emails on her behalf. I washed dishes. I told the neighbor and I hugged her and her smoke smelling robe tight because that's what my friends would have done. I tried to pray. Not having words, I trusted the Spirit to intercede.
All the while learning that this little girl still has a lot of learning to do.
Mary, then Martha.
Mary, while Martha.
Sit down, little girl.