The knock at the door startled me. Who the heck would be out in this cold? I opened it to the delightful face of my new friend, Mary, standing on my porch in her multi-colored toboggan and holding a container of something yummy.
She was just stopping by for a second to drop off some soup for me and Todd, just because. So like her. We chatted for a few minutes about nothing in particular, then she had to run because she was double-parked. Just before she left, she casually mentioned that she was taking her daughter Emma in for some bloodwork that week, and asked if we would keep her in our prayers. She followed that with something about the doctor thinking she may be anemic, without a touch of worry in her voice. Just say a little prayer. Of course! Keep us posted. Okay then. Thanks for the soup. Be careful, see you later.
I closed the door, and with the soup in my hand, I said to Todd, I hope she doesn’t have cancer.
Mary and I had apparently been neighbors for some time without knowing it. We attended the same church in Grove City, but hadn’t even realized we just lived across the railroad tracks from each other in the town of Mount Sterling, about 25 minutes from church.
We’d met at church somehow, and later she came to my house in November 2009 to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. I was so hoping she would be My People. You spend 5 minutes with Mary and you love her for life. She’s so down-to-earth and positive. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, she makes you feel like you’re at home.
We’d gotten to know each other a bit since that night we packed shoeboxes together, and we’d already had some great conversations over tea about everything under the sun. I was so excited to have a friend nearby since no one in the universe lived in that dinky town with whom I’d made a connection. Mary was a breath of fresh air to me.
And now here I was, just a few months after we’d met, peering out the curtain at my new friend. She had dropped off soup for us for no reason at all, and now she was walking off my front steps out into the cold, as I said a silent prayer that her Emma didn’t have cancer.
Why would you even say that!? I deserved the scolding tone in which my husband was asking this, but honestly I couldn’t answer. I had no idea why my mind immediately went to cancer when my friend had just asked us to pray for a simple blood draw and some tests for anemia. I shook it off, decided not to mention it out loud again to avoid the bad juju, and we prayed for Emma to be calm through her routine bloodwork.
Within a couple of months, I was trying unsuccessfully to balance on one leg while I quickly pulled jeans onto the other, eyes watery, telling Todd that I just had to go. I wasn’t sure what I would say or do when I got there, but I just felt like I should go. Yes, it was after 10:00 at night. No I don’t know if she wants visitors necessarily. I just feel like I should be there with my friend. I still had the phone in my hand that had just communicated the message that Emma did indeed have cancer. I was on my way to the hospital to be with Mary, and I had no idea why.
Sometimes Our People’s stuff compels us to action. Mary had just found out her daughter had cancer, and I just needed to see her and hug her and tell her (even if I didn’t know how it would be true) that everything would be okay. So that’s what I did. It was a strange gesture, showing up at the hospital like that, seeing as how we had been friends for less than 6 months, but I just felt it was the right thing, right then.
Mary says now that this is when she knew we were each other’s People. She says, “What I do remember was that evening you ran up to the hospital right away and I met you in the hall just off the elevator and you cried with me. It was one of those moments that I felt like I was slipping off the face of the earth and God used you as one of the ropes holding me.”
I’ve said it before, friends. We never have any idea what our showing up can do for a friend. The gestures seem small, inadequate and sometimes even pointless. But they can make a huge impact.
The next year was a whirlwind of surgeries, appointments, chemo, CaringBridge updates, recovery, emotions, etc… for Emma and for their whole family, really. I am still amazed at how they all handled themselves during this time. To say it was difficult would be a gross understatement. Of course it was. But as a friend who bore witness to the whole process, there were so many incredible moments that happened during that time.
Mary lived out her faith in front of me in a way I had never seen anyone do before. Even in the ugliest of moments, she talked about how she felt God’s peace and was learning so much. Her graceful demeanor and carefully measured words during that time were more comforting and convicting to me than any other sermon I’d ever heard. Just after she found out that Emma had cancer, she wrote this about the whole situation:
April 12, 2010 @CaringBridge.org
“ it has made me think about faith. faith is easy when we feel like masters of our own universe…i mean, sure, we go to church, pray, praise God, and feel like our faith is generally strong, but what happens when things spiral beyond anything we can control? what happens when life blindfolds us, takes away all comforts, and sets us in an unfamiliar, hostile environment and then expects us to walk with our hands stretched out in front of us like blind people wondering if our next step will send us crashing to the ground? this is when i think real faith is born. this is the place that shows us how very small we are and how very dependent we are on a God that is much bigger than anything we could begin to muster on our own. it is in this dark and scary place that we can either choose to curse God for allowing our picket fence lives to be challenged and changed by things we don’t like or understand, or we can choose to reach out to Him with both hands and ask Him to walk us through this valley of the shadow. He is not a cosmic candy man ready to hand us our every whim and wish, but He does promise to never leave us, He does hear our prayers, and He continues to be merciful, loving and good. this is when superficial faith is tested and replaced by something very real…something that cannot be manufactured on our own,…something we can’t get because of the church we belong to or how many good things we do,..it is replaced by real faith which leads to having real peace. i can’t see what’s up ahead, but God’s holding both of my hands. we go together each step of the way.”
Wow. Just wow.
It’s been five years now. Emma is healthy and cancer-free. She just started college, (majoring in biochemistry, pre-med track so she can do cancer research!) Her family is doing great and their faith is incredible.
During these years since I met Mary, I have been so inspired by her. If you ask her to tell you about herself, he would likely say something like “Oh, I’m just a mom” or something to that effect. But what she would not tell you is that she’s an incredible mom. One of the best I have ever known. One who shows her children (and the world) what it looks like to follow Jesus and be a real person.
Everyone I know says the same things about Mary: You just feel so welcome around her. Her home is so inviting. You know you will leave there relaxed and refreshed. She always shows she cares about you. She always makes you feel comfortable.
It’s all true. And I would like to add that she has a lovely sense of wonder about her. She’s one of those folks that no matter how old she gets, she will always have a young heart. She knows how to laugh and make others do the same. She knows when to be serious and when to scrap the whole plan for the day and spend it baking cookies. She’s friendly, but knows how to say no to things that would get in the way of her prioritizing her family. She’s basically one of the very best people on the planet. There’s no other way to say it.
Many of my favorite moments with Mary came out of our book club. We had a handful of gals who met at her house each week for book club. Sometimes we actually talked about the book. Sometimes we talked about God and His mercy and how completely awesome He is. Sometimes we watched stupid YouTube videos while I avoided her overweight cat.
In 2011 when the news was all abuzz with details of the Prince William and Kate’s wedding, we decided to throw our own Book Club Royal Gala. We ate British-y sounding stuff, talked in terrible fake accents, and even dressed up in our own royal clothing, complete with tiaras, long gloves, and the like. We were completely ridiculous, and it was one of the best nights of my life. My cheeks hurt the whole next day.
I don’t get to see Mary as often as I’d like anymore. I moved and now we’re 25 minutes away from one another. Life is busy for both of us. She’s even a grandma now! (Nana!!) But I did get to see her the other night when she came to my house to lead a paint-party, where she taught me and my divas to paint this little gem right here:
But more than anything, she’s an open-armed, big-hearted lady who is grounded in her faith in Jesus Christ, and it shines from every place in her life. She is truly the loveliest of people, and I’m so happy I get to know her. So proud to call her My People.
Friends, Mary’s daughter Emma isn’t waiting until she’s a doctor to help with research to fight childhood cancer. She’s starting right now, by participating in the BuckeyeThon Dance Marathon, and she needs our help to meet her fundraising goal! Check out Emma’s page here and donate! Every dollar helps kick cancer’s butt!