MaryAnn Lammers smiled through her tears as Pastor gathered our attention during after-service coffee downstairs.
“Today is MaryAnn’s 63rd wedding anniversary.”
Only, MaryAnn’s love went to glory last year right before Christmas. Her heart still cries for her loss—63 years of walking as one and raising a house full of kids. When heart and soul are knit together by God, the grieving doesn’t end when the casket closes and the people go home and you sit alone in a big farmhouse now emptied of all life but yours.
I go up and wrap my arms around MaryAnn, kissing her on the cheek, cupping her face in my hands, looking her in the eyes. She stretches that bittersweet smile of one walking between grief and thanks, as one who holds hope in the hurt. I know. I tell her so with my eyes tearing too. And in these in-between places of and pain and hope, our great God comes to us tenderly.
“Heather, I’ve got to tell you,” MaryAnn says wide-eyed one day last spring, “Someone came to my front door and wants to buy my house! Out of the blue! I haven’t even put it on the market yet! God sent him! It’s a miracle!”
And so He did! He worked another miracle! That great God of ours who sees the widow . . .
Her family farmhouse—the one where she lived since she was 20—it sold. And MaryAnn found herself praying for a new place to live. I prayed alongside her.
Then, on another Sabbath, MaryAnn told me of the duplex she had her eye on—a place owned by some church folks who built the place for their father and an aunt so they could live side-by-side and look out after each other in their old age—a place you could see from our church. Their aunt had moved into a nursing home. Their father had died. Both places were empty now, in need of a new mission, a new purpose, a new love.
That’s when she said it to me, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Anna could live in the other side and we could look out for one another?”
“Oh, MaryAnn! That would be lovely but Anna needs more care at this time. She’s living in a wonderful assisted living apartment close-by. But I’ve been praying for a place for Zach . . . “
And indeed I had.
I had been praying and driving and looking all over the village and its outskirts, praying for a place where our 22 year-old son could have a permanent home—our son who’s mostly independent but who will always need some looking-after due to his special needs. I was praying for a place nearer to us, nearer to church, nearer to church people—our church people, in particular, who are so, so good at caring for the needs of their own. I looked at land, thinking we could build. I looked at condos already built. Nothing fit. Nothing seemed right. I kept praying. And then . . .
I drove past this ranch duplex that caught MaryAnn’s eye. I’d never noticed it before though I had passed by a thousand times on trips to the high school, right past the pastor’s house, right past our church. And there it was. The perfect location. And the realty sign in the lawn? Just so happened the listing agent was a friend of mine. So I called her up and asked to see the place.
A couple days later, I walked in the door and saw a move-in condition condo, perfect for our son. Better than anything I had envisioned. But isn’t that God? Providing perfectly for our needs? And sometimes giving us something entirely different than what we think we need? Because God knows our need better than we?
Yes, this is our amazing, awesome God who created the Universe and all within, who sees us and loves us with a never-ending love, wanting to deliver us from all our fears, even sometimes in the most unlikely, unfathomable ways that might seem more like a cross than a comfort. Our God WILL comfort, always in the end. There’s always resurrection after the cross. Of this we can be sure. I’m learning to trust. Practicing trust.
(Harvest moon photograph courtesy of my talented father, James MacLaren)
So MaryAnn prayed. And I prayed. Both of us with open hands and open hearts.
Six months later, MaryAnn in her eighties and Zach in his twenties are neighbors, connected by a wall. But there’s no wall between their hearts. There’s open communication. There’s mutual assistance. He helps her by mowing her half of the lawn and he will shovel her half of the drive come winter. She helps him by looking out for him, being kind to him, bringing him a meal or a dessert, giving from her abundance. Like patio furniture.
MaryAnn had too many chairs. Zach had none. So she shared and now their deck with no wall looks all pretty and uniform because of a cruciform love—we give to the needy—because Christ gave himself for our needy. And sometimes the needy’s needs are quite invisible as they go along through their days.
Our once-orphaned son, now grown, still has a tender heart and can cry easily. He loves to love. He loves to serve. He NEEDS to be needed. So our Zach was the perfect choice for MaryAnn’s neighbor.
MaryAnn has no children close-by. She needs looking after. She needs the muscles and sweat and heart of a young man to love her with action, to walk with her the block to church every Sunday.
And this mother here—the one in middle between youth and old age—the one who keeps praying those audacious prayers, expecting audacious answers? I’m still glowing with thanks that my God who sees me, who hears the prayers of my sometimes aching mother’s heart for her kids whose special needs will need meeting long after their dad and I move on to Glory. This eases my anxieties. This is the certain grace on which I must focus and sing praise to chase away all the fears that threaten to take me down and trample. This ever-faithful, always-loving God is my Light and my Salvation. Of what should I fear? This God who sees me, He is the stronghold of my life. He has a strong hold on me. Of what should I be afraid?
How great is your faithfulness, O LORD, our LORD! How tender your love!