The world lost a remarkable woman this week. Actually, the world lost many remarkable women this week, but selfishly, I want to talk about just one of them - my great-aunt Mary.
You see, you don't know my great-aunt Mary, but without her, you probably wouldn't know me, either. When I was a young child, we were not a Christian family. We were a 'good' family, and in the 80s, that meant I went to Christian preschool, but not for any of that "Jesus" stuff. Preschool, at the time, was one of those first-world luxuries that set you apart and gave your kids a leg up into the world that not everyone had access to, and most preschools were run by churches. To be honest with you, the Jesus stuff seemed a little hokey to me, as did all the rules about holiness and stuff...so weird. But there was a little something in the whispers (which were different than the noises that the cockroaches made in the bathroom) that just wouldn't let go of me. Or perhaps something I was unwilling to let go of.
When I got a little older, church piqued my curiosities. I wanted to know what went on there. Not in the preschool room, but in the big sanctuary. The big, beautiful sanctuary that, I confess, almost always had some beautiful keys in it - pianos, organs, something to play on. Maybe it was the pianos that drew me into the churches; who knows?
But no one in my family wanted to go. No one. My dad took me a couple of times, but both times, we were asked to leave before we even really got settled in.
My great-aunt Mary, though....
She said as long as I wanted to go, she'd be happy to take me. Faithfully, for years, she'd show up in her dark blue car to pick me up for worship - me in a rare Sunday skirt with a few dollars tucked away for an offering. We'd drive out most of the time to this little country Wesleyan church with a membership you could count without taking your shoes off, and we'd sit in the pews and listen to the Word. Sometimes, we'd play music together - her on the piano, me on the drums. Or her on the organ, me on the piano. Sometimes, she'd just let me have the piano, and she would sing.
Actually, we did that other places, too. We did a duet together when I was a young girl for my great-grandmother's birthday, I believe. And Mary composed an original song to which she handed me the sheet music without hesitation and invited me to play.
Outside of the church, she'd pick me up on Tuesdays, and we'd go out together to what's now called the long-term skilled nursing unit of the local hospital, and we'd sit around for a couple of hours and play and sing hymns for the residents. I didn't really know the words to even Amazing Grace yet, but I felt at home in their embrace.
It wasn't always the little Wesleyan church or the skilled nursing unit. My great-aunt Mary was something of a spiritual nomad, and so we'd often find ourselves in some of the strangest places. I remember times she would pick me up and tell me that I didn't have to dress special for the occasion. Or when we started going to the Pentecostal lighthouse, how she'd talk to me in the car and prepare me for something "different" than we'd experienced together before.
It's strange, really - I remember her talking about such things a few times in the car, but I also remember that a lot of the time, we didn't talk much at all. We didn't have to. There was just something about the bond we were growing in the space, and I didn't feel a dis-ease that needed to be filled with noise.
My great-aunt Mary introduced me to Jesus. I wouldn't come to know Him for real until many years later. But she showed me a breadth of faith that was rivaled only by the depth of authenticity through which Amazing Grace ran through her veins.
Our lives took us in different directions, and she had a hard road these last many years. I'm not sure if she ever knew, or understood, where I've ended up - anchored into a church, ordained, holding a Master of Divinity, serving as a chaplain, leaning and living on the faith that began so many years ago in a dark blue car that would pick me up for worship - but I know without a doubt that I would not be where I am today without her.
The world lost a remarkable woman this week. The church lost a remarkable woman this week. My family lost a remarkable woman this week. But I am forever thankful for the time that God has given me with her and the beautiful gift of my great-aunt Mary.
Rest in peace in the arms of Jesus, who has loved you from the start and whom you loved so well.