Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Friend, Mabel

I stood on holy ground today. It was not the ground I was expecting. I was expecting to be doing a regular pastoral visit, stopping into say 'hello' to my parishioner, Mabel, who has been growing weaker each day. I expected to sing a couple of hymns with her, laugh with her, and then pray with her after telling her how special she is. Instead, I was ushered into that thin space where heaven and earth collide.

I did sing, "Amazing Grace" to Mabel. I tried to make her smile by telling her how I had just come from Bible study and that Lois and Howard had asked about her. I told her how much I appreciated her and how much she meant to our church. I stroked her head, combing my fingers through her beautiful gray hair. I then invited her children - three of them were there - to come in and pray with us.

We gathered around the bed and praised God for Mabel. We thanked God for the things she had taught us and the joy she had brought into our lives. We thanked God for all 102 years of her life. We praised God for the ways she made us laugh by telling us that she is the one who had discovered President Obama. We also prayed for her children, that God would journey close to them in the days ahead. When we said, "amen," her son stayed in the room and assured her that the Lord was with her. Everyone then left, and I returned to say good-bye. It was then that Mabel entered the Church Triumphant, breathing her last breaths.

I stood on holy ground today. I stood in the presence of angels - a 102-year-old angel named Mabel and a great company of angels who came to welcome her to her eternal home. A colleague just reminded me that there are times when we do get to meet people who have been made perfect in this life. Mabel is one of these individuals.

I have written about her before in two different posts. I told her how special she was today and said "thank you," again. But, this is what I really wish I could have told her.

Dear Mabel:

Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor. You were chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee when I first arrived at Mount Vernon Place, and I remember the first time I met you. You were so striking - tall, thin, dressed in a beautiful suit, walking with a classy cane, hair styled just right. You told me on that day, "You are about to have the best job in Washington." I believed you on that day. I was so excited about coming to Washington to be the pastor at Mount Vernon Place.

A couple months later, I arrived. I arrived with so much anticipation and excitement. I had a list of ideas to be implemented and could see how God was about to transform this church. It did not take long, however, for my joy to be robbed. The moment that I started to make some changes is the very moment the criticism started. Perhaps it preceded my arrival as people talked about my age and my gender. But, it got louder after my arrival. So many people questioned why I was here. So many people wanted nothing to do with the changes I was suggesting so that our church could grow again. But you, you kept looking me straight in the eye saying, "You have the best job in Washington. Mount Vernon Place is in the center of the city. Our city needs Mount Vernon Place. I believe in you. You are just what is needed. Keep up the good work." Everyone else seemed to be criticizing me. Your voice was one of a handful of voices that were filled with affirmation and support.

Mabel, I am not sure I would have ever made it through those first couple of years without your voice. It was your voice that I heard when I was ready to throw my hands in the air and apply for a different job. It was your voice that I heard when I was questioning why I was here. Your voice is a precious voice.

Our church started to grow. I remember the first time a group of young adults came to your home to sing Christmas carols to you. It was such a gift to bring the new members into your home - for you to see what God has done in this place. It was priceless to watch you look at the people who were joining your church - the church you gave so much of yourself to for some six decades. You told them what you told me, "Mount Vernon Place is needed. Washington needs our church in the center of the city."

Mabel, I came to your house often. I came most often because I believed that you and Holland needed a visit. You needed prayers. But, I also came because I needed your prayers. I needed to hear you tell me that I really could do what needed to be done here. I needed to hear you say again, "You know, you have the best job in Washington." I always loved walking into your living room, reaching over and kissing you in your chair, and then sharing time with you. And, I always left more excited about Mount Vernon Place than I was before. I'll treasure those visits for a lifetime.

I also remember Wednesday Bible studies with you. You were almost 100 and still taking a cab downtown each week in order to study the Bible. You got after people who left church early in order to go to a football game. You told us how much God loves us. You shined God's light so brightly and abundantly.

When Barack Obama was elected President you wrote in your Christmas letter how you were grateful to be alive at a time when all God's children could make their dreams come true. You were always fighting for what was right - always looking out for everyone - especially the people who were not yet noticed. Mabel, do you have any idea how incredible you are?

I promise to do whatever I can to continue to work as though I have the best job in Washington. You asked often about Wednesday nights, and I think you'd be so excited to know that Wednesday night suppers and studies are starting again in just a few weeks. We're reclaiming a tradition that meant so much to you. Like you, I believe that these evenings can be transformative for people who will come. Like you, I believe that one's relationship with their church can be the most significant relationship one has. I promise to be faithful to my call to Mount Vernon Place. Your church is growing again. We're attracting new people each week, and we will continue to seek to bring new people into the warmth of God's love and this community of faith.

We'll celebrate your life next week. My heart will be aching but my soul will be rejoicing. Your life - all 102 years of your life - is a rather wondrous life to celebrate. I'm so thankful to have been a part of it.

Mabel, thanks for all you taught me.
You're right, I really do have the best job in Washington.

I love you dearly. Rest in peace, my friend.

Your Pastor and friend,



Chris said...

so powerful.... thanks for sharing her life with me today!

Maggie said...

I feel privileged to have known Mabel through you. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Jim Harnish said...

Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful story. The amazing thing is that just yesterday I was speaking to a District clergy meeting, trying to offer a word of encouragement to some who are facing discouraging situations. I told them about the 100 year old woman who told you that you have the best job in Washington. So, Mabel's witness goes on!
Jim Harnish

William said...

"And when my heart has sung Your praise
And journeyed through these earthly days,
My soul will then lift up the song
And sing it through the ages long."

Sing on, Mabel, sing on!

Jerry Roberson said...

What a beautiful story! I could feel the Holy Spirit's presence in each sentence. You were obviously as much a blessing to Mabel as she was to you.