9.2
The Women in My Parish Lift Me Up

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My three-year old grandson went to a mountain cabin with his baby sister and their parents.  He went with his new, yellow, fishing pole, purchased at the same K-Mart where he had been allowed to pick out a Thomas the Tank Engine coloring book for the car trip.  When they stopped by my house for a quick, pre-highway potty stop, Luc announced brightly,  “We’re bacationers, Ma-Maw!”

Being a “bacationer” means a car trip with Mama and Papa and Anna. It means car snacks and crayons and the promise, as he told me, “of cookies before supper.” It means driving on a dirt road where deer and even brown bears might be seen. Luc’s mother tells me that when they pulled up to the cabin and went inside, he drew a sharp, surprised breath and said, “We get a house, too?”

I will keep those words. They express, as well as any other, the sense I have when I walk into the doors of my parish church. “We get a house, too?”

We celebrate the birth of Mary in September.  Mary became the house in which Jesus was sheltered.  I think of her when I walk into my parish and find the women who are waiting there for me.  They welcome me and lead me.  They teach me and shelter me.  They guide me and they lift me up.  They are my sisters.

Kara opened her home to a teen-ager, a girl in need.

Most Sunday mornings Pat greets me at the entrance.  She’s a woman who raised seven children alone on a school cafeteria cook’s salary.  She lost two of her sons to death, one killed by a stray bullet; his brother by his own hand.  Pat has shepherded another son through kidney failure and dialysis and finally, a kidney transplant.  The donor was her daughter.

Pat is a woman of prayer.  She usually has news, of God’s goodness, the mercies Christ has shown her.  I do not always see the traces of grace she finds and follows.  I do not know how a woman who has lost so much keeps her faith.   I doubt she knows how her faith keeps me.

I walk up the aisle.  There’s Helen, the octogenarian who goes to Penrose Hospital daily, in her crisp dresses and stiletto heels, carrying the Body of Christ to the sick.  She completes a circle, of our able-bodied and our suffering, one, all of us, in the Lord.

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I stop to ask a question of Mary Faith.  She is a life-long learner, and she teaches us.  She teaches me.  She teaches me in word and deed.  I can count on her for a wise reflection on a text or a meal when I am ill.

I look for Agnes.  If she is in church I know the worst of the chemo is past.  Agnes is a nurse.  During one of her periods of remission, she came to the hospital to see my mother and sent me home to bed.  Agnes stayed, and bathed my mother with such care and gentleness that my mother, gratefully, and at last, rested.

I give Jan a hug.  I know that she will be visiting our home-bound during the week.  They are the chronically ill, so long gone from our midst that some of us have forgotten them.  Jan remembers them, and remembers us to each other.

I spy Kara at the back of the church, walking her baby.  Kara opened her home to a teen-ager, a girl in need.  The young woman is learning from Kara and her husband and their small children how Christian life is lived.  She is learning how Christians fight, and forgive; how Christians set a table and welcome guests; how Christians spend money and play and work.  Soon, this young woman will go down into the waters of baptism, and Kara will be by her side.

I smile at Julie.  I remember the Sunday after her husband’s death.  She was with us, her head bowed down, her eyes filled with tears.  I remember the priest saying,  “Lift up your hearts.”  I knew Julie could not lift up her heart that morning, but I knew that we could lift up her heart with our own.  We could say the words grief had stolen.

I wave at Connie, sitting with her son and granddaughter and the rest of our deaf members.  I feel Annette’s arms around me.  I clasp Angie’s hands, and hear Jorjie’s laugh.

I kneel beside Yvonne.  She is another nurse in our parish, and she has come, again and again, to my mother’s aid.  The last time my mother fell, it was Yvonne who drove to the house every day over the long time of healing to change my mother’s bandages and check for signs of infection.

I sit down in my pew and stow my purse.  I won’t need it here.  Here, with my sisters, there is nothing for sale, nothing to buy.  It is all free from the hand of God.  It is all free and it is all for us.  I can only say with Luc,  “We get a house, too?”

– Melissa Musick