I accepted Christ in the winter of 1979. That summer I worked for an Italian mason who swore a blue streak, and demanded relentless labor from his crew. The work didn’t bother me, but the environment of foul language and temptation had my new faith on the ropes. So, I called Mary Anne.
A couple hours later she opened her door, and greeted with me with a hug.
Mary Anne was the mother of girl friend, who dumped me my first semester in college. I knew she was deeply spiritual, even though at the time I was agnostic. In the foyer I noticed a picture, of Jesus standing up on a boat in a storm, and asked her if it was new.
“No,” she said, “it’s been there for a very long time.”
Mary Anne was married to Tony, a contractor who had built a small business into a successful enterprise in Northern New Jersey. Their tasteful Bernardsville mansion was filled with antiques collected over the years from estate sales. The antique charcoal print I had noticed, showed Jesus lifting one arm to stop the storm. The picture captures the exact moment a ray of sun illuminates Him. From a distance, that’s all you see, but as you get closer, the dark edges where the frightened men sit, begin to come into focus. I always stopped and admired it. Over the years I would learn its significance in Mary Anne’s spiritual journey.
Tony was a hard charging, fast talking classic workaholic. I remember I would sit in the kitchen with him, while Mary Anne served us pizza, and listen to his stories. Her eyes seemed to say, ‘I’m so happy you’re spending time with him.’ Mary Anne wrote to me on occasion, her letters hopeful that someday he would come to faith. I remember once she said, “I would do anything to see Tony walk with Jesus.” Other letters were dark, like the edges of the picture. But the last letter I received, told about how Tony had begun to attend a Cowboy Church in Montana, and actually enjoyed it! She sounded happy, that after so many years, her prayers were being answered.
One drizzly night before Thanksgiving, I picked up the phone to hear her son’s quivering voice.
“Mom has pancreatic cancer…We’re not sure… how long she has.”
Her seven children were coming in from all points, and they would spend the holidays together.
“Can I come and see her,” I asked?
“I’ll let you know,” he said, “but right now we’re keeping it to family.”
Stunned, I hung up. My first thought was the picture of Christ standing up to a storm that any human would cower under. God seemed to say, ‘she needs a minister right now, not your grief. This will be her darkest night. She will live now in the dark edges of the portrait, but Christ will be with her in the storm.’ So I wrote her a letter and poem, to try and cast light upon His courage.
She passed away just days before Christmas, surrounded by family, and a husband’s fledgling faith in God. Tony had seen Christ in her, and now watched as she slipped away into His arms. How could he understand that moment was what she had longed for? How could he measure the grief in his own heart, against the joy of God in receiving her home? Did he understand, “the day of her death was better than her birth?” I prayed for Tony, that God would grow his faith through it all.
A couple weeks later her son called me again. One of Mary Anne’s final wishes was to bless Ginnette and me. We used her gift to buy a mahogany bed frame, a reminder of how she had brought light into the dark edges, when storm clouds broke upon us.