How to be a servant in a world full of self

“Are you scared, Mom?”

Auntie Susan is gone now, the hair all swept up and Trent’s sisters laying their boys down for a nap. I am in the kitchen with Marge, my mother-in-law, and we’ve been visiting a lot these days because her chemo will start soon, and she’ll be living in the city with the girls.

Marge is taking dishes out of the dishwasher; the tea kettle on because we always have coffee after supper and Aiden watching Flintstones with Opa on his mattress in the living room.

Marge turns to me. She is young, only 52, Harvey eight years her senior, and she is slim and strong with bright eyes and a quick smile. Before she got married at 18, she used to barrel race and goat tie in the rodeo.

“No, I’m not scared,” she says. “Just sad, because, well, I won’t be home to take care of Harvey and you know, Emily,” and she pauses here, looks over at her husband who’s fixing the bulb that’s burned out and he’ll fix anything she asks him to, and some days he brings in clusters of wildflowers from the field for her.

“He’s my ministry. He always has been. The kids are important too of course, but I have always felt my first calling is to serve my husband.”

She says this with a smile, even as she bends and continues to unload the dishwasher.

I want to bend and serve this way.

But I’ve been angry so long.

At men mostly, and I was the little girl who would watch her dad talking to everyone at church, laughing with them, wondering what they had that she didn’t. Because the laughter stayed at church. Dad slipped straight to his desk at home, and I would knock timidly at his door and he’d sigh, push up his glasses and ask what I wanted. He was about God’s business and I was in the way.

And it’s hard to call God father.

Because the little girl in me still needs her Dad to look up from his desk and see her.

And Marge talks about serving Harvey like it’s something holy and privileged, and I can only swallow and look away.

So little time

There are days when I weep for the unraveling. The clothesline an endless string of diapers and baby sleepers and Trent and I arguing over how to properly pin a shirt and then Aiden falls on Kasher and it takes everything in me to keep my voice calm for the sadness in his tiny face. Because he didn’t mean to hurt his baby brother.

There is so much sadness to love, and it’s so easy to hurt the one who holds you. To squeeze too tight, or to let go too soon, and I escape into the garden Marge helped me plant, the one in the corner of the house with poppies and daisies and sweet peas, a quiet windless place where the stems grow tall and strong. And I can be alone, for just awhile.

And it’s there, unraveling with the weeds that I remember them. The five children Trenton pointed out to me on Sunday, the ones trailing behind their father into church, their backs bent, hands in pockets.

They’d all just lost their mother. A sudden death, a brain aneurism. And I’d stared, never having seen them before. And somehow they walked into church, and they shook the hands of the Sunday greeters and they made it to the pew where they’d sat weeks earlier grieving the loss of the one who gave them life.

That’s all I needed to turn my feet back towards the house, back into the arms of my husband and my children, for I would fold a thousand diapers just to hold my loved ones another hour.

This is love, isn’t it? With all of its grief, with all of its clotheslines and potty-training and wedded misunderstanding.

And this is what’s worth living and dying for.

“There’s so little time,” Marge tells me. “I just don’t want to waste it.”

Marge has cancer but she’s also got more life than most of us.

In ancient times, stars were used as navigational guides, to lead people home. Stars are balls of fire which break off and become brighter in the breaking.

Marge is brighter for the breaking. And her light is leading me home.


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