I’m not sure how I got to become her teacher. She is a few years older than me, is more mature, and has a whole lot of life experience and background that I don’t have.
I found myself as her teacher anyways, which opened up a pastoral relationship that runs both ways. I’ve been next to her during some hard times and she has done the same for me. These days we are friends without any titles other than neighbor, as she has moved into a house near mine.
Martha and her husband used to be in full time church ministry. They were dismissed and it hurt them both. Martha had a breakdown as did their marriage. It would seem as if the enemy had won, but trust me, he didn’t.
Martha took what she learned with her own mental illness and started applying compassion to others. She has become a professional advocate for mental health issues, championing people and their needs above the labels others would put on them.
When I experienced some crippling depression after being let go from my ministry position Martha was one of my friends that I turned to. She understood me on many levels that others couldn’t and I never felt judgment from her because I was on depression medication.
Currently Martha is a graduate student at an impressive university, earning a Master’s degree which will open even more doors in her future work for others.
I recently received an email from her, asking for some assistance with a school project. She needed to meet with a mentor to discuss the issues of forgiveness and reconciliation, and then finish her paper. She thought I could help her process these issues in light of the organized church.
We got together, made some coffee and sat down in my living room. She shared more of her project with me- the books she is reading, and the trip to Europe where she visited former concentration and Holocaust work camps. We discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and what it meant to create a place where people could share their stories and deal with their wrongs.
I wondered what I could add to her understanding, let alone her project.
When she turned to me for input I wasn’t sure how to start. I have opinions but they seem best told in stories, so that is where I began. I told her the story of a church that had become so obsessed with reaching what it thinks is its God-given vision that it has sacrificed its ability to deal with hurting people, let alone the people that it hurts. Forgiveness and reconciliation is an afterthought and only takes place if the wounded soul returns to jump back on board the vision train in full compliance to the church leadership and their views. In the broader sense, not just with this one local church, I believe that when the institution has become the dominant figure in Christianity it moves to protect itself in order to make sure that the vision train keeps moving forward. Because of this people perish, and I just don’t think God engineered it this way.
The story that I told Martha wasn’t my own but one that has burdened me for months. It felt good to share my heart and to know that Martha would listen to my frustrations and concerns without ever asking for gossip details or names. I am grateful for a safe and understanding friend.
Martha then asked me about my own journey. I shared with her my passion to help others share their stories with words and pictures, especially if they didn’t have the means of sharing them themselves.
She then reciprocated and shared her own current story. Though her husband left her years ago, Martha told me how she has worked through all of her anger issues. She remains friends with her children’s father and speaks well of him, while still being honest about their past pain. Recently Martha’s oldest daughter called her with some devastating news. Martha’s ex-husband has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). It is a sentence that currently has no cure. His muscles will begin to shut down until he can no longer breathe.
Martha told me how she processed what her daughter shared with her. She considered what would be best for her children, although they are now all adults, regarding the next couple of years with their father. On Veterans’ Day she met with her former spouse and discussed his diagnosis and future plans. She invited him to move in with her and help him pass this next chapter with as much grace as they can together for themselves and for their children. He accepted.
This very well means that Martha’s vision for her Master’s degree will have to be set aside as she is getting new direction from the Master.
And here Martha thought I could teach her something about forgiveness and reconciliation.
No, Martha, we are learning that from you.