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Archive for December, 2013

mewmam

By Lauren Yarger

“God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life.”  2 Corinthians 14-16, The Message)

Today I’m breathing in the sweet fragrance of one of the most precious souls God ever sent to earth: my best friend, Muriel Mann. Muriel went home to heaven yesterday after a long life, filled with love and service to the King of Kings. Her heart was the purest I ever have known.

As her family and friends grieve with personal loss today at the thought of no longer seeing her smiling face, being warmed by her cheerful greeting or basking in the delight of her presence and advice over a cup of tea, we can’t help but feel joy in the midst of sadness as we are filled with gratitude and the knowledge that her life was a pleasing aroma to God. Our lives are so much richer for having known her. She was very easy to love.

When I met Muriel, I loved her instantly. As editor of our church magazine/newsletter, I had contacted several couples married more than 50 years for a feature in our Valentine’s issue. Muriel and her husband, Roger, responded with pleasure and showed up for the interview.

As we got to know each other and they began to tell the story of their courtship and marriage, I couldn’t help but be charmed. They had met and courted at college where Muriel was assigned to Roger’s table in the dining hall and where she soon found that she was becoming “exceedingly fond” of the handsome, young pre-med student. I smiled. People don’t use words like “exceedingly” any more. She also didn’t refer to him as “Roger” or “My Husband, “but as “My Beloved” which I found enchanting.

When Roger attended medical school, they continued their relationship by mail. Muriel, an award-winning poet, often expressed her feelings in verse.

“Would you like to hear one of the poems?” Roger asked. “Sure,” I responded, expecting him to pull a worn sheet of paper from his shirt pocket. Instead he began to recite the lines of the poem from memory.

“What kind of a woman is this,” I thought to myself, “whose ‘Beloved’ still remembers her words more than half a century later.”

I was about to have the privilege of finding out in a friendship that spanned the next quarter of a century.

Not too long after our interview, I received a Valentine’s card from Muriel. It was one of the most welcoming and encouraging notes I ever have received. “We’re going to be good friends,” I thought.

While browsing at a used book sale, I came across a book of poetry called “My Beloved,” which according to the dust jacket, had been written by the author during a time of separation from his love.

“How perfect for my new friend: Poems combined with My Beloved,” I thought. I purchased the book and gave it to her the following Sunday at church.

A few days later, she called to thank me for the book.

“Did you like it?” I asked.

“Well,” she hesitated.

“Why, what was wrong with it?” I asked. “Isn’t it love poems while they were separated?”

“Well, yes,” she replied. “But he seemed to miss one particular activity with her more than anything else.”

A queasy feeling started to erupt in my gut as I said, “Do you mean he writes a lot about sex?”

“Yes,” she responded.

“Well,” I said, while trying to think of some way to sneak into her house at night and steal the book back, “it’s OK for a husband to miss his wife that way.”

“Yes,” Muriel said, “but it seems they aren’t married….”

“Oh, Lord, help me,” I prayed. “I have pandered pornography to one of the pillars of the church.”

There was a bit of awkward silence before Muriel started laughing. My nervousness gave way to laugher and before I knew it both of us were enjoying quite a belly laugh over the whole thing.

“I’m so sorry,” I finally croaked out.

“Don’t be, honey. His form really isn’t too bad.”

She gave me an analysis of the poetic style used and I thanked God for this angel who could have thrown the book away in disgust, who could have made me feel like a scum of the earth, but who instead, read the entire book because it meant so much that I had given it to her. We were solid friends from that moment.

I invited her and her daughters and daughters-in-law who lived nearby to a luncheon at my home. My awe of this woman grew as I heard each of them telling stories about how blessed they were to have her near and helping with the raising of their children.

“I think we’ve found that perfect woman from Proverbs 31,” I thought. I still think she’s the closest I’ve ever met.

Muriel and I were part of a bible study led by her daughter-in-law, Cindy, for a number of years. What a blessed time of learning, sharing and growing in Christ and friendship.

Each time I called her on the phone, Muriel’s voice was full of delight to discover that it was me on the other end of the line. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of knowing that just the sound of your voice has brought happiness to someone, but it really can improve your whole day and your outlook on life. That was Muriel’s gift to me.

We visited a lot and my heart swelled as I got to know the real Muriel. No, she wasn’t perfect. None of us is, but she wasn’t afraid to share with me all of herself, her faults (albeit few) included. She became my best friend, mentor and biggest supporter.

When I confessed that my husband, Dave, and I hadn’t been able to get away together for years because we didn’t have any family close by to baby sit, she immediately developed a plan of action to take the children for a weekend. When we returned from our retreat, she reported that everyone had had a wonderful time together and she wondered whether it was all right with us it that she and Roger had asked the children to call them Mammy and Pappy like all of their other grandchildren did.

Mind? Was she kidding? What a blessing for my children to have these two saints as adopted grandparents. Some of their fondest childhood memories are of playing Mammy’s “Highmeadows” through the years. They love her dearly.

One of my sweetest recollections is taking Muriel and my kids to a special tea at an historic home. We watched the children play under a cloudless blue sky in the gardens blooming with fragrant, end-of summer flowers while sipping Earl Grey and munching the most delicious cucumber sandwiches. There was such a happiness and peace, such a bond of friendship, that the scene is etched on my heart like a John Singer Sargent painting.

One year, Muriel tried to convince me that I should try my hand at poetry. I have enjoyed different types of writing, but poetry just isn’t in me. Always my supporter, she just couldn’t seem to comprehend that there would be something at which I couldn’t excel. So for her birthday that year, I tried to compose a poem. It was bad. Really bad. Horrifically bad. But because I do have some talent in comedy writing, I was able to enhance the poem and make it really putrid. Let me be clear. If there were a Pulitzer Prize for “Most Terribly Constructed Poem” this would have been a contender.

I presented “Ode To Muriel” to this dear woman on her birthday and chuckled as she struggled to read it without laughing.

“See,” I said, “I told you I can’t write poetry.”

“I think it has potential,” she replied undeterred, and ever my champion.

Eventually it came time for our family to move to another state. It was the right decision for us, but I missed being close geographically to Muriel. I missed our outings, seeing her every week at church or just being able to stop by and bring her chicken soup when she was under the weather.

Her love and friendship moved right along with me, however. Whenever I saw her handwriting on an envelope in the mailbox, I got a lift. I did get back up to Vermont for visits occasionally. When we sat there in her parlor sipping Earl Grey, it was as though no time or distance ever had been between us. We picked up right where we left off settling back on her sofa into the cushions of comfortable kinship.

One time I arrived for a visit and was whisked into her home with a huge smile and embrace. We had a lovely visit and when I left, Muriel said it had been just like old times – that she had been thinking of me and then, there I was at her door. It wasn’t until later that I realized that through a communications glitch, no one had told her of my plans to visit that day, even though her daughters and I had carefully worked out the details. If you never have had the experience of being so welcome in someone’s home that you are greeted as though your visit has been highly anticipated, even when it wasn’t, I very much recommend finding a friend like Muriel right away. It will do wonders for your self esteem.

As the years stretched out, each visit was made more precious by the knowledge that it could be our last. We enjoyed each other’s company (with Roger’s when he could be there too) and Muriel and I held hands for most of the time – a little tangible connection of the love between us and the assurance of being within reach of each other again.

There’s a song I like from Broadway show Wicked, where two friends are saying goodbye. It expresses how I felt when we moved and how I felt when it was time to say goodbye after a visit with Muriel:

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend* 

The print she has left is in the image of a palm upturned, gently cradling the back and underside of my heart, which has rested there in her loving hand through much hope, hurt and love.

Friends come and friends go, but some like Muriel become a part of us, planted in our lives to grow and bloom and to permeate them with a beautiful aroma. I’m grateful that God blessed my life and the life of my family with Muriel. And I’m grateful, exceedingly grateful, for the Godly perfume that fills my soul every time I think of her.

I know that today there is an amazing celebration taking place in heaven and that Muriel Mann just heard, from the One whose opinion most mattered to her,  “Well done, good and faithful servant. Exceedingly well done.”

* “For Good” lyrics used with permission. From the Broadway Musical WICKED music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

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