My relationship with Mary began about 10 years ago. It was about 10:30 at night and we were the last two people left pricing items for a youth garage sale. Amongst all the boxes and dirty objects we were surrounded by, somehow I knew that I was on consecrated ground. The presence of the Lord felt so heavy that I felt like maybe I should take off my shoes. We told stories that night and we found we had much in common. The way we came to know the Lord, the way that we stumbled into the strange life of being the wife of a pastor (both of us sort of surprised by the idea). That night began one of the most influential relationships in my life. While my time actually spent with Mary wasn’t that extensive, every moment I did taught me something about Jesus chasing and I always felt a very deep kinship and affection for her. And these last few days I have seen clearly that my feelings for her, our relationship, was not unique.
Everyone that Mary encountered felt the same.
I’ve been asked to speak about Marys ministry to the youth of Willow Park Church and that could be a long conversation. I asked around to our team and there were certain themes that every person mentioned.
The first of those was prayer. We trusted Mary to stand in the gap for us. She understood that staking a claim and doing battle for the spiritual lives of kids is not to be taken lightly or unprotected. Mary formed armies around our youth group. We felt she helped us stand when our legs were weak.
Some of the most precious memories of Mary revolve around her prayer ministry. The way she always arrived the day before our conferences started and walked the perimeter and the building praying for the youth that would be attending. The way she was present for every session we held, the names of each registrant in her hand, prayed over. I remember walking the camp property with her, meeting all the people she brought along for the same purpose. She didn’t do this just occasionally. She did this every year.
Rachel Lindsay, our girls ministry director, mentioned how every time she saw Mary, she introduced her to someone else who was praying specifically for her needs. Sue Enns mentioned how even recently (three years after she left our staff) when she saw her she was still praying for her, wondering about her life, keeping track of where she was and what she needed. Each of us felt like we were known intimately, cared for immensely.
The second thing that all of us noticed about Marys ministry was the way she managed to know not only all the details of our lives, but also all the dates of every event we held. I am the wife of the youth pastor and most of the time I cannot keep up with all the events but somehow Mary knew, exactly when we were departing for missions trips and would always arrive about an hour before we left. Sometimes she brought a verse for each student missionary. Sometimes she brought anointing oil that she sprinkled on the bus. She ensured she had the staff list for our camp, the names of every camper that was registered. She prayed for each of us all summer. Several times we would send messages about challenges we were facing and she would rally the troops, pray intensely for us. Her dedication to the ministry left us overwhelmed at times.
Everyone who speaks about Mary, mentions the way she made you feel so very cared for. The way she made you feel like you were the only person in the room, that you might somehow be her very favorite person on earth. Mary who walked grace, talked Jesus chasing, touched gentle. She spoke with lips dripping blessing and each word built on the other and it built you up and you felt stronger in her presence.
The air shifted when she walked into the room and we all swayed closer to her. This was true of Mary in every context I saw her in. Teenagers, women, men, all of us; we were like plants drawn to the light, her radiant Jesus reflecting face.
I think one of the greatest things I learned from Mary is how Jesus can change your legacy. She told me once that she didn’t always pray like she did these last few years. That one January she asked God what he wanted for her and he said I want you to be a woman of prayer. That really stuck in my mind. It made me realize that at any point in our lives, Jesus can completely alter our legacies. That what we are known for now does not need to dictate what we will always be known for. That as we push into him, we see Him we can become new creations. This church, all of us, every time we described her, we claimed her as our own, our prayer warrior.
My ears always perked when she talked of how she hears and how she walks and how she listens and how she lives this life. This is how one walks redemption and lives love and I wanted to learn every lesson she could teach.