It’s fitting indeed that yesterday we celebrated All Saint’s day, and today we launch the My Faith Heroine series, celebrating the faith heroines who have blessed us, touched our lives and guided us along our spiritual journeys.
A few weeks ago I put out a call for entries for the My Faith Heroine Contest – stories about the women who have influenced you along your spiritual journey. Twenty-five entries later my Baker Books publicist Brianna and I chose three finalists – and believe you me, it was a challenge to narrow it down to just three! Many of the stories I read moved me to tears, and every last one of them was a beautiful testament to a faithful, cherished woman.
Today I welcome Lynn Morrissey, who writes about an unlikely friendship with a woman who graced her in endless ways and left an enduring legacy she’ll never forget. Join me in congratulating Lynn for writing one of the three winning #MyFaithHeroine entries!
Myrtle was dead. The shriveled brown body encasing her generous spirit let go at God’s command. Like autumn’s last leaf, thin and brittle as parchment, it drifted effortlessly to its final resting place.
I met Myrtle years ago. She was my heroine. What an unlikely pair we were, our backgrounds and temperaments as variegated as fall’s foliage. Myrtle was a venerable octogenarian of African-American descent—gracious, humble, and gentle. Yet her soft-spokenness was peppered with crisp humor and laughter that tinkled like a flurry of wind chimes. Her diminutive ninety-pound frame housed a prayer warrior who regularly conferred with her Captain and best friend, Jesus, whom she claimed could fix anything. And He did!
I was a thirty-something Caucasian with an impetuous nature. I loved God and His Word, but was frustrated by my faith that seemed to fluctuate like a round of Simon Says—two baby steps forward, three giant steps back. Solidly standing with feet firmly fixed on her Rock, Jesus Christ, Myrtle’s faith simplywas.
I stuck close to Myrtle, hoping to absorb her faith secrets, and she was only too willing to share them. Every Sunday, we met in our church’s tiny chapel. Myrtle always left the doors open so people could join us for prayer, but few ever did. Myrtle, whose arthritis might have dictated otherwise, insisted we kneel at the altar rail. Inch by inch, she pleated like a weathered accordion, and with one heavy sigh—shooo—finally dropped to her knees. I preferred my comfortable pew seat, but knelt out of respect for Myrtle. She knelt out of respect for God.
Myrtle prayed like she talked, simply and sincerely. I, who had struggled with prayer for nearly ten years as a Christian, was amazed at the effortlessness of her petitions, as if she were chatting over the breakfast table with an intimate friend. One knew that when Myrtle prayed, Jesus knelt alongside us, His presence palpable.
Myrtle didn’t just pray to Jesus, she sang to Him, too. Her favorite hymn was What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and that was no surprise. She sang to her friend Jesus while she baked, washed, dusted, or tended the generational dozens of children entrusted to her care over the years. She told me that singing gave her spiritual strength. Myrtle sang most heartily in church, where she shone like polished piano ebony among mostly white keys.
Sometimes it disturbed me that Myrtle demonstrated what I considered to be a subservient attitude towards her Caucasian counterparts, calling each lady by Miss or Mrs. and her surname. Myrtle is just as good as they, I thought, and knows her Bible better and can pray rings around them!
In retrospect, although I believe Myrtle hailed from a generation plagued with societally imposed racial distinctions, I learned that her personality was characterized by subservience to Christ. His humble servant, she showed deference to others. Her humility humbled me, and I longed to be more like her.
What a friend I had in Myrtle. I called her day or night, asking endless questions or relaying uncontrolled fears. She patiently listened, never criticizing, never minimizing my wrestling. She’d offer a Bible passage to enlighten, a prayer to uplift. “Jesus will fix it, Lynn,” she assured and I was soothed, though not always persuaded. My faith needed to grow.
Sometimes trials loomed larger than life, seemingly insurmountable. One morning at work, I made a desperate call to Myrtle, explaining that some board directors thought I was negligent in raising critical funds for the agency for which I was executive director. Some wanted me fired. “Jesus will fix it,” she insisted. “Let’s pray.” We did, and He did! I had never been one to toot my own horn, but at the next board meeting, I had an opportunity to explain that I had personally been responsible for generating a large percentage of support in both cash and in-kind donations. A naive young woman, I had done my job without reporting it. In response to Myrtle’s prayer, the Lord gave me courage to speak, and He gave me favor with the board.
Another call to Myrtle was even more desperate. I was forty and pregnant. This was a circumstance that couldn’t be fixed or altered by any amount of praying. And yet, in the ensuing months, as I confessed my anguish to my faithful, non-judgmental friend Myrtle, Jesus answered our prayers by fixingmy attitude. When our daughter was born, how proud I was to be her mother. And how proud Myrtle was to be included at Sheridan’s christening as her great-godmother.
Certainly arrogant pride was not one of Myrtle’s characteristics. “Why would you, a college graduate, ask advice from me?” she sometimes queried. I thought the answer was obvious. Myrtle possessed the God-given wisdom that I needed.
Yet near the end of her life, Myrtle’s wisdom was harder to discover. Her quick mind and quicker wit were overshadowed by the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, scrambling her language into a kind of verbal Morse-Code gibberish. She could no longer talk to others or to Jesus.
One afternoon, in what was to be our last visit, I pulled her dusty hymnal from the piano bench, asking her daughter-in-law for permission to play for Myrtle. As I played the old familiar hymn, with tears streaming down her cheeks, Myrtle began to sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus …” Although she could no longer talk to Jesus, she was singing to Him just as she had throughout the years. While Myrtle couldn’t tell Him, she knew He was still her best friend.
Several days later, Jesus fixed Myrtle good as new. And now she’ll never stop singing.
Lynn D. Morrissey possesses the rare ability to probe beneath the surface, striking the heart of a subject, while sharing transparently from her own heart. She is passionate about journaling, through which God healed her of suicidal depression, alcoholism, and guilt from an abortion. She empathizes greatly with those who endure pain. A poetic word-stylist, Lynn sculpts beautiful language with her pen, and is the author of Love Letters to God: Deeper Intimacy through Written Prayer, and other books, contributor to numerous bestsellers, a Certified Journal Facilitator (CJF) for her ministry, Heartsight Journaling, AWSA speaker, and professional soloist. She lives with her husband Michael and college-age daughter Sheridan in St. Louis, Missouri. Connect with Lynn on Facebook or email her at: [email protected].
This post is part of the My Faith Heroine Series in conjunction with the release of
50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith.