Marie was born just before winter, one of eight children in a little house with a table, four chairs, a stove, a single bed and cots that lined the walls. Never enough to eat and always work to do. She carried wood, brought in water, and sometimes even dug with her fingers for the last bits of coal embedded in the cold hard ground. That was her life, but her smile rarely betrayed it so.
Her world was a green meadow all full of flowers bejeweled with the morning dew, the abode of butterflies as evening hastens. Close by was her little stream with beautiful blue-green mallard eggs in occasional clutches along the grassy banks. Sometimes she would sneak away with some "delicious" book and under a favorite tree spend a few minutes that she wished could stretch into uninterrupted hours. She loved rainy spring nights, as she lay close by her sister under the tin roofed porch they shared.
Marie shared with me many thoughts and memories: Of herself as a small child on a church pew, almost ready to topple over, and, as years progressed, of a mother who compelled her to learn things "eternal"; Of Christmases with only a stocking, an apple, and an orange; Of the classmate who, because of her ragged appearance, would scarcely even take her hand; Of dances and how her oldest sister, uncomfortable with walking dark streets alone, would make her go. As her sister, danced, little Marie, nowhere to be found, was fast asleep and warm among the coats; Of her father awakening her in the coolness of pre-dawn summer mornings, and the two of them with buckets in hand walking down an old railroad track together in search of wild berries; Of the cold she and her sister endured on that little porch with only screens and blankets between them and winter; Of the secret weapon, the Lord provided late one night as she walked home alone from the corner drug where she worked. A paper bag that left one, who lightly but intentionally brushed her dress in passing, stunned and covered in the chocolate malt intended for her mother;
And she told me the bittersweet memory of her sister Dolly, a little girl so full of joy the neighbors called her "Sunshine." She was always ready to help. When mother ask, she was always willing to go. One day this little girl came home from school all wet and cold and talking strange. "I reached up today and touched the fingers of God" she said. After she went to bed that night, things were never quite the same. Each day she grew more ill. Her desperate mother searched and bought the only doll that little house ever would know. And just before she went to sleep that one last time, my mother remembered her singing "Jingle Bells… Jingle Bells." A short time later all her things were burned, except that little doll. Her mother put it in a drawer that was never "ever" to be opened! And my mother remembered her mother's unrestrained cry as that little body was laid to rest in a grave without a stone.
Marie grew up, married, and gave us life. I remember her so often gathering us together, opening the Bible, and smiling as she read. She loved us, but she knew her love was not enough. We would have to make His love our own. As the years progressed, time was not kind. Her body was contorted with pain, but her smile never changed, nor her intercessory prayer. She didn't have to remind us that His "strength is made perfect in weakness." I moved away, but innumerable letters followed through the years. Each punctuated with a "purloined" thought or verse, and very spring she reminded:
"The winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land" (Song 2:12).
Her joy was to commit a little of Scripture to memory each day, and recite or read to shut-ins, those in nursing homes, her children, grandchildren, husband and whoever else she had opportunity. She continually longed for everyone to share her joy.
Her concern for others never faltered, even with labored breath just minutes before her death, she looked at my brother, smiled, and said "it’s time for you to go."
Its only been a year or so since my mother reminisced about that little grave without a stone.
That’s when I noticed the small piece of marble, beside the door, white and round and exquisitely engraved with the likeness of a dove, a remembrance lost to time, some other sadness, a child, a distant grave. I looked at it, I looked at her, she smiled and within the hour she was leading us to the place that only she would know. As I knelt and dug and embed that likeness of a dove in that little unmarked grave, I can still remember her bittersweet smile. Someday I will see them hand in hand running through green meadows all full of flowers, bejeweled with morning dew, the abode of butterflies as evening hastens.
Marie was always listening, and she is listening now for His voice, and the long clear clarion call of the trumpet when all who love Him will stand at attention as the dead come forth from the grave to meet Him in the air…and we will follow.
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (1Thessalonians 4: 14-18).
"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1Corinthians 15:51-52).