A true story but names have been changed:
- Catherine, a young woman
- Jim, Catherine’s roommate
- Mary, one amazing friend
I was a pastor in my mid-twenties of a new and growing church that was filling with curiously wonderful people. These were (and still are) people who demonstrated time and again that they loved the folks around them well. As a direct result of this visible love, they’re called upon when stuff gets ugly. Mary, one of those curiously wonderful people in our church, answered such a call and helped two people find hope in the midst of chaos and despondency.
Mary and Catherine were co-workers who had become friends. Catherine’s husband had recently left her, and, according to Mary, Catherine “just hadn’t been treated well by anyone in her life ever.” She had almost no experience with true friendships. As Mary says, “A lot of [her ‘friends’] weren’t even overtly cruel. They were just not nice. No one in her life was nice. Even the friends she had who weren’t malicious were still mean/bitter/negative.”
Mary began to share with Catherine a little bit about her own relationships. “I would tell her stories about people in my life who were kind, loving, generally pleasant. She would always marvel at them. I think she might have thought I made them up, but I didn’t embellish a bit. Just everyday decency was sort of shocking to Catherine. She had never experienced it before.”
For a long time, Mary just listened and offered bits of encouragement to Catherine, who was skeptical of Christianity and jaded by a lifetime of unsafe relationships. Eventually Mary invited Catherine to our church. She told her, “I know you aren’t really into Jesus and all, but you have got to meet some nice people. I promise you, every person I’ve met at Maryville Vineyard is nice. Please, at least consider coming to meet some people who will be nice to you regardless of how you feel about Christianity. It’s a whole building full of people who are actually, genuinely nice. And— I’ll make you a latte.”
And one Sunday, Catherine came. Mary recalls that first week. “I think she came half expecting to find mean people and point them out to me. And believe me, if there had been any mean people in the building, they would have found her and ruined everything. But there weren’t any mean people in that building. Every single person I ever met there was kind, so I knew it would work.”
As their friendship grew, Catherine confided in Mary that she was worried about her roommate, Jim. Catherine had found the world to be full of negative people who were all too quick to let her down. Jim had been one of the rare exceptions. When others turned against her, he stuck by his friend. But Jim was in his own dark place. He was a good man who was struggling and quickly losing hope. He was angry. He was sad. Catherine had a front row seat, and she was increasingly fearful that he might try to take his own life. And then it happened. Catherine remembers it this way:
I was six months pregnant. I came home from work one day, and the house felt wrong as soon as I opened the door—the metallic smell of blood and chemicals burned my nose. I walked through the living room into the kitchen, and slipped on something, almost wiping out. There were pieces of viscera mixed in with the blood and chemicals, running in rivers toward the corners of the room. I called out to Jim and heard him, barely, in his bedroom. I found him there, on his stomach, covered in blood.
He’d slit both his wrists to the elbow, pulled out what he could reach as far as blood vessels, etc., drank almost a gallon of deck stain remover and tried to catch himself on fire internally by swallowing a lit cigar. I called 911 and Mary because I didn’t know who else to call.
Mary dropped everything and drove to Catherine’s home. On her way, she called the church and let us know what had happened. In the meantime, EMS had taken Jim to the ER, and the police had arrived to ask Catherine questions.
When my wife and I arrived at the scene, we stood frozen outside Catherine’s house for a couple of minutes. I was terrified. What could I possibly say? What was I about to see? Why was I even there?
I’d never witnessed the aftermath of a suicide attempt. Mary had warned me: there would be a huge mess with lots of blood. As my hand turned the doorknob, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what I expected to be a truly horrifying scene.
Instead, when I walked in, I saw something beautiful. Don’t get me wrong—Mary’s warning was true. It was indeed horrific. There was blood everywhere and the stench was almost unbearable. But there was Mary, right in the middle of the filth, on her hands and knees wiping up blood with a roll of paper towels and praying for her friend. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. As Mary explained, Catherine was in a panic. She didn’t want her daughter to see the blood everywhere. She didn’t want the blood to be everywhere. She just wanted it clean.
I knew Catherine didn’t have the money to get a new place or hire someone to clean it. I just didn’t want her to smell the Drano-infused vomit and blood mixture in a flashback every time she cleaned her floors for the rest of her life. I didn’t want her to clean it up alone. And I didn’t want to let this ruin her home. I didn’t have the money to pay for professional cleaners. You do what you can with what you’ve got.
I was proud of my little house, it was the first place I’d owned that was mine, and I was trying to fix it up for both of my kids to live in. Mary does not like blood and gore. She won’t watch horror movies with her husband and refuses to even discuss the plots with me. Yet, when she came over, she came inside to try to clean up the mess, even though it was gross and possibly dangerous.
There Mary was—scrubbing, praying, and filling that house with LOVE>FEAR. I encouraged her to stop (it wasn’t safe) and to go take care of Catherine. That’s exactly what she did. Years later, Catherine remembers Mary’s demonstration of love with a sense of awe:
She took me to her house, where I stayed for a few days. She called my boss at work, explained everything. Since Jim had taken every pill in the house, including my medication, she paid for another batch of medicine for me because I didn’t have any money. She protected me at work when people asked nosy questions. She treated me with respect and dignity. She is a great friend.
More of those curiously wonderful people from our church paid to have the home professionally cleaned and sanitized, and also had the carpet replaced throughout the home. Jim made a full recovery. A leader in our church sought him out and befriended him as he got back on his feet. Today, Jim calls our church home. So does Catherine.
Mary has since moved to another town (bad news for us, great news for that town). Mary, an ordinary yet extraordinary person, proved that even in darkest of situations—the ones that seem utterly desolate and hopeless—LOVE>FEAR.