Yesterday I visited my dear friend, Miss Betty, in the hospital. Doctors found two large masses, one in her brain and another in her lung. Stage 4 Cancer, they say. We don’t yet know what lies ahead. Waiting, for now, is the only option.
When I first walked in to her hospital room, Miss Betty did not recognize me. Her daughters had to remind her, “It’s Pastor Mayra, mom, from your church. You know her.” Miss Betty spent the next 10 minutes teetering between looks of bewilderment to apologizing for not recognizing me. She kept saying to me, “Let’s go talk outside.” These little talks I have grown too familiar with. She often pulls me aside at church so she can tell me about my life. Some of y’all know what that means. She’s really good at it. During my visit, it seemed she was concerned that she wasn’t made up enough for me. If you know Miss Betty, she is always made up. She is an usher at our church and comes from the school of Sunday Best Attire. I rarely see her in flats. If you know me, you know that is something I am impressed by – the woman is 74! (Don’t she look good?)
Miss Betty calls me her adopted daughter, which is quite an honor for me. You see Miss Betty is a fighter. She is a woman who loves Jesus and has no time for mess. She knows that to love Jesus is to follow him – and she takes that with utmost seriousness. The first time I laid eyes on her she was loving and serving people who others may not feel comfortable sitting with. Miss Betty has made it a point to focus her outreach and love of neighbor on women and men who are often marginalized in our day. And she has been doing this most of her life.
She is a lover of justice. She marched during the Civil Rights Era. She has helped start various programs to extend hospitality to people struggling with hunger and homelessness. She has created bridges for people who have been hurt by the church or have not been interested in faith and has connected them to the local church and to ways in which they can use their gifts to serve others. She embodies a life of outreach in the most profound ways.
I believe one reason she loves me is because we have a similar foundational understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, and the unshakeable certainty that doing so is intricately tied to pursuing justice. You see, we agree that God’s care for our eternal future and current reality go hand in hand. We are created, after all, as humans with real bodies and real needs. We both believe that God is Jehovah Jireh and that our needs, our joy, our pain, do not go unseen. These things move God. And God acts.
I have learned so much from Miss Betty. But what strikes me most in this moment is who she is.
This fierce, feisty, no-nonsense, courageous, faithful, determined, loving woman. What she does flows from this being and it paints a beautiful picture of what it means to be a woman in her hey-day – which I don’t doubt has been every moment of her life – serving God with her whole life. I want to be like her.
This morning l left my house and family, headed to Seneca Falls for the start of the #RubyWooPilgrimage, where a group of us will journey together, tracing the path to freedom of our foremothers – the starting place of the women’s suffrage movement.
We will learn of their struggle, their challenges, what kept them going, and the glorious things they accomplished. I anticipate a meaningful time of learning with and from my sisters on the journey with me.
This journey of pushing and walking and fighting for the protection and flourishing of women is one Miss Betty has also taken.
As a single mother, she had to navigate systems and overcome or dismantle barriers to make it. I imagine she has had her share of Ruth, Esther, and Deborah moments. She is a survivor and she took this journey of loving God and neighbor, and pursuing justice not only for herself, but for her biological daughters. For her granddaughters and great-granddaughters. And she took it for me. I only hope I can honor her sacrifice.
As I prepare my heart and mind for what I will learn in the next several days, the same spaces in my being are filled with thoughts of Miss Betty. She is me and I am she. I dedicate this pilgrimage to Miss Betty, who has encouraged me, loved me, and walked the talk so that I, and other women will know what is possible if we will walk boldly in our calling to follow Jesus, love our neighbors, and pursue God’s justice in the world we inhabit. This one’s for you, Miss Betty.