Mark lost all sense of time and hours seemed to pass as he sat. In reality it was probably no more than ten minutes, but it could have been a lifetime. He felt rather than heard Luke sit down next to him. Neither of them said anything for a few moments. Then Mark, without lifting his head, spoke. “I didn’t get it. All these years and I never understood.”

“Understood what?” Luke softly prompted.

Mark took a deep breath and lifted his head. As he exhaled he leaned back into the pew, looking toward the altar. “I take pride in my self-control. There is nothing in my life that I haven’t been able to manage. Until now. I can not bear this, Luke. I am confused and scared and lonely. I put on a brave face, but it is eating me alive. Talk about your cracked pots! I feel like my life has been smashed into a million little pieces.”

Mark rubbed his hands over his face. “But what you said today — how could I have never heard it before? Maybe I have been too wrapped up in myself. God wants me to let go and trust him. He wants to do something IN me.” Mark turned and looked at Luke. “And he’s started. I can’t explain it, but there is a peace — a real deep, solid rightness — deep in the heart of me now.”

Luke smiled at his friend.

“I’ve been going to church all my life,” Mark continued, looking to the cross at the front of the sanctuary. “I always thought I had to be perfect to please God. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get there. I thought I had to work harder, be better. But God is the perfect in me. Christ in me, the hope of glory. I never got it.” Mark’s voice diminished to a murmur. “Christ in me.”

Mark asked Luke to pray with him and they spent another half-hour together — thanking God, praying for Ann, praying for Mark, asking for strength. When they finally spoke the final “Amen,” they looked at each other and then embraced. “I love you, brother,” Luke said.

“I love you, too.” Mark wore a huge smile. “Thank you, Luke.”

“Listen, Mark, there is something I want to give you.” Luke got up and walked to the lectern. He took his Bible from the pulpit and strode back to Mark and sat down. “I promised to give this to you on your birthday. I know it is not for another month, but I think Ann would want me to give this to you now.” Luke opened his Bible to 2 Corinthians. There sat an envelope. “Forgive me, but I have been using it as a bookmark. I kept it in the most secure place I know, a place where I knew it would not get lost.” Luke picked up the envelope and turned it over. There in Ann’s handwriting was Mark’s name. “She wrote it shortly after your birthday last year. She told me to give it to you this year as a special present from her.” He held the envelope out to Mark.

With a trembling hand Mark reached out and took it. He stared at it, blinking several times. “I’ve got to go, Mark, but you can stay as long as you like.” Luke stood up. He put his hand on Mark’s shoulder. “She loves you, Mark. She loves you so very much!”

Then Luke left. It suddenly occurred to Mark several minutes later that Luke had used the present tense.

 

 

The diffused light of the early morning sun softly lit Ann’s face as she lay sleeping. This was Mark’s favourite time of day and he cherished every moment as he gazed at her. How peaceful she looked!

The last year had become progressively more difficult. The disease, which had crept stealthily like a cat stalking its prey, had finally pounced with fury. The Ann he knew had retreated deep into some sealed sanctuary. But as she slept, Mark would watch her and reminisce. He would go through memories, his most cherished possessions, and relive them. Doing this helped him believe that she was still there somewhere. It helped his heart to trust.

Quietly, so as not to disturb Ann, Mark took the envelope out of his bedside drawer. Carefully he pulled out the well worn, handwritten letter and read it again.

My dearest Mark

How precious you are to me! I thank God for blessing me with the most gentle, supporting, loving soul-mate in the world. I can not begin to describe to you the depth of my love. It is beyond anything else I know, intertwined with the love of our God.

I am writing this to you while I can still form words. Already they are being stolen from me, one by one, and I am afraid of the day when they have all disappeared. But then, perhaps it is grace for me that I will be in a place where I am unaware of the loss.

I don’t understand this disease. I know beyond certainty that the “me” I am will not be lost. God who made my spirit will keep “me” in wholeness in himself. But I am afraid that this broken mind will soon no longer be able to be used by my spirit. I will then be separated from you, not in body, but in spirit, and that makes me sad.

I grieve for how this disease will treat you. My heart breaks for you, precious Mark. How I wish I could save you from what lies ahead. But I have to entrust you into the hands of our God — asking him in mercy to give you supernatural patience and grace.

Whenever you need assurance of my undying love for you, take this letter and read it again, and hear my soul’s eternal cry, “I love you, Mark! More than life itself, I love you.”

Always and all ways
your
Ann

Mark blinked back the tears and slid the letter back into its case. He looked at his wife. God, how he loved her! And how his heart ached with the absence.  A tear escaped and rolled down his cheek. He wiped the moist trail with the back of his hand.

Someday soon Ann would have to go to the home they’d chosen. Soon he would be unable to care for this earthen jar.

Ann slowly opened her eyes and seeing Mark, she smiled.

Soon. But not today.

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