A few days ago, I had the privilege of singing in the funeral of a lady I have known all of my life. For me, Mary Lee was a bit of an acquired taste. As a boy, I sometimes didn’t know how to take her personality. I always loved and admired her husband, Gilbert, who was a hero to me. He had been an Army Ranger, and not just any Ranger, but one of the most famous group of US Rangers in all of history. He was one of the men who had climbed the ropes up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day in 1944. Gilbert’s great courage was clear and unquestioned by anyone who knew his story; however, Mary Lee possessed a different kind of courage that wasn’t as readily apparent. While it takes great courage to leave behind the familiar and strike out into the unknown, Mary Lee proved it also takes tremendous courage to be the one who stays behind.
While Gilbert sailed across an ocean to face the enemy of our country, Mary Lee stayed behind waiting, wondering, and praying. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for a young bride as the first reports of the bloodbath at Normandy began to come in; yet Mary Lee waited, wondered, and prayed. As the moments became hours and she didn’t know if Gilbert was alive or dead, she waited, wondered, and prayed. When the news reached her that her husband had been seriously wounded and she was half a world away, she still waited, wondered, and prayed. Through the months of Gilbert’s physical recovery, Mary Lee stayed by his side. Through the years of emotional and mental struggles to put the past behind him, Mary Lee stayed right beside him.
My memories of Mary Lee begin a little later, but they begin with my earliest recollection of going to church. Mary Lee was a charter member of my home church, which began in 1949. The very first church service I ever remember as a child, Mary Lee was there. When I left my home church to become a pastor, 47 years later, she was at the last service I attended. Thousands of people had come and gone from my church over those 47 years, but not Mary Lee. When she passed away, at 94 years of age, she was still a member of that same church. She had been through a dozen pastoral changes, numerous style changes, and lots of changing faces; yet, still, Mary Lee stayed. She complained sometimes (well, actually, fairly often) when things weren’t done in the way she preferred; yet, she stayed. As a pastor now, myself, I have learned to appreciate people who might not like everything you do, but they stay by your side. That is an increasingly rare trait. Most of Mary Lee’s friends moved on at one time or another. That didn’t make them bad people, just different from her.
I am part of a generation who changes jobs often and changes churches, spouses, and locations quite often, too. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make us bad people, but it does make you notice someone with the courage to stand still through all of the change going on around her… to dig in her heels and stay through the good and bad times.
Styles of worship and music changed at our church; still, Mary Lee stayed. Her husband passed away a few years ago; Mary Lee stayed. She was one of three sisters, who remained close through the years. In fact, after all of their husbands had passed on, they were like the three musketeers sitting together in church and riding together wherever they went. Both her sisters passed; still, Mary Lee stayed behind.
While facing death certainly requires courage, so does remaining behind and putting the pieces of life back together without those we love. Through the war, through the many changes of life, through the loss of most all of her generation, Mary Lee waited, wondered, and prayed. However, last Wednesday, her waiting ended. Last Wednesday, her wondering became certainty, and her praying became face-to-face conversation with her Savior.
The single, most defining memory I have of Mary Lee is the sound of her laugh; and last Friday, as I sat in her memorial service, I just imagined heaven was filled with the sound of her laughter. She was laughing at how old many of us had gotten, since she was no longer old. She might have also laughed at how sad some of us looked for her, when she was happier than she had ever been; and she was laughing thinking about how much she looked forward to telling us all “I told you so,” (and you know she would love that) for she had been right: right about everything – Jesus was Who she thought He was. God could be trusted, and good things certainly come to those who wait… those who have the courage to stay.
Dedicated to the memory of Mary Lee Baugh