I have been thinking about Mary and Martha lately.
You know the story: Martha is the sister who “complained to Jesus” and Mary is the sister who choose the better part, as Jesus explains. I have always hated that pericope. I guess because in my mind, Martha was the responsible oldest sister. She was the one accountable for getting the house ready for Jesus.
Can you imagine the preparations?!
The cleaning, the cooking, the landscaping, the washing…all the things needed for a guest to feel comfortable in one’s home. As an oldest daughter, I totally identified with Martha and totally understood why she asked Jesus–in sheer frustration–to get Mary to help her with the work, instead of entertaining Jesus. And for the longest time, I felt that Jesus was wrong to chide Martha. Couldn’t He see how she was trying to show her love for Him? I thought, it’s easy for people to hang out all day but when dinnertime comes and there’s nothing to eat and you’re sleeping on dirty sheets, I bet you’d appreciate Martha then…
See, I always thought I was a Martha. The responsible daughter. The hard-working daughter. The obedient daughter. So, you can imagine my surprise when I realized that I was actually Mary. The epiphany came to me about 13 years ago when my Dad had 2 back-to-back heart attacks. My heavily pregnant little sister jumped into action. She transformed into this person that I had never seen before. She handled the doctors, navigated the health care system, doled out the medicine, put the schedules together for Dad. She saved my Dad’s life.
And me? I made Dad laugh and did what Misty told me to do. I shockingly realized that she was better in this area than I was. That she was the general and I was the foot soldier. It took some time getting used to this dramatic shift in roles but it was a defining moment for me. Sometimes–I realized– it was better to follow and not to lead.
And you know what? Being Mary–instead of Martha– was AWESOME. I told Daddy jokes, bought him cute PJ’s to wear in the hospital, listened to his stories, and just enjoyed him. Did I feel guilty that my little sister was doing the unglamorous part of caregiving? Yep. I did. But it was so lovely not being the responsible sister that I managed to circumvent my guilt…
Fast forward to when my mother was sick with lung cancer last year. I still became a foot soldier when I came to SC from DC to help with my Mom. My sister and my Aunt Ethel were the generals. They were the ones who did the caregiving for my Mom 24/7. They were the true sheros.
They washed her; they fed her; and they clothed her. They did her laundry; they coordinated her doctors’ appointments; they made sure she had enough oxygen; and they traveled two hours for a visit with her oncologist. And they did this every day…without me.
They were the Marthas. They were the ones doing the un-fun parts of caregiving. Like Mary, I got to come in, help, and then leave. For them, caregiving was their reality.
And so, with that understanding firmly in my mind, I remembered my role when I went home. I was the supporting actor in a long running sitcom. My job was to make the stars of the show look good and not mess up the plot.
But I also tried to make the most of my time there…
So, I would sometimes stay in the bed with my Mom, fetching her soda and candy. We would watch “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” on the Food Network. I would paint her nails and put lipstick on her. We would look through my Facebook page and she would see all my pictures.
We giggled and gossiped. We ate cookies in her bed wearing our PJ’s.
She asked me how I was dealing with my recent divorce. She asked me how strong I felt emotionally and spiritually. She told me how much she enjoyed me and how beautiful I was. She worried that I didn’t have a strong enough support system in DC and warm enough clothes for the coming winter. She even asked me if I could buy her some hair, like mine (since the cancer had taken away hers): “Acacia, is that 12 inches? Yeah, that’s the length I want.”
And when I balked at something my Auntie wanted me to do, Mom told me to shut up and do what I was told.
And I did.
Did I clean the house? Yep. Did I put up Christmas decorations as my Auntie Ethel requested? Yes. Did I do errands for my sister and help her with grocery shopping for Thanksgiving? Of course. I happily did all those Martha-like things.
And those things are needed and required and worthy…like Martha is.
But after those tasks were done, I hopped into bed with my Mom and made her smile and laugh. Because Mary’s role–my supporting role–is also worthy.
Because every leading actor needs and deserves a strong supporting actor to make their great work even better…
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