This blogger’s Palm Sunday began in a restless night. The weight of the demands of the impending schedule squeezed sleep beyond my grasp. And whereas I normally sleep in a block of 4 hours, pray for a block of 2 hours, then return to sleep for an additional 2 hours, Palm Sunday was different. My sleep pattern looked more like 2 hours of sleep, 4 hours of prayer, 2 hours of sleep. Usually my prayer time is very still and in that regard nothing had changed, yet my mind was fixed on a single person and single care—my friend Robyn Petter, who’d been diagnosed with cancer and who was biding her time in hospice. I held her in thoughts and prayers, and her profoundly selfless care-givers as well, and these together with the loving pastor who’d been the under-shepherd of Jesus loving Robyn and shepherding her along the way.
As the sun rose above the roofline of the church across the parking lot, and moments before Palm Sunday’s vortex lifted me against its cloud boundary in its efforts to take all of my focus and “present-ness,” a message came through my iPhone—-“Letting you know that Robyn made her journey through the pearly gates around 1:00AM today.”
I was instantly both happy and sad. My little miracle-maker was dead. I have called Robyn my little miracle-maker for quite a few years.
Robyn, whose phone would either say, “Hi, I am out creating miracles. So leave the usual information. And God bless you,” or “Sorry I can’t take your call right now, I’m out making miracles. You know what to do. And God bless you,” totally lived into one of her favorite scripture texts, John 15:13:
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Some people hear text this and start thinking to themselves that it means being hit by a taxi and killed as you dive to shove a kitten beyond certain death, or to be killed in the line of fire in military fashion; pretty much a one time action for one being done once. That’s not a faulty way of thinking yet it is not what the text means. The text means daily dying to self for others. It’s a perpetual routine rather than a single round. Robyn lived it.
My little miracle maker had a hard, hard life. She was raised in a home where things were really rough. The parents, and the father in particular, used the Church as a way to manipulate and hurt the children, even to force them to do things that were dark and outright evil. Robyn was a product of that murky ugliness and from it learned to be distant, numb, invisible, and to fear men. The fact that she survived at all was “a miracle,” her words. And seeing that her survival was indeed a miracle, she took on the practice of “daily making-miracles,” again, her words.
God, who’d helped Robyn survive that rotten home life, and overcome a profound resentment towards both God and God’s Church, had moved her past fear of all men by introducing her to a soft-hearted, soft-spoken, prayerful man that she called her “honey.” They had ten wonderful years together—-travelled to Las Vegas to play black jack, built churches, said daily prayers and read daily devotions, and moved all around the USA in their RV making miracles wherever they’d go. And the final stop was Lake City, FL.Our relationship came about because she and her “honey” were on their way back from a “mission build” that they’d completed for Mission Builders. Cancer had climbed aboard the RV and laid Robyn’s “honey” low. And soon he died under hospice care with Robyn by his side.
As Robyn would eventually say, “The one good thing God ever gave me and now he’s gone.” Those were the words she shared with me on the very first day we met. I’d taken a call in Lake City and had answered the office phone to hear those words. And just like that God had connected the miracle-maker with silly-ole-me. Robyn was something else. I gave the gift of presence and listening and she gave me the gift of miracle-making. Robyn was an out-of-the-box thinker, and those who know me know that I don’t even think there is a box! Pretty soon we were in the being-present-actively-listening-doing-miracles business.
One day Robyn came into my office—it was her 62nd birthday—-and she was pissed. She was doing paperwork through the social security administration. And she had been put on hold 6 times, and all 6 times she’d been cut-off in transfer, so I dialed the administration from my office phone, and my cell phone, already she was on hold with them on her cell phone. And finally she made it through to a human being and 2 hours later had it all solved.
Once off the phone with social security Robyn said, “Pastor, I gotta tell ya, those people at social security are really pissin’ me off.” I braced for an emotive story of long waits, etc., but none came. Instead she looked at me and said, “Every year for my birthday I go out and get $10 gift cards. I get one for every year I’ve lived and then I give ’em out to complete strangers and tell them that it’s my birthday and that they are to find someone they love and celebrate it. And these social security people are gettin’ in my way by keepin’ me on hold all the damned time!”
I burst out in laughter as she headed out the large double red doors of Spirit of Christ Lutheran Church. And two days later she bounded back through those red doors to share stories of how she’d walked up to the people living under the I-75/US Hwy 90 interchange and shocked ’em by getting to know them and giving them gift cards, how she’d seen a guy in an army uniform with a little one and given gifts cards to both he and his daughter. And since she had 62 cards to give, my morning was filled with story after story of Robyn “laying down her life for her friends”—even the ones who’d never known her.
Days would come when she’d be low and sullen. These were the days where the company of Addie, her kitty cat, simply didn’t cut the mustard. These were what she’d call her, “missing my honey days.” Often we’d sit together and one or both of us would cry. And generally it would circle around to an opportunity to discern how God would have us celebrate this grief moment and use it to make a miracle.
This is how Robyn became my prayer partner. We’d prayed together so much about so many things and had even come to know one another so well through a common prayer life that we could read one another like two well worn scrolls.
And just before I left my call in Florida to take a call in North Carolina, Robyn popped into my office. It was another one of those “missing my honey days.” We listened. We cried. We went to lunch at the Longhorn Steakhouse. And while we were there Robyn discerned that God might be inviting us to “make another miracle.” She said that people check in and out of our lives like books from a library and that “sometimes people don’t return to us in the way that sometimes books don’t return to the library.”
I smiled at the analogy and continued to enjoy my salad. Two weeks later I’d discover that the local library was forgiving library fees. They had created a deal where a canned food donation eliminated one dollar of a late fee. So, Robyn had the library total up all the late fees—all of them for the entire county library system, and then she set out to get a couple of local business owners to help her. So many canned food items were collected that everyone in the county’s late fees were totally forgiven and all they had to do was bring the books back. $5000+/- in fees gone. Robyn was out “making miracles.”
I think of her whenever I read this saying of St. Teresa of Avlia: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
I think of her when I hear the U2 song “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
She’s such a dear friend. I just called her cell phone 386.916.5097. Her voice still remains. Her mission stands vacant for anyone to receive and to continue. Remember, “Greater love has no one than this…,” and know that Robyn is always looking to recruit others to her team of miracle-makers.