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June 11 2012

I couldn’t help but follow her the first time I met her. Her floral print dress, with the little sweater overtop. Her slightly graying hair pulled back in a loose bun, held in place by some askew bobby pins. Her rectangular glasses covering half of her small face. She was the only one that went outside that day, and I found that compelling.

We were being hosted in an artist’s home, a  small gathering of women, there to create art journal pages and share them with one another. After a short opening to give us some direction for our time together, we were invited to find some space in the home to play with art supplies and create an art journal page.

This was when I noticed Miss Martha who made her way through the home studio and out the backdoor to have a seat alone in the colorful chairs on the deck. I decided to follow her.

“Hi, do you mind if I join you? It’s so nice to be outside.”

She looked up at me and just smiled, a thin smile that looked as though she was remembering something her mother told her once about being nice to others. Then she went back to her business which involved pulling an altoid tin out of her colorful purse. She opened it carefully and laid it beside her. Then she lit a cigarette and proceeded to flick the ashes into the tin betweens drags. I knew why she was outside now.

I found her mysterious, eccentric, maybe even a little scandalous.

Later, during the time that we shared our creations as a group, the facilitator mentioned that Miss Martha was partly deaf, and so to talk to her we were going to need to speak loud. To which I replied in an extra loud voice, “I would really like to hear what Miss Martha has to share.”

I was not disappointed. Martha went on to read a poem she had written, the only line which I can remember being “flaunt that magic,” which she recited in a scratchy low enticing voice. It was breathtaking really, and only managed to feed my infatuation.

Later, at the end of our time together, I introduced myself to her.

“Hi Martha, I’m Mandy,” I said in an awkwardly loud voice because I wasn’t sure how high the volume of my voice had to be in order for a half-deaf person to hear. “I loved your poem.”

“Oh, why hello Dahling. What land do you come from? Are you a stripper?”

I sucked in wind. I blushed. I tossed my head back and laughed with the thrill of her words.

“I, well…no, no I am not.”

“I don’t mean to be offensive, it’s just there is this look about you.”

“Trust me Martha, I didn’t take it offensively.”

We exchanged cards as she continued talking about compasses and finding your way and getting rings, like a tree.

Just before I walked out the door, she grabbed my arm and in a half-whisper said, “I would love to buy you lunch some time. Call me.”

“Oh, I would LOVE that too. I will. I will!”

For two months, or gosh, was it three? The words “Lunch date with Miss Martha” remained on my list of How to Love on Me. It was sandwiched between buy new panties and purchase the Where the Wild Things Are movie soundtrack. Finally just last week, I managed to meet up with her for a secret rendezvous over brunch.

We talked about a number of different subjects. Homeschooling vs. public education, parenting, science, politics, art, religious fundamentalists, homosexuality. Eventually at some point in the conversation she mentioned that she was a Christian. Honestly, it surprised me. And though I tried not to show my surprise outwardly; inwardly I was embarrassed, maybe even disappointed.

I tried to pinpoint how my limited knowledge about her had made me draw the assumption she couldn’t be a Christian. Was it because she swore or smoked or asked me if I was a stripper? Was it because she used the words ‘flaunt’ and ‘magic’ together in a sentence? Was it because she was a democrat, loved gays, was pro-choice? Was it because she seemed free and gritty and uninhibited?

I think she picked up on my surprise because she said, “I’m not a good one Honey. I’m a  damn bad one most of the time, but I am a Christian.”

I pressed her on it a little further, asking her questions. She didn’t miss a beat, very willing to answer each and everyone without feeling threatened or insecure.

“When I was 16 I told my mom, ‘Those people at church are hypocrites. All of them. I hate it there, and I don’t want to ever go back.’ And the amazing part, as I think of it now, is that she never questioned me. She said ‘Okay,’ and dropped it. She never nagged me about it.”

She told me a little later in the conversation,”I miss the hymns. I’ve thought about checking out this church called Church of the Open Arms. They have a congregation with quite a few gay people. I think I would like a church like that.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely,” I said, and scribbled down the name in the margin of my art journal, while considering my own need for Open Arms. Christianity left a bad taste in my mouth, even though I too, at the very stripped back version of my faith, still consider myself one.

Maybe one of these days I will go with her to church, I thought. Maybe I’ll sing hymns with Martha and I’ll pick up another piece of the spiritual puzzle I am missing. I love to find Christians who don’t make me twitch.

“When it comes down to talking about my beliefs to people, I don’t ever hide it. I try to be very clear and up front that I am a Christian. I’m not ashamed about it. Several of my friends are atheists who can’t understand why I believe it. I tell them I can’t explain it. It’s faith. That’s it.”

After listening to me speak about my spiritual journey over the past couple years Miss Martha encourages me that my faith is intact, despite my searching, wandering, wondering heart. She tells me my journey to figure out what I believe is so healthy. She tells me it’s giving me rings, like a tree.

Suddenly this Christianity that at times seems so stale and uninteresting and frozen to me, it starts to melt, and the cold drips of water feel refreshing to my skin. Perhaps I could love it if Martha loves it. Perhaps there are still things for me in a religion that threatens to feel like the fossilized dinosaur bones of a previous Mandy. Perhaps I haven’t given up all hope.

After all, it just takes a little faith. As little as the sesame seeds that balanced on Miss Martha’s lip as we ate bagels for brunch. A little faith. That’s it. And my faith, why, my faith has been to the dark place and back, to a place of empty silence and back, to the questioning it all, finding very little answers and hoping anyway. I might not look much like a Christian, but my faith is intact, and I have ring upon ring upon life-living ring to show for it.







  1. MM, your faith inspires and fuels my faith … It gifts me collage elements of solid-trust and undauntedness, vulnerability and fancy-sparkle. And, Miss Martha? Her faith and artistic life — inside and out — is like a full tank of sparkle to carry any willing soul on our magical adventure to Next! 😉

  2. “I love to find Christians who don’t make me twitch.” What a brilliant way to say it.

    I savor your honesty, Mandy. Every time I read your posts, I get a little bit braver myself.

    • YES. just… YES.

      • Georgi

        Me too. Yes.

    • Woo hoo! It’s a brave party!

    • Makeda

      What she said for sure! :)

  3. This is so much of my own story, too, Mandy. thank you.

    • It’s a good story. <3

  4. “I tell them I can’t explain it. It’s faith. That’s it.”
    Love this … maybe faith will never be a definite point of certainty and it will be easier to embrace the mystery once I let go of the need for certainty.

    Beautiful sharing, it inspires me to be in my own life, which is the power of great story-telling.

    • Oh my, I love what you said about the power of story-telling. Honored that you think I convey that. And inspired to see what comes from you fully engaging in your own life.

  5. “I love to find Christians who don’t make me twitch.” Yes.

  6. I think she picked up on my surprise because she said, “I’m not a good one Honey. I’m a damn bad one most of the time, but I am a Christian.”

    I love this statement. Because it’s my life too. Frankly, I think it’s all our lives. Faith isn’t pretty.

    • Yes, faith isn’t pretty, and I’m not too keen on the qualifiers of “good” or “bad” Christian.

  7. kim

    I just found a church that didn’t make me feel sad about myself and my doubts. The Pastor envelops me in her robes, hugging me tightly. She loves me already. It’s kind of a kick in the gut to see someone so pure, who doesn’t know you or your story, love so unflinchingly.

    “Miss Martha encourages me that my faith is intact, despite my searching, wandering, wondering heart. She tells me my journey to figure out what I believe is so healthy. She tells me it’s giving me rings, like a tree.”

    Mandy, I’m in the same boat as you. Scarred and scattered; yearning for some semblance of Truth!

    I’ve been rereading Anne Lamott lately. She speaks about grace, forgiveness, and generally being a shitty Christian. I highly recommend her non-fiction.

    This passage from her book Grace: Eventually is defining my spiritual journey right now.
    “I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.”

    • Oh, how I love Anne Lamott. And I distinctly remember that passage you shared.

      Let’s keep scootching on the floor. Maybe every now and then we’ll hear a bell. <3

  8. one of the most important things i’ve learned about being a Christian through my years of adding rings is that it doesn’t mean you look a certain way or think a certain thing; it’s the threadbare faith you hold on to in the darkest of days; and it’s the deep soul awakening of who you were created to be: YOU. each of us, individually. it’s a beautiful, yes, SPARKLY thing! “flaunt that magic”! i’m smiling and remembering someone who Miss Martha reminds me of so much, someone who could belt out “Good Ship Lollipop” like no one else but Shirley Temple herself and i’m smiling some more…

    • man, and i thought for so long it was supposed to look a certain way.

  9. “She tells me it’s giving me rings, like a tree.”

    I love this. There is just so much about this that I love. I am going to send this to my best friend who was recently dumped. Her heart is broken but I want to tell her that she is still fantastic and beautiful and that this guy is just giving her tree rings.

    I feel a lot of kinship to Miss Martha. I admire her tenacity.

    • yes, the rings thing applies to so many areas of our life. it’s a rich metaphor.

  10. Okay, first of all…..that picture at the start just pulled me in!!! Man did I ever want to go hang out there!!!

    Secondly, this Martha chick, with her cigarette drawl and her magic flaunting….sure would love to know a woman like that! And after reading this wonderful post, I sure would like to have the effect on another like she did on you, Mandy! Loved this. Every minute of it. Thank you!

    • While Miss Martha was smoking, I walked around and took pictures of the garden. It was a beautiful backyard that invited magic. If you liked that picture, you would have loved the whole space.

      Do you think we can find the sort of people we long to meet? Do you think somehow, they’ll find their way to us? I hope a Miss Martha crosses your path soon, and I hope you’ll be brave to pursue her. And when it happens, I want to know about it. <3

  11. Nikkijerkins

    Beautiful writing!

  12. Just awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    I am always inspired and in awe of stories that people share where they can talk openly and honestly about there faith without expectations, without proselytizing, without being pushy or “making me twitch” as you so eloquently put it. Jesus brought people to him through relationships, through caring, through listening, through loving. Thanks again!

    • Without expectations…this is key.

      • And yet a great anticipation of something mysteriously wonderful showing up.

        • In this amazing creation with such amazingly beautiful people it is always far better and more positive to go through life with great anticipation of ‘something mysteriously wonderful’ happening, as opposed to going through life like Eeyore in anticipation that something terrible will happen!

  13. lol, Mandy. Thank you for introducing Miss Martha to us. I can hear her voice and smell her cigarettes.

  14. what an amazing adventure YOU are on, Mandy…
    excavating the mine of your own heart
    while pocketing gems along the way!

    • My pockets have gotten so heavy they are ripping. Thankful for places like Deeper Story to share the gems with others.

  15. C.A.Writer

    You and Miss Martha had church right there at lunch, and that is the best kind in my book.

    • oh, we did! thank you for pointing that out.

  16. simply beautiful.

  17. Love the awkwardness of the moment when Martha asks about being a stripper. Perhaps we all need a little jolt into reality, and realize that how we (as Christians) see ourselves is not necessarily how the world sees us. Very eye-opening and encouraging!

    • Also linked this up on my blog. Thanks again!


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