Far-Reaching Influence

My sister Mary’s life and death have caused quite a cyber-stir. Literally hundreds have responded to blog posts about her, and not just those who knew her. Equally as many strangers have reacted to her story.

Yesterday I received an insightful comment in response to the post about Mary being a hard worker. (Hard Workin’ Woman) My friend Terry (who didn’t know Mary) wrote, “Mary’s influence continues. Because of this post, there are a few things I am going to do, because I should do them.”

Then she added, “I am mindful of a verse as I think of this, ‘She did what she could’.”

At first reading, that simple statement might describe someone who couldn’t do much but at least did a little – maybe trying hard but falling short. I knew that wasn’t what Terry meant, so I decided to look up the Scripture to see who “she” was and what she “could do.”

What I found astounded me, and Terry’s linking of that sentence with my sister was a connection of highest praise.

It’s a familiar story found in Mark 14. Jesus had been wearing himself out, walking long distances, ministering to the poor, healing the sick, and teaching his disciples. In a few short days he would be hanging on a cross, and he was well aware of it.

On this particular day, as Jesus and his followers continued walking toward Jerusalem, one of the people he had healed decided to host a dinner in his honor. Three of Jesus’ close friends had been invited, too: Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.

alabaster-jarAs Martha helped out in the kitchen, Mary approached Jesus, who was already seated at the dinner table. Then she surprised everyone by purposely breaking a valuable alabaster jar and revealing its contents — worth about $22,000.

She proceeded to pour the expensive nard, a powerfully- fragrant ointment, on Jesus’ hair and feet, wiping his feet with her own hair.

alabaster-jarScripture says the fragrance filled the entire house, no doubt capturing the attention of every guest and even Martha in the kitchen. Some found it odd. Others were speechless. Several objected to the financial waste, voicing criticism.

But Jesus highly approved and defended Mary. “Leave her alone,” he said. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. She did what she could.”

That’s when I realized that my friend Terry’s comment had been one of utmost admiration for our Mary, who had gone through life doing what she could for her Lord and others.

But Jesus wasn’t finished.

He venerated the biblical Mary by saying, “Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Although she hadn’t intended to draw attention to herself, Jesus turned the spotlight on her, announcing to the dinner guests (and us) that what Mary had done was so important, it would never be forgotten.

Many of us will never forget some of the things our Mary did in her lifetime, either. That’s because she always did what she could.

Jesus said, “She poured perfume on my body…” (Mark 14:8)

Jesus in an Apron (Conclusion)

Yesterday we heard from Mary’s friend Donna as she wrote about Mary’s terminal diagnosis and the sudden return of her cancer. Several days after receiving Donna’s email, Mary responded with some reflective thoughts of her own:

From: Mary Peterson

Date: Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 4:17 PM.  Subject: Re: My love. To: Donna Baer

donna-bThank you Donna, for your beautiful email. I have read it over and over and so appreciate your clear, honest perspectives about death and dying.

When Nate was dying, I was privileged to be a witness to much of it, my main desire being to help and comfort Margaret. Her children were magnificent with their encouragement of their parents, but God allowed me to be the one with whom she was able to share her deepest concerns and grief… probably a combination of wanting to protect her children as well as have someone of the same generation to talk to.

One of the things we talked about was how similar death and childbirth are.  Nate moved steadily toward heaven, just as labor moves a woman toward delivery. We marveled at the process, as he slowly but surely moved through death to life.   I don’t know about you, but ever since I witnessed my first birth in nurses training, I’ve always considered it a sacred moment when a baby is finally born.

I was recently reminded of that again, as I had the happy privilege of being in the delivery room as our Johanna gave birth to her fourth child.  (“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”) And like birth, death seems a sacred moment as well. As Pastor Lutzer says, God is powerfully present at that moment, when we need Him most, according to His promise to never leave or forsake us. I’m trusting Him for that.

Now, as far as your kind words about being Jesus in an apron…  Margaret thinks that would be a great book title, but I’m sure I would not be a good model for it.  I do agree the small things we do, just in the process of day to day living, can affect others, and especially those coming behind us. Through this cancer journey, I’ve been reminded of that over and over as people tell of something that impacted and encouraged them. The funny thing is, what they relate, I have no recollection of!  Perhaps the little things really are the big things?

Anyway, thank you Donna, for your sweet words.  God used you to bless this old heart!  And yes, I do look forward to serving with you once again, in the Kingdom.  God is good!

With love and gratitude, Mary


“May we be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:12)

Jesus in an Apron

Tonight we get to hear from one of Mary’s fans, Donna Baer. Donna, a mother of ten, has walked with the Lord for many years, becoming seasoned with wisdom. Part of the reason is that she’s watched the examples of other godly women – like Mary.

saturdayIn December of 2014, Mary had completed six months of chemotherapy to fight her pancreatic cancer. Mid-treatment, body scans came back clear, much to everyone’s delight. But a few weeks after chemo was complete, new scans told a different story. The cancer had returned, which was an unexpected blow.

Donna composed an email to Mary at that time, tapping out some rich en- couragement. With permission, I share her letter: 

Subject: My love.   On Dec 12, 2014, at 6:23 PM,  Donna Baer wrote:

Dear Mary,

I keep up with you through Margaret’s painfully beautiful posts. I was heartbroken to hear the results of your scans.

Doesn’t it seem that death is a lot like childbirth? You sense it approaching, you know that there’s something sublimely wonderful on the other side of it, but you dread the journey. I remember that you were the one who taught me to own a Bible verse to get through labor. I chose Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”

That verse reminded me that just as Jesus endured excruciating pain because of the joy that was on the other side of the cross, I could endure labor pains because I knew that I would hold joy in my arms at the end of the day. In fact, each dreaded birth pang became a rhythmic, visceral reminder, vouching safe the bliss that was ahead. I pray your journey with the Good Shepherd is not marked with pain, but if it is, I hope that each pain will remind you that you are one step closer to the joy set before you.

None of us knows the hour of our death, but before you learn yours and I learn mine, I want to thank you for being Jesus in an apron for me. I came to Moody Church as a very new believer, and you welcomed me like I was an old friend. You forgave my pettiness and abided my immaturity, and just loved me. You lived a cheerful, obedient life out in the open, and gave me permission to watch and ask questions. You became my model (I know you hate to hear that, but you did!) of how to love my household and the household of faith.

So many of us are praying that the Lord will spare you and give you many more years with us. But if He has other good and perfect plans, I look forward to catching up with you in the Kingdom. I imagine we will both still be doing things there that require aprons.

Tenderly, Donna


Tomorrow we’ll hear Mary’s deepest thoughts about living and dying as she responds to Donna.

“Encourage one another and build one another up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)