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My friend, Miss Mary, turns in her RSVP early. She told me in July, “I am coming to your house for Christmas again this year!”

We laughed, and I said, “Of course you are!”

Miss Mary plans ahead. She looks forward to her days of celebration with joy and anticipation.

But Miss Mary won’t be with me to celebrate Easter this year. She answered “yes” to a previous RSVP.

When Miss Mary was just a girl, she turned in the most important RSVP of her life . . . an RSVP to her wedding and the eternal life that followed. The wedding and reception were a long way off, and it would take a life time of preparation to get ready for it. Miss Mary diligently prepared to be a bride. She talked to the groom daily for hours as they prepared together. Oh, how she loved him . . . all because he loved her first. That groom was Jesus.

Miss Mary never married while on this earth; God was her husband. Before the sun cracked open the sky each morning, Miss Mary talked to Jesus for hours. He led her heart in love. Love for him; love for his children.

And God’s children became Miss Mary’s children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She loved them so! Miss Mary has the biggest family of anyone I know. Oh . . . we adore her! Our pictures overtook her tiny apartment. She would pray for us each day as she reflected on those pictures.

Miss Mary claimed me as her own fifteen years ago. She loved me unconditionally. She wanted nothing more than to just be with me. She learned to love like Jesus loves. Not many people love that way.

Miss Mary and I had maple iced sweet rolls and coffee on Wednesday mornings at 9:30. I would pour out my heart to her, and we would pray together. Sometimes she scolded me. She did the last time I saw her. I told her a story, and she pointed her finger at me and said, “Julie! That is NOT good!” I LOVE that about Miss Mary. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” And when she scolded me, I laughed, because I knew she would say that.

Last week I hugged Miss Mary goodbye and said, “I will call you as soon as I get back from Tennessee.”

I didn’t know that was my last good-bye. I didn’t know that her last prayers for me would be while I was in Tennessee with my daughter for whom she also diligently prayed. I was in my daughter‘s small group Bible study, laughing at a precious two-year-old boy whom Jesus had healed from leukemia. He was asking us, “What does Jesus say?”

The Bible study would chorus together, “What?”

He would say, “Knock knock, who’s there?”

We would laugh hysterically, and he would repeat the joke.

And while we were laughing . . . Jesus was knocking on Miss Mary’s door.

The groom had come for his bride. Miss Mary had gone to celebrate eternity with the husband for whom she had waited all these years. He called her suddenly, but she was ready. Her heart stopped beating on earth, and she entered her Home where there are no more tears, no more sorrow, no more death, and no more fears.

We, her family, are left on earth to grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Mary’s children wept that night; Mary’s grandchildren wept; Mary’s great-grandchildren wept. She is dearly loved. The staff at her assisted living home said they had never seen anyone with as many visitors as Miss Mary had. They marveled at a single woman who was so loved. What they don’t really understand is that we love Miss Mary because she chose to love us first. She modeled the love of her Heavenly Father. God would draw her to a person, and she would begin to pray for them, and before long . . . they became her children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Miss Mary, I will probably cry every Wednesday at 9:30 for a long time, but I will grieve with hope because one day soon I, too, will hear my Savior’s call because I also have answered Jesus’ RSVP. Miss Mary, you have taught me to love in ways that are practical and eternal. When I told my daughter, Chelsey, that you were home with Jesus, she said through tears, “Pick up the torch, Mom. You are the next Miss Mary.” The cool thing is, there will be a lot of Miss Mary’s to pick up the torch, because you have taught us well about the things of God. You modeled intimacy with Christ in ways most people never understand.

Only God can take a single woman and leave her with a legacy of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren that will carry on her mission of prayer and love to a hurting world.

Miss Mary, you showed us how to change the world through the power of Christ. We love you, and we already miss you so much that it physically hurts. Have the maple iced sweet rolls and coffee ready . . . we will be home soon.

“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we will sing and shout the victory!”

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