Reflectionary

Apples in Waxed Paper

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. Mark 1:29-31

This week I sat in the hospital with a woman worrying about her mother. The woman is in her late 50’s, the mother in her early 80’s. The woman is terribly upset at the prospect of life without her mother. I understand her apprehensions. I know how she feels, even though my mother and I were both much younger when we faced that moment together. It doesn’t matter, you see, how old your mother is, or even how satisfying or disappointing the relationship has been. The loss of a mother changes the landscape permanently.

Maybe you have lost your mother, or someone else whose death changed the look of the world around you.

But that didn’t happen to Simon’s family. Instead Jesus walked into the house, took her by the hand, and lifted her up.

And she began to serve them.

It may seem like some old-fashioned stereotyping when we hear that Simon’s mother-in-law got up from what might have been her deathbed to wait on people. But I wonder if maybe that wasn’t exactly the thing she most loved to do?

Imagine another family scene. In a big old house in Virginia, my mother sat weakly in a comfortable chair, watching her grandsons play. They were 2 and 7, and although they didn’t know it, she was dying of cancer. The doctor told my parents that she might live another four to six weeks, and my father got on the phone, asking me to bring the children to see her. We flew in and stayed for most of the April vacation week. My mother had very little energy; the melanoma that began years before as a changed mole on her back was now in her liver, among other places, and she grew frailer and fainter each day.

On the morning we were to leave, Mother wanted us to pack a lunch for the airplane. She was a very frugal person, and even though it would have been no trouble for my father to hand me a $20 bill instead, she couldn’t bear thinking we might waste money on expensive food in the airport. We all gathered in the kitchen while I made the sandwiches; my mother mustered her strength to sit in a straight chair at the kitchen table.

Apple_3She asked for a cutting board and two apples. She sat there, peeling and coring the apples, cutting them into neat slices, then putting them back together. She wrapped them in waxed paper, with a twist at the top that looked rather like a stem. When we opened the apples to eat on the plane, my eyes filled with tears. It was the last time I would see my mother do something for another person, and she had wrapped those apples for my little boys.

Those were healing apples for all of us. They carried her love, and that love became part of each of us. And preparing those apples healed my mother, too, for in that small act of caring she was herself in a way she hadn’t been during her illness. In those moments, she was healed to be who she was.

12 thoughts on “Apples in Waxed Paper”

  1. I loved this. Thank you for sharing it. Today in church we heard about taking care of widows and orphans and what it means in 21st Century Finland. It was good, but this spoke to me more.

  2. You are able to use your history in the most beautiful way. You have a big gift.
    While we wouldn’t want to lose your entries in RGBP books, please contact a publisher. You are a better devotional writer than most.
    I wish I could do this as you do.
    Many thanks.

  3. This was preached twice today, for my congregation and for the new church start that meets in our sanctuary Sunday afternoons. I teared up a bit each time. Neither time was I alone.

  4. Wow. I’m with the new church start group. My sister goes there too and too bad she wasn’t there. We lost our mom very suddenly in 1984. I was only 23. She never met my husband. She never knew my two wonderful boys. She never gave me apples exactly, but she gave me a lot. Songbird, your message helped me hurt and also helped me remember what she gave me.

  5. Your interpretation of Mark makes feel like I’m wasting my time trying to read the bible on my own. I read that same passage last week and just cruised over the line about Simon’s mother-in-law serving them. It didn’t catch my attention at all, let alone give me pause for thought.

  6. Bemused, I would look at it differently. What jumped out at you? In your reading of the Old Testament, you drew some wonderful connections with our current political scene. You have the insight to find things in Mark as well. When you finish a chapter, or better yet a unit, however they are marked in the version you are reading, make a note of what jumped out at you and mull it over for a while. I don’t think I gave Simon’s mother-in-law a moment’s notice when I preached this three years ago; I was much more interested in the idea that Jesus withdrew from the others to pray.

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