Mari sat by herself in a corner table next to a rack of stuff the coffee shop was selling. An open book lay in front of her, but I noticed, in between sips of tea, that she had not turned the page in thirty minutes. Her dark hair lay unbraided against her back and slightly rumpled as if she had just awakened from a night’s sleep. If she hadn’t shifted five minutes ago, I would have gone over to check her pulse.
I didn’t want to talk to Mari. After all, she only just trusted me (was that just a few months ago already?). I don’t even know her well enough to casually approach her like this.
Hey, how are you?
You look like you need company.
She might be offended. Do I look that horrible?
A strong feeling invaded my original plans of enjoying an afternoon of no responsibilities. God does that sometimes. He nudges me. When I ignore the nudge, He begins to push. I picked up the tea string and lifted and raised the bag in and out of the hot water. I glanced toward Mari.
She wants to be alone.
Mari had been coming to church infrequently, ringless, and moody.
She needs a friend. So Awkward.
I dropped the tea string and picked up my tea cup. I prayed that the conversation wouldn’t be silent or this approach a mistake. The chair scraped against the wooden floors as I stood, my foot sending the chair backwards. In the din of espresso machine whirring and conversation, this movement went unnoticed. I carried my tea cup over to Mari’s table.
She looked up, blinking. Her eyes were red and the skin beneath them were baggy as if sleep was an alien thought. “Oh, hi.”
I sat and set my tea cup down. Why not come right to the point? “No ring?” I pointed to her left hand.
Mari slowly shook her head and said, “None. He’s gone.”
Mari closed her book and pushed it against the wall. She raised her mug to her lips and made a face after the first sip. “Cold.”
“Why is he gone? I thought it was working out. All those roses…” My tea cup was only half full. I wanted to get another pot. I had a feeling this conversation would be a while, but getting up might shut down the conversation. She appeared to be contemplating something, like maybe she may or may not confide in me. So I neglected my tea cup in favor of a more full-bodied conversation.
“My Aunt was only too gleeful to ask me that same question.” Mari gave a half laugh tinged by bitterness. “Matt and I were in a hotel room a couple of hours north of here. I was wearing some new negligee. He was in his boxer shorts. We were watching Nine Months on the television. Just watching the main character pregnant made him moody. Inside, maybe…”
I heard her shuttering breath, but kept silent, waiting.
“Maybe,” She said, “I was also praying to God that Matt would break up with me.”
“Really? Why not just leave?”
“I kept thinking what kind of Christian am I to meet a man in a hotel room who helped me pay bills and sent me roses. I sounded so much like a prostitute. He kept showing up and I didn’t want to let go. I didn’t have the strength to let him go. He and I were…” A muffled sob broke up her words, “…were a habit for five years.”
I touched her hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“I messed up my life.” Mari said. “Five years. We were on again, off again. He even dated someone in between, and I found out about it. He thought we were off again. When he would run errands in my part of town, he didn’t want to see me bad enough to stop by. All I want is someone who wants to spend time with me; someone who crazy loves me.”
“Not a bad goal.” I said.
“How can God accept someone like me who slept with a guy out of wedlock, lived like a prostitute with this guy, and now am glad he is gone?” Mari drank her coffee, apparently forgetting she had pushed it aside because it was cold.
I had to refer to the Bible from memory because I didn’t know yet how to operate the Bible App on my phone. “Ever hear of the prodigal son?”.
“Many times.” Mari said. “A son leaves his father for fortune and adventure, cashing in his inheritance, only to make ruinous decisions that caused him to live like a homeless person. Pride kept him from returning back home. My Aunt loved to tell me that story. Over and over again.”
“Did she tell you the rest of it?” I hated that Aunt already. “And he did return home, humbled, and his father gave him the best of everything because he loved his son so much. God is our Father, and He loves His children. Can’t you see yourself as lovable? He’s waiting with open arms for you to return.”
“When I said I wasn’t sure if I believed, I meant it. I grew up Mormon, on and off again in that church, and later, attended Christian church, but I thought Mormonism and Christianity were compatible, the same. It’s not, and I feel so lost. I can’t tell anyone about this.” Mari looked up at me, fearful. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t. You wouldn’t be judged though.”
“God views this as sin, right?”
“Yes, but you are obviously repenting. Anyway, God pursues those He loves. He’s the Father that loves perfectly, better than any human Aunt or family member.” I felt inadequate talking like this. I don’t have a degree. I am not a pastor.
“Every time I make a mistake, my family remembers down to the last detail. I mean all of my family, not just my Aunt. No matter what I do to make things right, they don’t let me forget who I am.”
“Who they think you are; who they see you as, maybe; but in God’s eyes, you are so loved. So very, very loved.” I wanted to hug her tightly and shield her from her family.
“God really answered prayer this time, but now I’m scared. I’m alone. What if I can’t pay a bill? I want to honor God with my life.” Mari swallowed before continuing as if pushing back a great wave of tears. “I’m never going to get married. No man is ever going to want someone like me. That’s what my Aunt said.”
“Because I slept around. I sinned.”
“And repented. Do you know how many people of the Bible sinned, repented, and turned around? David was called beloved by God, but he sinned, too. He also repented. Remember Jesus? He took the cross in our place. Why would God come down from Heaven in human form and endure such harsh torture if He didn’t love you?” I felt close to Mari now, like we were sisters sharing confessions over tea and coffee.
Mari gnawed on her lip and swiped the tears away from her eyes. “I’d like to learn more about this God.” Her cell phone rang muffled from her black purse. Mari leaned to the side and fished the phone out of her side pocket. She looked with dread on the screen. “It’s my Aunt. I left her a message.”
“Maybe she’ll be kind.”
“She’ll act kind with her words, but I know her too well. This is just another screw up of her niece. Compared to her two kids, I am just the orphan who can’t live right. It’ll come up later. I better take this. Better now than later. I can’t put it off. Just want to get this over with.”
“Do you want me to stay?” My tea cup was empty and S.M. would be getting home soon. So many things to do before he came home, but Mari’s situation felt more important.
Mari shook her head and said, “I’ll be okay.”
I left the coffee shop and called my mom. It went to voicemail. “Mom, it’s me. Just wanted to say, I love you.”
Situations like Mari’s just make you appreciate love in its true form. I thought about S.M., and after getting into the car, detoured to the grocery store. He likes spaghetti. That’s what I’ll make tonight. As I picked out onions, tomatoes, fresh oregano, and other stuff, I prayed silently for Mari.
Love, given freely, is so hard to accept when love has always had strings.