I met the first “ghost” in the graveyard — a natural enough place to encounter one. It should have been a dark and stormy night, though, instead of a brilliant spring afternoon.In fact, the graveyard was not spooky at all, just so old that all the sadness had been had been scoured away by countless seasons. All that remained were wild flowers, tall grass, and tilting headstones.
My husband Paul and I wandered around, looking at the worn headstones and reading the epitaphs. I stopped at an ugly angel with a broken nose. ”Listen to this one,” I called to Paul. “Mary Jones, 1850 to 1923, ‘She hath done what she could’.”
Talk about condemning with faint praise! Mary must not have amounted to much — just like me, I thought.
“You’ll have to put this on my headstone,” I said, only partially kidding..
We left the cemetery, but Mary came with me, “haunting” me. What kind of person was she and why did she have such an odd scripture for her epitaph? When we arrived at home, I took out my Bible and looked it up. It was a reference to another Mary — who became my second “ghost.”This Mary knelt before Jesus, broke open her alabaster box of incense, and poured it on His feet. She washed those feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. The disciples scolded her saying that she should have sold the incense and given the money to the poor.
Jesus defended her. “She hath done what she could.”
Margin notes in my Bible said that the alabaster box of incense was far more than a pretty container of perfume. It was a woman’s dowry, the “added attraction” to persuade a reluctant suitor. If no suitor materialized, the treasure was her safeguard against poverty. When Mary broke open her box, and poured her incense on Jesus’ feet, she was forfeiting her security. She was giving her future. She was giving all she had.
“She hath done what she could.”
Maybe that epitaph wasn’t the faintly veiled insult it seemed at first. Perhaps Mary Jones, like that earlier Mary, had given her all.
Both Marys seemed to follow me around after that. Had I done all that I could?
I knew that I hadn’t.
Like the Mary of old, I had an alabaster box full of incense. However, I kept mine tightly shut and locked away.
Somewhere along my Christian journey, my focus had shifted. I no longer thought first and always about the Lord I loved so dearly. Instead, I thought mostly about me–and my failures. And there were plenty of those to contemplate. I mulled over the stupid things I had said. I rehashed the unkind things others had said to me and thought a lot about my plans that had died before their time. The more I thought about me, the unhappier I was. Surely, no one could love such a dismal failure.
When opportunities came to serve, I hastily refused. After all, I would just fail–again. I quit reaching out to others, convinced that they would only despise me, as I despised myself.
I can’t be like the two Marys, I told the Lord. I don’t have enough to give. I don’t do anything right.
The Marys continued to haunt me. “We weren’t concerned about how much we gave,” they seemed to say. “ We didn’t worry about whether we were giving as much as others. We gave what we could. That’s all God requires.”
But what if I fail? With sudden clarity I saw the real problem. It was pride. As long as I didn’t try, I didn’t risk failure. While my alabaster box was safely closed, I retained a semblance of dignity. If I opened it– if I taught that class or invited the new members at church over for a meal–I might again goof up.
All right, Lord, I said reluctantly. I’ll pry open one corner of the alabaster box. If that works, we’ll see.
But, God doesn’t work that way. He demands complete faith, total surrender. With trembling hands, I brought my alabaster box to Him, broke open the lid, and poured out myself.
Here I am, Lord. Here’s all I am. I will do what I can.
And, to my surprise, I found that there were things I could do. I still said stupid things, felt rejected, and in general goofed up. Yet, gradually I acquired a sense of peace even in the inevitable mistakes. My success was God’s business. My business was giving Him all that I could. My focus changed from myself to my God, and to others. That change of focus brought freedom, and happiness, not to mention new friendships and surprising accomplishments.
We drove past the old graveyard again the other day. I thought of the Marys whose lives influenced mine.
“I’m one of you now, Girls,” I said with satisfaction. “I’ve done what I could.”
“Keep up the good work,” they seemed to say. And I think they were smiling.