it's what she does

it's what she does

ingredients chris congdon upstairs project

The house is warm and quiet and smells like baking cookies.  MSL will work for hours in the kitchen with no TV, no music, no outside sights or sounds interrupting her focus.  Sometimes, as the late afternoon fades into evening, she even forgets to turn on the lights and I’ll go into the kitchen and find her standing at the counter in the dark - still working.  It’s what she does.  

MSL appears in these blog posts often enough that you probably know who she is.  I don’t share lots of details about her because I respect her modesty, but let’s formalize the introduction.  Friends, meet My Sweet Lady, Lisa, my wife.  

I’ve called her My Sweet Lady pretty much since day one - she says it’s because I can’t remember her name, but it’s really because I like to be direct and accurate and call things what they are, and “My Sweet Lady” sounds smoky and sexy when spoken low and slow in your best Barry White voice.    

MSL1 chris congdon upstairs project

I already said she is modest and she’s also smart and funny and not one to make life any more dramatic than it needs to be.  She’s a tireless worker when there’s work to be done, and in those rare moments of downtime, her happy place is on the sofa with a blanket, a book and a cat.  

MSL is an introvert and rather quiet but don’t mistake that to mean timid or anti-social because she is definitely not either of those things.  She has a heart for other people and reaches out to them as an introvert would - by making them the center of the relationship, not herself.  

Here’s what I mean:  

An organization came to the church looking for volunteers to mentor Burmese refugees as they learned English and transitioned into our community.  Lisa didn’t just write an announcement to put in our church bulletin, she volunteered for the program herself and met with Kalara every week for a year.  It’s what she does.

A prison ministry was looking for people to help women re-enter society after being granted parole or release, and MSL has been doing that for years - working again with people that the rest of us have lost patience with or written-off.  It’s what she does.  

A guy from our congregation made some mistakes and was sent to prison.  Lisa remains a pen pal with him.  A university student from India has needed some help getting to church and connecting with the local community and Lisa has befriended her and helped her make those connections.  Lisa leads a crew of folks which volunteers at our local food bank every month.  She uses her vacation days for educational or service trips.  It’s what she does.  

We both work at the same church, but while I’m isolated in my upstairs lair, she’s down in the trenches, on the front lines.  She comes face to face with people in crisis every day, and having lost two siblings, she’s no stranger to sorrow of her own.  She remains cheerful and helpful and even compassionate to anyone and everyone who crosses her path.  When good news comes she is thankful, and when bad news comes she absorbs it, and always, though everything,  keeps moving slowly, quietly, intentionally, unselfishly, forward.  It’s what she does.

My Sweet Lady is a natural expert in assisting people in appropriate ways. A woman from the neighborhood - let’s call her “Alice” - wandered into the church one day.  Her needs were many: she was schizophrenic and bipolar and her daily meds were more than she could manage.  Alice lived at her daughter’s house, but not necessarily in her daughter’s house as their relationship was strained - sometimes she slept on the porch or in a tent on the front lawn.  Alice couldn’t keep track of her phone or her money or her bus pass or her keys or her appointments with the agencies which could help her.  Alice’s life was a mess, her living situation was terrible, and she didn’t know how to fix it.  In our church, she found a place she felt safe, and in MSL she found a person who cared enough to help when she could.  

 Alice would come and spend hours in the church office, asking for help with the basics of living her life.  Her compromised sense of boundaries and appropriateness made it difficult for Lisa and the other church staff to continue to work in her presence.  She’d wander around and help herself to food from groups that were meeting within the church: wedding parties, funeral lunches, Bible studies. One time, Alice remembered that she was supposed to take a stool sample to her doctor, but she didn’t know when or where the appointment was, so she brought a bag of poop to the church.  

Crazy as she was, as we got to know Alice we saw within her a golden and giving heart.  She would bring offerings for our church mission projects.  Often these offerings were inappropriate - a can of tuna for an educational project - but it showed her sweet and generous spirit.  Another time she brought in a bunch of greeting cards that she wanted to send to people, and MSL helped her address the envelopes.  But a few of the people had passed away, and Alice was crushed to think she couldn’t mail a card to heaven.  

Rather than writing Alice off and asking her to stop bothering us, MSL involved herself in Alice’s life, gained her trust enough to get permission to talk to her nurse and social worker and then MSL facilitated getting the woman out of her toxic living situation with her daughter and into a place that is safer.  It wasn’t all of the help that Alice needed, but it was a step in the right direction.  Most of the rest of us would have simply shut the door on this woman - asked her to go be a bother to someone else - but MSL took on the hours of work and the untold phone calls to help as best she could, and the result is that life is now better for another human being.  It’s what My Sweet Lady does.  

And then there’s the cookies.  MSL is known for her cookies.  She bakes for the monthly birthday party at a care facility a few blocks from our house.  She bakes for retreats and conferences and special events which require refreshments to be served.  And there’s an organization in town which provides services to special-needs adults and as a fundraiser, they hold a cookie sale every December.  It is a cause that Lisa feels close to because of some family history and so she bakes for them, too.  Between Lisa and her mom and her brother, they bake about 300 dozen cookies, and then host a decorating party to put on the icing and the sprinkles and then they donate all the cookies to that organization to sell.  300 dozen.  That’s three thousand six hundred individual cookies.  I don’t know about you, but I find that amazing, and amazing is what she does.

In her quiet way, with cookies and companionship, MSL reaches out and rescues the people that the rest of us simply forget about.  She writes the letter that the rest of us don’t.  She spends the hour listening when the rest of us turn away.  She bakes the cookies.  In these modest ways she rescues people - lets them know that someone cares - and to those people, she’s as much of a hero as the guys on the fire truck. 

MSL rescued me, too - saved me from a life of lonely bachelorhood fourteen years ago.  For her part of the deal, she got a dirtbag mountain biker and a lazy writer.    

As a wife and life partner, she’s perfect.  We were both adults with our own lives and careers when we got together, and neither of us has tried to change the other.  I love that she allows me to pursue my ideas and interests without judgment, and I give her that same space, too.  There’s enough common ground to hold us together and enough freedom for each of us to be who we are.  

She endures my rants and my procrastination and my profanity.  She humors me when I share my big ideas which usually don’t materialize into anything real.  I do a terrible job of telling her so, but I am awed by her kindness and her generosity and her faith and her love.  I can’t imagine anyone else I would want to grow old with.  

When I casually throw those three letters, MSL, into one of these blog posts, know that behind those letters is a giant in my life - the person I admire the most, the woman I treasure above all others, My Sweet Lady.  

grateful today

grateful today