Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marva and the Peanut Butter

I'm really struggling with this patience thing lately.  I've got a couple people in my life who are really getting under my skin, stretching me to the max.  I have already written about Marva and the challenges she brought to my life.  (You can check it out on my blog posted March 11.)  I need to continue her story, however, because even though God had changed my heart towards her, He was continuing to process the fruit of patience in my life through her.  That took some time.  Here are some excerpts from my journal during our final few months in Honduras:   

March 4, 1993
Marva called out to me as I passed her home this afternoon.  "Wait Miss Marcia, " she called.  "You've got to see my little girl!"  She carefully, lovingly pulled an 8 by 10 glossy out of the folder she was holding and beamed as I admired the pretty teenager posing with her escort at a formal dance.  "That's my pretty black baby, Miss Marcia. She's growing so much.  What do you think of my Cindy, Miss Marcia?"

Cindy, the one person in Marva's life that gives her pride and determination to live another day.  In the hell of her unhappy life, there is Cindy.  What does it matter that she's not seen her for seven years.  Or that she lives in a different world, so far away from her mother.  She simply is.  She is the one thing that Marva has done right in her life.

March 7
Marva tried to reach her daughter in New Orleans again.  She has phoned collect four times in the past week, and every time the person on the other end says that she is not there.  I feel sorry for Marva.  She knows that they're probably lying.

She didn't leave right away.  I ended up pulling out photo albums and showing her pictures of our families back home.  And then right before she left she asked me, "Just a little favor."  She pulled out a plastic bottle, and I thought for sure she was going to beg some more Vaseline.  But not this time.  "Could I have just a little peanut butter?" she asks.

I would rather spare my Vaseline!  Peanut butter is this family's most precious commodity and I told her so.  But I pulled out my last jar and dished out a few tablespoons into her container.  Fawn had been standing there observing everything when suddenly Marva orders her out of the kitchen.  "Leave and don't be looking at me!" she says.  "I was raised as a little girl not to be hanging around the adults when they were having a conversation."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  No one was going to speak to my child like that in her own home.  I looked Marva directly in the face and told her that I was appalled.  Unless the conversation was a private one, Fawn had every right in the world to be in the kitchen.

You misunderstand, Miss Marcia!  I'm not telling your daughter to leave."

"Then exactly what were you saying?" I demanded.

"You misunderstand me," she kept saying.  "Oh, Miss Marcia.  You are "wexed" with me, aren't you?"  Pleased don't be "wexed" with me.  I'm just ashamed to have to ask for the peanut butter."

I responded that I was not vexed with her, but that if she was too embarrassed to have to ask me for the peanut butter, and if she couldn't ask for it in the front of my daughter, then she shouldn't have asked for it in the first place.  That woman!  She makes me so impatient and angry at times.

March 10
Marva was back to use the phone this morning.  Fortunately, it was just a local call to be made.  Afterwards it was, "Miss Marcia, could I just be asking a little something.  Just a little skin cream is all I be asking."  So I gave her some Vaseline Intensive Care and sent her on her way.

April 13
Marva came to use the phone, but I think she's lonely more than anything.  She always stalls and wants to talk.  And if she can manage it somehow, she gets something out of me.  Today she asked me for the leftover egg salad that she saw in the dog dish. "Could you let me have that, Miss Marcia?" she says.

At first I thought I had misunderstood.  Food out of a dog dish?  She was serious. "Marva, that's there for the dog.  He's already eaten a bit and it has dog food mixed in with it."

"It doesn't matter." Marva had nothing in the house to eat.  Her Mr. Albert would be bringing her something at the end of the day she assured me.  But in the meantime, she was hungry.  So I gave her half a loaf of bread.

April 15
I told Marva this afternoon that we were leaving this summer.  At first she misunderstood.  She thought I was speaking of vacation, but I explained that there was a good possibility that we would not be returning to Honduras and that someone else would be living in this house.  At first she didn't say a word.  Then the tears started down her cheeks and she began to rock back and forth.   Finally she said, "Oh Miss Marcia,  nothing good ever lasts."  She started talking about all the hurts and disappointments in her life.  Her mother had lavished her with gifts sent from the States when she was young.  Even as a teenager, her mother sent her beautiful dresses from California. "I was dressed the best of anyone in the whole Panayoti Store," she said.  "I had my teeth and I was an aristocrat.  Some day you'll see Miss Marcia.  I'll have my new teeth and wear shoes and pretty dresses again.  You'll see."  And then she paused.  "Nothing good ever lasts."

April 20
I lost it with Marva today.  She came over this morning to say that she was on her way to the emergency room.  She has a tremendous amount of pain in her back and sides and wasn't able to sleep all night.  It sounds like a possible kidney infection.  She had stopped by to see if someone was going to town and might be able to drop her off at the hospital, but since our car was in the shop this morning, that was impossible.

I admit that I get tired of seeing her everyday, and sometimes it is so difficult to get rid of her.  I kept trying to get her out the door telling her that the sooner she was at the hospital, the less time she would have to wait for admittance.  But she just didn't seem to be in any great hurry.  She told me that Mr. Albert had given her money for the emergency room.  Good!  But she needed a little more to take a taxi.  So that was it.

"Marva," I spoke not too kindly.  "Why can you never come here without asking me for something?"  And I pulled some change out of my purse and handed it to her.  But she refused to take it.  The look of shock on her face surprised me.  I didn't think that what I had said would affect her.  Then she began to cry.

"No,  I don't want the money.  Oh, Mr. Albert was right.  He told me that I shouldn't be asking you for things.  I feel so bad,  I feel so bad."

And then I felt bad!  It's not her fault that she's sick.  I hurt her very deeply by what I said.  I could have just said no and left it at that.

It took her several minutes to calm down and for the tears to stop.  I apologized repeatedly for what I had said, and as it turned out, she did finally take the money.  Humanly speaking, I suppose I was justified in what I said to her.  But in the spiritual realm, I was unkind and insensitive.  My past experiences with Marva have shown me that she is quick to forget when I have been rude or abrupt with her.  Hopefully, this time will be no exception.

April 21
Marva did come back yesterday afternoon to let me known that she just had a small infection.  I guess I'm forgiven.  Clark and Linda Huffer, good friends from Topeka, Kansas have come to work and be with us for a week.  She brought us several jars of peanut butter.  I took one to Marva, partially because I know she loves peanut butter, and also to let her known that I truly am her friend.

May 1
Marva was here three times today.  Larry should never have told her that his father is ill.  Besides wanting to use the phone now, she has to make at least one trip a day just to ask about how he's doing and to assure us that she's "always remembering him in her sweet prayers."

May 14 -The day after Larry called from the States to tell me his father had died:

I don't want to think right now.  I don't want any demands put on me.  Marva was ready to kill both her neighbor and Mr. Albert last night.  She had a crowbar ready, stowed underneath her porch.  But it's as if she knows I can talk her out of her anger.  So she came looking for me, seething with rage.  I walked to her home and found her almost irrational.  She was so angry, pacing back and forth, unable to stand still.  I never did fully understand why she had murder in mind, but "her enemy" had blatantly insulted her, and Mr. Albert did not come to her defense. So she was going to do them both in.

Emotionally, I was exhausted. I didn't feel like talking her out of killing her neighbor and Mr. Albert.  I don't think I even prayed for wisdom this time.  Finally, when she decided to take a breath I said, "So you'll be just like them, Marva."  And I said the same thing three times.

She looked at me.  "What do you mean, Miss Marcia?"

"Jesus could have have lashed out at those who hurt him, Marva.  He's God.  He could have destroyed them.  But he didn't do a thing.  You'll be just like them, Marva.  Just like them."

"Just don't do anything, Miss Marcia?" she stood there with her toothless mouth hanging open.

"Don't do anything Marva."  And with that I left.

She was at my house early this morning.  "Oh Miss Marcia.  Thank you so much for keeping me from killing my neighbor and Mr. Albert.  I just got the news that my brother is here!  He's coming to see me today, and if you could lend me four lempiras to get a cab to buy some different clothes so I could be seeing him looking all nice, Miss Marcia!"

Well, at least for today Marva is thinking about other things.  For today, she's "normal."  And just maybe she'll not think about killing anyone for a long time.  At least not until I am gone from here.

May 23
Marva showed up at church tonight!  She has said all along that she would be there some evening before we leave.  I must admit that I really didn't believe she'd come through.  But she did, she did.  God bless her.

A Postscript:
Larry and I would see Marva once more when we returned a few years later on a ministry team.  On finding out that we were coming, she sent a letter with a list of items that she needed.  I still have that letter asking for a blanket, some sheets,  a black or brown sweater, a pair of size 12 shoes, some skirts, blouses, a bottle of perfume, some curtains for her front window and two jars of  peanut butter.  Larry and I packed up what we could between our two suitcases.  She was extremely pleased.  

About six months later we received a letter from the missionaries who had moved into the mission house and had become Marva's neighbors.   It's postmarked June 6, 1998.  Here's a bit of it:

Dear friends....We wanted to let you know of the death of Marva, our neighbor.  She entered the hospital Atlantida (government-run, deplorable conditions) for a month for treatment of a long-term infection in her leg.  When she came out, she was having trouble breathing-shortness of breath.  Though she received some treatment for her breathing problems, she died waiting for money from her uncle, so she could go to D'Antoni or Centro de Salud....So much of her life was sad.  Your family's care for her was a source of much encouragement.  Her daughter Cindy did not see her before she died though she had been notified of Marva's illness.  Sorry to be the bearer of sad news, but we thought you would want to know of her death.

Final Thoughts:
I still think of Marva, especially when the demands of people or ministry begin to wear on me.   I recall my sadness at the news, but I also know that I had no regrets where she was concerned.  There will always be the Marvas in my life. I just pray the lessons learned during those years will stay with me, and that when I'm called upon to give up something precious, kind of like that peanut butter, I will do it in a way that pleases my Father.

This picture was taken in La Ceiba, Honduras in 1997.  This was the last time I saw my friend Marva.


Anonymous said...

What a touching story Marcy. Some very good lessons for all of us. Love you much!!! Barb

Fawn said...

mom....i don't remember her yelling at me...but i'm not surprised : ) I was kinda always in the way : ) I love you and your stories