Love is a Verb: Barbara and Shirley

CyneathaCyneatha Millsaps is the pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, a south suburb of Chicago. Pastor Cyneatha is married to her husband Steven. She is a 2008 graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

What does love look like?

There are two women in our congregation who make me smile every time I see them enter the church together.

Barbara and Shirley ride to church together each Sunday as well as to special events that may be going on during the week. This might not seem like a big deal until you understand a little bit more about them.

Barbara is a 70-something-year-old African American woman, Ms. Shirley is a 90-year old White woman. Ms. Shirley cannot drive herself so Barbara always picks her up. I recently found out when this traveling relationship began.

Barbara and Shirley
Barbara and Shirley

Ten years ago, Ms. Shirley’s husband of 49 years passed away. Paul was Ms. Shirley’s dearest of friends, and losing him caused several challenges for her. One challenge was that Ms. Shirley had never learned to drive, so Paul had taken her everywhere she needed to go. Ms. Shirley stated that she never learned to drive because she grew up in Chicago and you really didn’t need to drive to get around. Going to church had also been very important to Ms. Shirley. Paul didn’t attend church so much, but he never failed to take and pick up his dear Shirley every Sunday. After losing Paul, Ms. Shirley wondered how she would be able to get back and forth to church. Both of her children lived almost an hour away. In stepped Ms. Barbara.

At first glance you might not think anything about these two women strolling into church together.

Ms. Shirley is this sweet, petite woman who loves church. She is hard of hearing now, so she has to work really hard to stay connected during the service. She attends and participates in every congregational meeting. She is always positive and offers clear words of wisdom for the church. It’s powerful to see such a stable mind in such a fragile body. But Ms. Shirley exemplifies God’s grace in motions.

Ms. Barbara is this quiet reserved woman. She never has too much to say. She might throw out a question or comment or two, but with no clear direction of where the thought should go. Her thoughts hang out there begging for a response. She is also very active in church life. Ms. Barbara shows a steady and stable presence.

These two women have nothing in common that I can tell, expect for their love and commitment to our church. I don’t think they hang out together through the week, or even share in similar social circles. Their only connection seems to be the church and this ride back and forth.

This year as we consider what love looks like within the church and how we exhibit that love, I would like to say, love is simply being present for each other — no agenda, no requirement of sameness, just offering ourselves to each other because we are able.

How many of us would take the time to actively offer ourselves to a friend in this way? And how many of us would still be doing it 10 years later?

Ms. Barbara and Ms. Shirley, an unlikely pair, are our example of God’s love.