Betty J. Slade
I am amazed when I stop and think about the many people that have come into my life. Moreover, when the differences that bring us together seem greater than similarities that would otherwise do the same.
There is a passage in Jeremiah where God says that he has plans for us. To paraphrase, I know the meticulously woven purposes that I am skillfully, carefully and intricately weaving together for your future.
Our lives are such a tapestry of texture and color that are ever greater enhanced by those we meet.
Nothing is by chance and so goes my introduction to Mary Miller. She is a volunteer at Loaves and Fishes who maneuvers around the tables with a dedication to service. She stopped by my table one week and mentioned that she would be out of the country for a short period of time. When I inquired as to why, she told me that she “lives to volunteer.”
Knowing that Pagosa has become a haven for the interesting, I set up a time when we could meet for coffee. I wanted to find out more about how traveling and volunteering interlinked.
At the young age of 86, Mary has traveled to 45 countries and has plenty of stories to tell. When I asked her who she travels with, she told me that some of her trips are by herself.
“Alone? Aren’t you afraid to travel alone?”
She looked at me as if it was a foreign thought and said, “No, why should I be afraid?”
I could think of a thousand reasons why I wouldn’t travel alone.
Mary continued, “I pack a smile and common sense in my bag, which is always ready for the next trip.”
“But you’re 10 years older than I am. If I was traveling around the world, I’d pack more than a smile and common sense.” It didn’t sound like common sense to me, but, to her, it is a way of life.
In addition to being an intrepid traveler, this energetic lady volunteers with a group of participants who provide dental care to individuals in third-world countries. In fact, she was preparing to go back to Cambodia in a few days. I was exhausted just hearing about her tight-scheduled itinerary during her upcoming two-week trip.
This is her ninth year with Global Dental Relief, where she has been lauded by organizers and volunteers alike. She is passionate about being able to help those in need, some who just need a good excuse to smile. She works with a team who uses a pressure cooker and a hot plate to sanitize equipment in their makeshift medical clinic. When the generator goes out, the team does their best to continue brightening the smiles of the many children they encounter. At the end of the day, they pack up, load up, then hop in the back of an old pickup truck to proceed to the next village.
Mary’s entire life seems knitted together in a way that makes perfect sense. She was one of 10 children, born to hardworking farming parents in rural Pennsylvania. When she was 18, she married a young man who was in the Air Force. She is also a Korean vet, serving for two years herself. Married 32 years, she, her husband and their six children have traveled the world. Now I understand why she has such a love for the nomadic.
One of her daughters authored a book about her many adventures, titled “Mom on the Run.” It tells stories about her life and travels, and displays a collage of pictures of Mary and the many people she has met along the way.
Her daughter writes, “Mom turns 86 this year. Her email snippet, signature, mantra or whatever single distinct meaningful element of speech you prefer is ‘You’re never too old to have a happy childhood.’ That about sums her up! She’s about as fiery as anyone could possibly imagine being and she’s hardly slowing down. My mother has always had a hunger for travel and the gift of gab. She meets not a stranger and sports an uncanny talent of drawing people toward her.
“After working hard on the farm as a young girl, serving in the military and raising a family of her own, mom’s dreams of jumping into those pages of her father’s National Geographic Magazine as a girl have finally come to fruition.”
The pictures in the book showing a smile on Mary’s face are understandable. It is a true reflection of those to whom she has generously given time and effort.
I asked Mary to describe herself in one word. She used two. “Free spirit.” She showed me a tattoo on her ankle of a butterfly. She said, “I won’t let anyone pull off my wings.”
Final brushstroke: I could get a tattoo of my Sweet Al on my ankle, but what is the greater lesson here? What am I missing? I have a strong faith, but not enough to traipse all over the world. Then, again, I’m not Mary. But, like her, God has created each of us with our own unique purpose — a complex and intricately woven sequence that defines us and directs all our tomorrows.
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