I pulled up a chair and took her hand.
“I want to serve.”
That’s what she said.
She’s dying. Colon cancer. Four years. A couple remissions.
Fran and Phil Mortensen have lived in Fort Wayne for a long time. They have spent forty years focusing on people with needs. To use Phil’s words, he stirred up the riot and Fran got it organized.
They started a church called Love Church. In time, they started Love Community Center. They started a church that would actually care about people who lived at the margins of downtown Fort Wayne. They had services, which is what most people think makes it church.
They provided meals, they gathered clothing and had a clothing bank with racks and hangers and smiling faces. Tthey built a workshop to teach people how to make stuff, they gathered food, they taught people how to use computers, they loved. While Phil went around to other churches to get support and then preached and cared for people at Love Church, Fran made it work.
She kept track of money. She made it stretch. She called people. She organized. She planned. She set things up. She laid things out. She could be as tenacious as a bulldog, but because she cared so much, because she loved Jesus.
I got to know her about four years ago through a monthly networking thing for nonprofit ministry leaders. I spoke occasionally. She decided she liked me. She constantly encouraged me. During a job transition for me, she prayed, yes, and she told me. And she talked about being encouraged by talking with me.
To be honest, I didn’t understand that.
Jesus talks about loving the unloved, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoners, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry. I acknowledge the concept. Fran did it. She never had any college training, but her understanding of practical love was at the graduate level. Anything I’ve thought about doing that would be about caring, Fran did or made happen.
For Fran to care so much about me was like an ant being noticed by, well by anything.
I don’t think she understood how much I was in awe of her. I think that she would laugh at me, a laugh of affection and modesty and incredulity.
Because here she is, after 40 years of pouring out her life into serving, in her last days, likely her last hours, saying “I want to serve.”
I assured her that she was. I assured her that she had. I assured her that she had been all the Fran that God built her to be. I assured her that she would be serving again in a little bit, this time without the cancer, without the pain. I talked to her about Martha, a person who worshiped by doing, who organized, who planned, who was practical.
And I let her sleep while I held her hand.
Fran gets “so what?” Fran decided that living a life of caring for and about others, making the name “love Church” true, was a so what that matters.
I prayed. I kissed her forehead. I stood up.
“I love you, Jon.”
I love you, Fran.