She always told me I could talk to the President of the country or the janitor at the White House. She didn’t realize, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “I can talk to anyone about nothing because that’s what I know the most about”.
It’s impossible to tell her story without my story and for almost 50 years we have been knitted together like David and Jonathan, sharing laughs, tears, good times, not so good times, life in general but always friendship. Always friendship. Maxine was, usually, Max to me and I was always Sandy to her. Our stories are strikingly similar…we’re both the oldest sister, a brother in the middle and a beloved baby sister as the opposite bookend. We were taught the value of hard work, honoring your word and honoring your parents, respect for yourself and others and good stewardship over what God has entrusted to you. Her word was her bond; I never knew Max to go back on her word but if she ever did, there were most certainly compelling reasons.
Family, friends and pets meant everything to Max. She was steadfast, loyal and true north. You never worried the Max you met on Monday was a different Max on Friday. It would have been easier to believe Mt. Everest would slip into the sea. Max gave unconditional love and acceptance but she wasn’t above telling me, gently and with love, when she disagreed.
We met when Max worked at Falling Creek Apartments and I wanted to live there. We became friends and partied together…jazz clubs in Jackson Ward (not a good idea then and probably not a good idea now…), discos on Broad Street and Shockoe Slip. We did stuff I’m ashamed God and Dennis Proffit know about but at least God forgave us. I’ll need to check with Dennis later, it’s been a while since I’ve seen him.
Max and I were two little blonde haired girls who were, as my Daddy likes to say, “Going to set the world on fire just as soon as we found our box of matches!” We were free spirits who didn’t have a clue we were really just two more of God’s daughters making our way back to Him.
Max was strong: physically, mentally, emotionally. She once walked around for a solid week on a broken knee cap because it didn’t really hurt “that bad” but when it did hurt “that bad” she went to the doctor who put a brace on her leg. I told her, “Heck, Max, I could have bought you a brace and it would have been a lot cheaper!” Again with the Max laugh.
Not many people know Max saved my life. She called, out of the blue, on a Tuesday and said, “Something told me to call; what’s wrong?” She and I didn’t call each other twelve times a week to talk about “nothing” (even though that was my expertise as mentioned earlier). When we talked it was deep, meaningful, special and often about God. So, when I picked up the phone and she said, “What’s wrong?” it all came out in a torrent.
For decades, probably my entire life, I went through periods of deep, dark depression but had no idea it wasn’t normal. When all you know is what you know, it becomes your normal. By the time Max called, the latest bout of depression was so terrible, I was seriously considering suicide.
Max said, “OH NO YOU DON’T! You’re going to talk to my counselor. You hang up the phone and do nothing except wait for it to ring. PROMISE ME!”
I did as she said and Maurice Graham, her counselor at Bon Air Baptist Church, called and spoke with me. Long story short, I saw him and then someone else who prescribed medication which kick started the serotonin production in my body. Literally, a week after starting the meds I woke one morning with the one thought in my head, “So this is what normal feels like!”
Later, Max and I talked about what happened and how it happened. We marveled at how God used her and her counselor to help me on the very day I needed help most. We were both crying as I told her how thankful I was for her friendship and willingness to help. She said, “Sandy, I just felt like God wanted me to call you. So I did. I kept telling her thank you and she finally said, “Oh good grief! You’d do the same for me!”
No muss. No fuss. No fanfare. Just Max doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do.
When I moved next door to Dave, I called Max to tell her about the house and the new neighbor. Dave’s story was Cathy, the beloved wife of his youth, died almost a year before and, while Dave wasn’t doing very well, there was still an attraction; he was the smartest person I’d ever met. Max laughed that outrageous laugh and said, “You always did go for the brainiacs.”
I told her, “So and So said to me, “How can you like him? He smokes too much, he drinks too much and he stinks.” Max started shaking her head. “Oh for Pete’s sake! He can stop smoking, he can stop drinking and he can take a shower. What is wrong with people?!”
By this time, I was rolling in laughter. “Max, that is exactly what I said!” There were times our friendship was a little eerie we were so on the same track.
A couple of decades later, on a Monday morning, when Dave made his peace with God, Max was the first friend I called. She’d joined me in praying for Dave and it was only right she celebrate with me when he made his peace with God.
Saturday morning, five days later, when Dave literally dropped dead of a heart attack, Max was the first friend I called. I can’t remember what she said but I remember her presence was rock solid, steady and true. When Dave was buried at Hollywood Cemetery, Max was there; when we went to O’Toole’s Pub to celebrate Dave’s life, Max was there. I’m especially grateful for her going to O’Toole’s because my parents were there and I’m pretty sure it was the first (and probably last) time they were ever in a pub. Max sat with them and Jerome Hancock who was the pastor of the Nazarene Church they all attended; my parents still speak of her kindness.
The age old question arises: why does God allowing suffering? Do you think Jesus could answer that question? I’ve never met anyone who could truly give a satisfactory answer but I do know, beyond a showed of doubt, God had a plan for Max’s life. He had a good plan for Max and, ultimately, for His glory. God began a good work in Max, He saw it through to His completion and then welcomed her Home. Just as Christ’s suffering was not in vain, neither was Maxine’s. She accomplished what God asked of her; she stayed the course, she didn’t waver, she finished her race. She joined that great cloud of witnesses, gathered around God’s throne, joining in on a celebration we can’t even imagine!
She will not return to us but we, those who share her faith in Christ Jesus, will go to her. In the meantime, my hard earned advice is…in the days to come, allow yourself to grieve and remember, grief takes as long as it takes. There’s no time limit so take all the time you need. Grief is personal and individual; it can’t be rushed or gotten around or under or dismissed. Please, don’t even try to dismiss it. Take it one day at a time, don’t forget to breath and breath deeply.
Breathing is good!
Be patient with yourself and others; be gentle with yourself and others. Tuck yourself in prayer and pray for others, especially the family…Max’s Daddy and Mama; Lisa, her sister; Jimmy, her brother and her cousins, aunts and uncles. Take someone out for coffee or tea or a meal; remember Max and share your stories. Keep her alive in your hearts and thoughts as long as you need; as long as you want. God will let you know when you’re healed; don’t rush. Don’t rush.
You’ve heard the poem:
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thy own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
As much comfort as that poem brings me, the wise words of a Willie Nelson song bring even more comfort and I paraphrase…
“Maxine’s death isn’t something we’ll ever get over
But it is something we’ll get through.”
In my mind, there’s no doubt when Jesus presented Max to Abba God, she heard Him say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant!”
If you’re unsure God will speak those same words to you, talk to one of the pastor’s here today. OR, talk to me; I’d love to put you on that glory train!
Like Max, you can have the certain hope and knowledge that “absent in the body is present with the Lord.” Please, I beg you…today is the day to make your peace with God. The bell is tolling; no one knows when it will stop.
For those who are Believers in Jesus Christ…if I die before you, Max and I are standing on the other side to welcome you Home.”