I love my job for many of reasons. One of those reasons is named Arnette.
Arnette is one of those women that, within 5 minutes of meeting her, you find yourself holding the hand of a perfect stranger. “I’m Arnette, and now we know each other. And I’m so happy to meet you.” And she means it. She really, truly means it. She walks into a room with a grateful smile on her face. Stablizing herself on one side with her cane, she throws her other arm out, inviting you into the kind of hug that makes the worst day better. This is a woman who has quite literally been to hell and back. A couple of times. And she keeps on keepin’ on. She is always there. Every service, every function, every day, there is she is, brightening the room with her sweet laughter and kind words. During church she cries as she prays, cries as she sings and cries as she says, “God is good. All the time.” When she says it, you have to believe it. Because if she can say it, it must be true. Arnette doesn’t say anything that she doesn’t mean, and she speaks from experience. She is the kind of woman that makes you a better person, just for knowing her.
For the last 3 months, Arnette has been missing. The first Saturday she didn’t come to church, everyone noticed, but we all just assumed she must be spending the day doing something important with family. As the weeks ticked away, and Arnette still wasn’t around, we all got very worried. We tried phone calls and visits, but for the longest time, we heard nothing. The one day, our pastor passed Arnette on the street. A chance meeting. Arnette shared with the pastor that she had a lot going on in her life, that she was struggling to keep her head above water, and that she needed prayer. Lots of prayer. So for a month solid, we prayed every day for Arnette. We didn’t know what we were praying for, other than for her to return safely to us.
Yesterday, she did. We were about halfway through the service, and the door opens. A gust of chill sneaks in, and I turn to see who is coming inside. My mouth drops open, and tears fill my eyes. Arnette is just standing there, steadying herself with her cane, grinning. I run over to embrace her, and there is quickly a line behind me. The music keeps going, but the chatter takes over the singing. The joy of worship has shifted to a celebration of return. I look around the room, and for all those who know and love Arnette, their eyes are brimming with tears. For those who are meeting her for the first time, they look slightly confused. But they’ll understand. As soon as she introduces herself to them, they’ll understand.
I’ve only been here 8 months (woah! 8 months!) and already, I feel connected. I am blessed to be a part of this community that has been forming for the lat 18 years. I love these women. I love my job. I walk into work each morning with excitement about what the day holds. I am amazed at how quickly I have become so attached. I haven’t heard all of Arnette’s story. Yet. She’s only been back one day after all. But even in just one day, our little family feels more complete. Our sister who was gone has returned. And brought with her that same sweet, sweet spirit. As we passed the peace in church, she made her way to the front, made a broad wave with her arm and said, “The Lord be with all y’all. All y’all.” With tears in her eyes.