Mamils and Bitters

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Cycling is the New Golf

A Mamil is a strange creature. It stalks the world in multi-coloured Lycra, flummoxing traffic and terrorizing pedestrians in skin-tight flamboyance. It grazes on Gatorade and Cliff bars, hoarding granola and protein shakes for the more active months. Its prey is the road and its predator is its own last clocked speed. Indeed, I speak of the Middle-Aged-Man-in-Lycra; or in civilian speak, the road cyclist.

Naomi is a MaWil – the female version. She’s a little less obsessed, not quite as equipment-frenzied, but equally athletic and twice as enthusiastic as your average Mamil.

Naomi thinks much less of herself than I do. But that’s probably because from my bystander’s eyes, I can see her bloom more clearly. I don’t think a lily ever has eyes to observe its own growth. Naomi has coped her entire life with family-wide, genetic mental illness. She’s a mother of two, a loving wife and the ideal combination of goofy, big-hearted, chatty, nurturing, absent-minded, generous and wise. Naomi has waded through  deep waters. And that’s what makes her life a picture of Isaiah 61:3 in process. She lives in the stubborn hope that God will bestow  “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Bitter is the New Sweet

I met Naomi playing Ultimate Frisbee. She would pause mid game, disc in hand, suddenly inspired to be social and to strike up the funniest conversation about her black thumb or her mother-in-law’s latest soul-winning scheme. Talking to Naomi is always therapy for me. Her self forgetfulness puts you at ease. She disarmingly wears her heart on her sleeve. She looks you in the eye and makes you feel heard, even when she’s juggling her own diagnoses of Classic Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) simultaneously with her preteen son’s much too intense, much too early battles with Anxiety, Perfectionism and Moderate Depression. She lives out beauty from ashes in countless years of loyal friendships and in a godly optimism that the Holy Spirit has intentionally placed her in every relationship that she is in. To many, she is their only Christian friend. She’s rarely short of an encouragement, a fun hair-brained idea, a cheerful quip or a down-to-earth, humorous tale about the dangers of mixing depression medications and Craigslist.

She’s recently lived through a housefire, entry into the sandwich generation (caring for elderly parents and young children simultaneously), two moves and countless renovations. And all this under the constantly threatening gray clouds of S.A.D. and Depression. Yet Naomi is relentless in finding ways to radiate God’s love.

In the thick of battle, she still finds time to swing by my house to drop something off. Naomi pops by unannounced and attacks my back porch steps two at a time, long limbs hoisting yet another garbage bag of goodies. “Hey Julia!” She pants, “glad I caught you at home! Muffins for your foster kids – make sure you return the container to me – hand me downs for your son – and oh! I forgot the spin class tickets for you. Shoot. Next time.Gotta run!” She flashes a grin, leaves the offering and disappears down the stairs as quickly as she came. Her actions say “I love because He first loved me”. Her eyes say “I’m hurting but He will bring me through”. And together, her actions, her eyes and her words find a bullseye. They simply bless me, a weary pastor’s wife who isn’t really accustomed to being on the receiving end.

Naomi is the pen name she chose for herself. It means “pleasantness”. The biblical Naomi changed her name to Mara; Mara is a Hebrew word meaning “bitter”. It’s fitting. But the deeper black the ashes, the purer white the bloom.

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