I made my way up Bette’s walk. Crunching leaves announced my arrival. Ladies’ prayer wouldn’t start for another hour, but I came early to help set up and get Bette ready. I tapped on the glass and entered without waiting for a response.
I stopped in the kitchen and started the coffee brewing. A radio perched atop the microwave, crooning oldies.
“Good morning Bette!” I called, getting out the cream and sugar.
“Hey there,” came the faint reply, then a coughing fit.
I peered around the corner. Bette sat in the recliner, eyes closed. A polka-dotted cloth wrap covered her bare scalp. She opened her eyes and looked at me. Cracked, swollen lips hindered her attempted smile.
I winked at her. “What can I get for you sister?”
“I need that mouthwash stuff and the strawberry yogurt.” She paused to catch her breath. “Can you fill up my water bottle too?”
The mouthwash stood on the counter, the tallest bottle in a group of many. One medicine after another had joined the crowd, most prescribed to combat the side effects of the others. The pills meant to keep Bette’s white blood cells under control brutalized the rest of her body. Deep wounds had developed on her feet. Her raw hands, peeled continually. Worse though, were the horrible sores in Bette’s mouth. These made eating and tooth-brushing agonizing chores. The doctor had prescribed a mouth-numbing wash, which dulled the pain, just long enough for her to eat a yogurt—the only food her stomach wouldn’t reject.
I returned and arranged the items on the end table. When Bette was ready, I fed her with a soft-edged baby spoon. She swallowed each bite, tears pooling in her eyes, then leaned her head back.
Frank Sinatra sang in the kitchen and a dehumidifier hummed along in the corner.
I started putting out extra folding chairs.
Bette readjusted her feet and winced. “Did you pick up the jelly beans?”
I pointed to a grocery bag by the door. “Sure did. Buy one, get one free.” Up until two weeks ago, Bette had insisted that her husband, Glenn, bring her to church to help teach the third and fourth graders. Now, she was too weak, but still wanted to make the Easter goody bags she had planned. She also insisted that we keep holding ladies’ prayer here in her living room.
I lit an apple-scented candle and plopped on the couch. “How are you doing?”
On most days, Bette avoided the question, asking instead about my problems (as if they could compare). Today, she decided to answer.
“Janet, you know I’ve never cared much about my looks.”
I nodded. Bette was the least vain woman I knew. While the rest of us in the prayer group obsessed over fashion, Bette was contented just being herself. Her favorite sweatshirt displayed Tweetie bird. She kept her face make-up free, her black hair, simple and straight.
Bette shook her head. “But when I look in the mirror now, I just can’t believe how ugly I am. How can Glenn stand to look at me?”
My chest constricted with sorrow. Bette—though her soul was trapped in a dying body—was the most beautiful woman I knew. I’d never met anyone so passionate about Jesus, so unashamed to witness. Even now, she took every opportunity to share Jesus with family, neighbors, doctors and nurses.
I went and sank to my knees by her chair. “Bette, you are beautiful.”
She averted her gaze and picked at the pieces of skin that hung from her fingertips.
I placed my hand on Bette’s arm as she wept. Lord, how can I minister to her?
Unable to find sufficient words, I grabbed my Bible and devotional book. “Why don’t I read to you?”
Bette didn’t respond. I found the day’s scripture reading, flipped to Isaiah and read, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”
The words hung in the air. God had lead us to just the right passage.
“Bette, this is about Jesus. It says He had no beauty.”
She raised her head and met my gaze.
I grinned at her and asked a question she could only answer one way. “Bette, is Jesus beautiful?”
Her eyes brightened. “Oh, yes. Yes.”
“So are you sister. So are you.”
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