We have a friend who rides with us to church. She lives with others and has some extra help. This past Christmas season she gave me a box of cookies. She gave them to me one Sunday when I picked her up for church. Just so they wouldn’t be eaten by others, who might not realize they were a gift, someone in her home wrote on the box her initials and that they were “for a church lady”.

She gave me the gift with her usual happiness and kindness. Really, one of the nicest gifts I had received. My eyes paused on the “for a church lady” writing on the box. I wondered, has it really come to this? Am I really a “church lady”? My inner young self, dressed all in black, trying to rebel against the status quo and smoking my Marlboro Lights seemed shocked. My authentic self, (still much of the younger me but happily no longer smoking) was honored and hopeful that someday I could really claim such a label.

You see, I grew up with some pretty cool church ladies in my childhood church. And I am still surrounded my them at my church now. These are the kind of women who really help make the church run. And whose influences stretch out far beyond. Birthdays are not forgotten by them as cards come in the mail. Hot dishes are delivered to the sick and grieving. Chili is made and sold with profits helping others. Babies are swept out of a tired mother’s arms for a momentary respite. Quilts are made to warm the hearts and souls of those who use them. These women remember others in prayers and follow up with a call or visit. These women hold your sorrow and celebrate your joy.

The church ladies I know are also such social advocates. Speaking out against the unjustness of life. Speaking up for the forgotten. Embracing those with differences. Putting the words of Jesus into practice. Listening to the stories that need to be told. These are the strong women I know as church ladies. These are the ladies I have come to greatly admire. These are the ladies who willingly show the love of God, who make you laugh, fight for others, share their humanity with you as you weep, and indulge in pie and coffee with you.

My box of cookies is now gone. The “for a church lady” label remains in my kitchen. A reminder to show up more. A reminder to let Love guide me further than I had dreamed. A reminder to make good chili. I will never be able to sew a quilt, a reminder that a church lady can’t and shouldn’t try to do it all. But instead stretch out further with the gifts I have. And potentially embracing new ones (yea, the quilting thing still won’t be happening.)

“For a church lady”, the box says. And I offer thanks to the real church ladies who kindly show me the possibilities.