There’s a Chartreuse Cape in My Closet



My friend Kathy showed me what it means to flourish, in every way. I first met her almost twenty years ago, soon after my husband and I moved to Santa Barbara.

She was in her early 80s then, full of life, and living that life out loud and in full technicolor. Tall, statuesque, with brilliant blue eyes, she moved with a dancer’s grace and spoke with verve and good humor.

She’d known my husband before I met her, and when she discovered that I was a pastor, she wasted no time in asking if I ever preached.

“About 8-10 times a year,” I told her. And the very next week she called the church office, asking for a preaching schedule and for immediate notification when my name came up in the rotation.

And every time I preached, from that day until a few months before she died, she came to hear me. She’d leave her expensive home at the golf course, driving her beat-up, 20-year-old Ford station wagon into the church parking lot. I could always see her coming into the back of the gymnasium where we worshipped in those days, and I’d watch as she would gently genuflect and cross herself before the large wooden cross that hung at center court.

She was a cradle Episcopalian, choosing to worship with a congregation that met in a gym and sang with drums and guitars! Each time she took her seat in the back row, I saw her very bright chartreuse wool cape as she wrapped it around herself with a flourish. The kindness and joie de vivre she radiated spoke volumes to me as I readied myself to preach.

It’s true that she was a wealthy woman. It is also true that her life was far from easy. She was widowed twice, the first time when her handsome young husband was shot down over Europe during WWII, leaving her with a tiny boy and a broken heart. She rallied, got help from her family and married again several years later, eventually raising three sons.

My husband met her late in her life and helped her manage her investments and her charitable giving. Her larger-than-life personality stole his heart, I think! She was very generous and made genuine attempts to share the wealth with which she had been blessed.

Near the end of my second year as a pastor here, she decided that she wanted to shift her church giving from her hometown to the town we now shared. And she opted to give that gift to our small church on the hill. I found out later that her annual gift pretty much paid my salary for the years she came to hear me preach!

Her son called my cell phone one afternoon, as we were driving home from a brief vacation.

“Diana,” he said sadly, “I just wanted you to know that Mom is in the hospital and is not expected to live much longer.”

“Where are you?” I asked. “What’s her room number?”

“Oh!” he cried, “Don’t come! She doesn’t have her make up on and she would be mortified.”

“I’m coming, “ I replied. “I need to see her; I need to pray with her.”

And I did. I prayed the beautiful prayers of the church of her birth, I anointed her and blessed her and thanked God for her. And I turned to her son and said, “This dear woman found a way to flourish wherever she landed, you know?”

And he thanked me, profusely, for ignoring his warning and for coming to bring words and touch and thanksgiving. I thanked him for allowing me that privilege.

After she died, that same son donated a lot of her glorious clothes and costume jewelry to the church for a rummage sale to raise funds for our student ministries.

Can you guess what I bought?

That bright chartreuse wool cape, that’s what!

It hangs in my closet to this day, though I’ve never worn it. I finger it from time to time, remembering what a gift she was to a green-around-the-gills, well-past-middle-aged-first-time-pastor, and how her flourishing life brought such joy to me and to all who knew her.

That bright green cape reminds me to blossom, to choose to flourish right where I am. And to add a few blossoms, an occasional flourish or two, as I go about my days.

In fact, maybe it’s time I tried that cape on. What do you think?