Belonging is the Beginning

How do you talk about the girl who is the beginning of every story you tell?

The girl whom everyone seemed to experience similarly: intense, passionate, a bit wild, and fiercely loving. At least, that’s the theme that ran through every remembrance shared at her memorial last month. And that’s the girl etched in my memory.

I know now that it could have turned out differently. Another sort of older girl could have befriended me, new to town and desperate to belong. But it was Mara I met in my first weeks of high school, Mara who pursued my lonely heart, Mara who invited me to a church ski retreat and stayed up all night with her twin, Mindy, to answer my endless questions about the personal relationship they seemed to have with a knowable God.

Their zest for life was both unnerving and intoxicating. I found myself atop ski slopes I had no business being on and riding shotgun in their little VW when they swapped the wheel, while driving! Mara introduced risk and flexible interpretation of rules into my life. She stretched every boundary I held. To her, I attribute my first job, my first internship, my first exposure to anything West of the Mississippi, the growth I experienced in my new faith through high school and all the butterflies I had when I first met my husband.

In so many ways, my story starts with her.

And yet, her intensity overwhelmed me. At times, her pursuit of depth seemed fruitless: I couldn’t possibly have such meaningful thoughts to answer these questions. Surely, I was not as deep as her searing intention sought to unearth. And her zeal for God in me, I knew, was equal for many others. Ours was not a singular friendship. The common experience- waiting for Mara to talk with someone else, waiting for Mara to request something from someone and in the process, making a new dear friend- took hours I envied. I ran to and from this friendship.

In much the same way, I also ran to and from Jesus in those early days.

In Virginia, I join 500 at the memorial service, celebrating the life of my 45-year old friend who surrendered to a 5.5-year battle with cancer. For the first time, I wonder… was Mara simply Jesus, reaching out to me? The fierce pursuit of my heart, the faithful presence and consistent discipleship in those early years of new faith, the sweet visit as I struggled the first months of out-of-state college, the surprise appearance at my wedding, so far away.

Perhaps what we were all drawn to in Mara was Jesus loving us through her. Her other-worldly, boundary-less ways, a mirror into the spiritual realm. Her unwavering search into our souls, the eyes of our Savior penetrating down to the authentic spaces. Unnerving and intoxicating because is He not this?

Is Jesus not unnerving and intoxicating?

To college ministry I went, familiar with ministry and support raising because of her. Into the world of miracles and answers to prayer, familiar because of her stories. Into a foreign land of unreached peoples and a lifetime of serving God because of seeds of faith she planted and watered and nurtured. Into a marriage she teased and prophesied would occur. Into a legacy, still in the making, attributable to the story she helped usher into existence.

Those of us who walk with Jesus have a Mara in our lives. The person through whom he whispered, come. Or perhaps, as in my case, gathered us up into an adventure greater than the one we were living. Exposed us to the thrill and rush and depth of a heart fully alive. Gave us a taste of a storyline too tempting to ignore and wet our appetite for a relationship we knew we needed.

How do you talk about the girl who is the beginning of every story you tell?

You start with a story of belonging.

*Mara Jean Martin Roberts fought cancer for 5.5 years and joined Jesus on September 28th, 2017. She is survived by a loving husband of 10 years, two boys, ages 9 and 7, and a large family who will care for them deeply.

Beth Bruno is founder and director of A Face to Reframe, a non-profit committed to preventing human trafficking through arts, training, and community building. She writes about women in ministry, girls becoming women, and exploited women. Her writing has appeared at Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman, InterVarsity’s The Well, and she is a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. She can be found in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and 3 kids or at