Kate Merrick has a way of making you feel like you’re old friends. She wears her heart on her sleeve—the first time I met her we cried together about losing her young daughter to cancer and then laughed together only moments later about the aromatic joys of raising pigs. Her true heartbeat is unearthing what it means to practice presence with authenticity, seeking the peace of Jesus with vulnerability, and leaning into Sabbath with expectancy. Kate has learned to walk in defiant joy, even in the depths of suffering — and she kinda takes my breath away. It’s a grace to welcome the soul beautiful Kate Merrick to the farm’s front porch today…
Mary of Bethany has haunted my thoughts for a while now. I imagine her in that ancient, dusty, delightful place.
Her story shows me that something really precious lies beneath our need for being people of presence.
Something more than unplugging, more than putting overconnection and overcommitment in its place.
Something more than just rising above our current circumstances, more than just enjoying a physically and emotionally healthy way of being. There’s a profoundly sacred reason we are driven to discover what’s most important.
I’ve been going on and on about presence, about choosing peace and contentment.
I’ve talked about being with—truly with—each other, about living intentionally and openly. These are healthy things, yes. They are beneficial and wise and fruitful things.
But beyond that, there is a fundamentally better reason for shifting our hearts to practice these things, one that I believe Mary saw as she sat at Jesus’ feet with all the chaos swirling around her.
One that caused her to make a cameo in another story that made history, as told in the book of John.
Let’s enter Bethany. Another dinner party, more time with Jesus, more of Martha’s bustling about. Another dinner in Jesus’ honor, another time of human connection, of sharing food and space and trust. Another evening when God Made Flesh came into a little house in a little town and broke bread with a little group of friends.
And by this point, as His short and powerful ministry was winding down and He was making His way to Jerusalem to perform the most loving act in history, this Emmanuel had shown Himself to be healer, teacher, and lifter of unruly heads.
This Miracle Maker had walked on water, healed the sick, given sight to the blind, and offered living water.
He had shown Israel who He really was—by His words, His deeds, His presence. Redeemer. Bread of Life. Prince of Peace. Lamb of God.
And He was right there. With them.
With the stress case (Martha). With the activist (Simon). With the traitor (Judas). With the formerly dead (Lazarus). With the tax collector (Matthew) and the country boys (Philip, Bartholomew, Andrew) and the sons of thunder (James and John). With the garrulous (Peter). With the doubter (Thomas). With all these ragamuffins He loved so much.
And Mary. Doe-eyed, present, peaceful Mary. Mary, who had discovered the better thing, the thing most worth being concerned about.
Who made room for with-ness, who experienced the peace and joy that with-ness sustains.
Mary gracefully entered the scene, among all the bubbling conversations, debates, and personalities, among the various scents and tapestries and clay pitchers and wooden bowls. Quietly, she slipped into the room, maybe catching her brother Lazarus’s eye, maybe taking a deep breath.
She carried with her an alabaster jar of perfume, one that cost an entire year’s wages. All of her wealth, all of her trust, all of her future she carefully held in that thin, fragile, ethereally elegant vessel.
I can see it now, the careful steps she takes, tiptoeing into the room bursting with masculine voices and smelling like spicy food and men sweaty and dusty from the journey. The whole room, swirling with distraction, thick with cultural expectation and tradition.
She kept her eyes on Jesus, regardless of the trepidation she must have felt, knowing her actions might again be criticized.
The draw of Jesus was so cogent that, right there, in the middle of all the distractions, in front of all the befuddled dinner guests, Mary moved toward Jesus as if it were just the two of them in the room.
There, she gave all she had. She broke the jar, poured it out over Jesus’ feet, and, using her hair as a towel, she lovingly covered Him in her most precious possession.
She was with Him, in the distraction, in the wake of miracles, in the face of His impending death.
She was with Him, in love and adoration, knowing He would be gone soon.
And her worship and with-ness filled the whole house with an intense fragrance. Mary had learned what was most important, all right.
What had started with giving Jesus her full attention, choosing to listen in the face of distraction, had culminated in an act of worship that went down in history. Worship flowed from their intimacy, from their with-ness.
Talk about relationship goals.
The profundity of God’s presence has a ripple effect.
Mary’s example teaches me that presence breeds contentment, intimacy, trust, beauty, and joy, that it’s fragrant and lasting.
It teaches me that when we sit in God’s presence, all these things will be in the flow, both to us and from us.
That the peace I chase after, the love I long for, the acceptance and direction and courage I seek will be found in with-ness.
Isn’t that what most satisfies? Isn’t it true love that we are chasing after with all our overcommitted madness, our social media addiction, our frenzy to succeed and belong and achieve?
Jesus still offers this same profound presence; He has sat down and is waiting to see if we’ll sit with Him.
I see this invitation to with-ness in Mary’s story; I see it in His disciples’ stories. I see it woven throughout the stories of His life on earth.
And I can see myself in the people He met with:
the woman with the issue of blood, outcast and lonely;
the child without social status, unseen and unvalued;
the blind beggar, depressed and destitute;
the woman at the well, sinful and broken.
It’s that spark of attention, the offering of Himself, that moment in the crowd when He says, “I see you.”
It’s pure love.
Kate Merrick is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mama of a teenager and toddler, surfer, part-time cowgirl, and self-proclaimed chicken whisperer. She is married to Britt Merrick and they live in Carpinteria, California, where they founded the Reality family of churches. In 2013 she endured the death of her daughter, Daisy Love, after suffering through cancer treatment for three and a half years. Kate is making her way back toward laughter and is finding life to be filled with good things.
What if our truest life is the one right in front of us? Does life sometimes seem to be passing you by? Are you so busy—with email to check, Instagram to scroll through, and friends to be envious of—that you’ve become disconnected from your actual life? You know, the one you are living right here, right now?
With hilariously relatable confessions and profoundly beautiful insights, in her latest book, Here, Now: Unearthing Peace and Presence in an Overconnected World, Kate invites us to stop running away from the lives we’re living today and instead walk in the peace and fullness God offers moment to moment.
Only when we look honestly at our hearts and have the courage to live truly present do we receive the gifts of God found in all of life’s seasons—the painful ones, the big and beautiful ones, and even the ordinary ones.