Last month, I had the privilege of leading the pre-ordination retreat for deacon candidates in the Diocese of St. Augustine. One of the men I got to meet was Richard Hay, who was joined on retreat by his wife, Margo — instantly recognizable and memorable because of her bright purple hair.

The day after the retreat ended, Saturday, June 11, Richard was ordained a deacon.

This photo below shows him that day, offering his first blessing to Margo.

Yesterday, Richard wrote to me, to let me know more of their story:

About a month prior to the ordination she was diagnosed with an incurable and aggressive form of mesothelioma and has declined quickly. We came into Hospice this past Friday night because things got unmanageable at home.

As he explained on Facebook:

After much prayer, reflection, talking to the oncologists, surgeon, and our priests for spiritual guidance we have decided to not undergo any treatment since the side effects impact quality of life significantly. We would much rather make Margo’s quality of life a priority instead in whatever time she has left with us. Every day, at Morning and Evening Prayer, we pray for a miracle for Margo’s healing, but we also acknowledge that all is in God’s hand and according to His will.

We know there are so many awesome prayer warriors here amongst our families and friends and we ask for your prayers for Margo’s healing but if that is not God’s will, then we pray that she has a blessed and easy transition from this life to what I pray is her heavenly reward.

On Wednesday, less than four weeks after the photo above, Margo entered eternal life.

I often tell deacons on retreat to remember that the first person the married deacon is called to serve is his wife. Richard was a good and faithful servant to Margo long before he was ordained.

I preached about the singular importance of the deacon’s wife during the retreat: 

In the series “The Chosen,” there’s a moment when Jesus goes to the home of Simon Peter and, as we all know, heals his mother-in-law.

But before he does that, he spots Simon’s wife, bent over the sink in the kitchen. He whispers hello. She’s startled.  She didn’t hear him come in. But before she can say anything more, he has something he wants her to hear.

“You saw it first,” he says. “What I see in Simon, you were the first to notice when no one else did. That connects us. I told Simon to make sacrifices and leave things behind to follow me. You are one flesh with Simon. He cannot make sacrifices that are not also yours. You have a role to play in all of this. I can’t make everything about this easier for you. But I see you. I understand.”

I echo that this evening.

I want to say to the wives who are here, full of excitement and pride and love for the men about to be ordained: You saw it first.

Like the artist seeing beyond the stone, like God seeing possibility, the work of art within, you saw what was there in the man you married. You love him for that. And with that love whether you realize it or not, you are helping fulfill God’s plan.

Margo saw it first.

And she will be an inseparable part of his diaconate.  I know she will be with him in the days ahead, supporting him with prayer and consolation and love.

When I asked Richard if I could blog about his wife and their journey together, he eagerly agreed. I said, “I have just one question: what’s with the purple?!”

He replied:

It had always been her color, and of course purple represents compassion and she was a nearly 20 year volunteer for the same hospice organization that took care of her in her final days. Really a beautiful full circle. She was also doing the purple hair in the 80’s before it was fashionable and then her entire wardrobe is practically some shade of purple. She was a unique gift from God and touched a tremendous number of lives through her compassion for others.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her … 

Please join me in praying for Deacon Richard and Margo and all those who love them.

To paraphrase the great Alice Walker: “I think it annoys God if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” This day, see God’s wonderful creation. Take nothing for granted. Notice purple. Thank God for it.

And whisper a thank you, as well, for Margo Hay.