July 1, 2020 my life changed. I left the job I had had for over three decades of pastoring local churches to work in mediation and pastoral counseling. This has been a whole new world for me. It has meant a change in how I live every day. The change has been life altering and a blessing. I’ve met people I never would have met had I not stepped outside the walls of the church. I’ve also been able to bring peace and healing to people I would not have encountered in the church, as well.
When my wife began to lead a church near where her mom lives, I started to visit mom each Sunday after church to connect with her. She’s this marvelous human, having lived since 1924, and she has a unique perspective on life and faith.
Mom still lives in the house she moved into with her husband and three kids back in 1964. Since dad’s death in 2013, she has lived on in the house, directed the redecorating of much of it, with 24-hour companions to help her with her meals and other basic care when needed.
One of her caregivers was in charge of all mom’s medications and supplements. She would count out her pills into a pill sorter week by week. My wife, her sister and I realized it might be wise to have more than one person aware of mom’s medications, supplements and how to order them. So, I learned and took over for this caregiver when she got another job. I created a google drive folder shared with all caregivers, which lists the number of each kind of pill and a picture of each taken at various times throughout the day.
So, in the afternoon, Sunday after Sunday when I am in town, you’ll find me at mom’s, counting and sorting her pills. It’s a simple task. And every Sunday mom thanks me for taking care of her in this way.
My favorite weeks are when mom is available and she and I can sit and talk about life. At 98, she’s an amazing person, filled with compassion, and very open to Jesus. She’ll often launch into some story from her childhood or early life. Although she might lose track of recent events, she has clarity for these memories.
She grew up in relative poverty, in a home with dirt floors, but lots of love. Neither of her parents claimed faith in Christ, but as a child, she attended Salmon Creek Methodist Episcopal Church by herself. She remembers the Sunday morning service when she gave her life to Christ in what is now the old, white, clapboard chapel at the Salmon Creek UMC.
Mom and I have had incredible conversations about life and death and meaning. Death is one of the subjects she has returned to often, for it may be closer for her than the rest of us. Once she said, “One day I will join Paul (that’s dad) in the crypt in McMinnville.” I said, “Really? I mean, yes, your body will be there. But I don’t believe you will be there.” It became this rich conversation. We spoke of heaven together, the promise of a place which is better than our wildest dreams. Scripture says it well,
“Mom, if you imagine the best of the best thing you can imagine, with all the bells and whistles thrown in, still you’ll not be close to what God has for you. It will be better yet! You will not end in the grave. That is not the end,” I told her. She was super relieved. I think she knew it, but needed the reminder.
“Of what value is my life?” she asked one day. She was looking for meaning. For someone who has always been on the move, she has been reduced to a fairly slow and sedentary life. However, she tires quickly. The day is as full as she can manage. But meaning is slippery in such days especially when value is measured in activity.
“You know, mom, your value is beyond measure. Every one of us you speak with leaves blessed, encouraged, and strengthened. There’s no measuring that kind of value. So much value. And you consistently pray for others. That makes this house of yours a kind of lighthouse, a beacon of light in what is a dark world for many.”
When mom was 52, she was in a cataclysmic traffic accident. It left her with multiple broken bones, and bleeding internally. Thankfully, this was discovered by a sharp ER doctor. His emergency surgery saved her life. After three months in ICU, and months of rehab, she had relearned to talk, walk, feed herself, do self care, write and communicate. The extensive nerve damage left her skin burning when exposed to AC, her feet feeling like she was walking on marbles, and her balance impaired. Basically, still, she’s a walking miracle.
When she wonders about her value, I think to the 44 years I’ve known her. She’s this amazing overcomer. Her words have encouraged and strengthened me on numerous occasions. And she wonders about worth! Isn’t this just a picture of us all? We believe we need to be leaping over tall buildings for value, but actually, value and meaning, worth and significance are discovered in the daily routine, in the little conversations, even, in counting pills.