Almost every day of our childhood, we would pull down my grandmother’s long driveway and go in for a quick visit. We, two sisters, would sit together on the narrow piano bench and peck at the black and white keys in my grandmother’s living room while Mother moved through the house—setting out pills, fixing her mother’s hair, asking questions and washing clothes. It was our weekday routine, completed with a glass of chocolate milk in her wood-paneled kitchen.
Our grandmother, Zelma, had her first open heart surgery when our mother was 16. She would suffer through three more open-heart surgeries, breast cancer, a brain hemorrhage and a subsequent one-month coma in her rather long lifetime, considering the circumstances. Her story merits a full-length book. But for every chapter in the story of my grandmother, Mother was the caretaker, the advocate, the executor.
Our mother cared faithfully for our grandmother for decades, in every way imaginable. And upon our grandmother’s death in 1999, she began caring for other family members in need. She began to look after aunts, uncles and cousins. She cleaned toilets and picked up medicines. She made notes at doctor’s appointments and called insurances companies. She brought in food and took out the trash. The houses and the people changed, but not her way of life.
You can’t google our mother and see her accolades. She doesn’t speak or write for others. She has no public platform. She doesn’t even have a Facebook account. Yet, for our lives and ministries, she has been more influential than any other person.
In the flesh, we constantly evaluate those we encounter to determine if they are worthy of our time, our investment, our money or our heart. Our mother taught us to see with different eyes and to say “yes” when the world would say “no.” In most every circumstance, the recipients of our mother’s care could not repay her in any way. As her daughters, we didn’t need a sermon, a book or a conference to teach us how to see and affirm the dignity in every person, no matter their age, ability or worldly status. It’s the message we’ve seen our entire lives, and we hope to share those lessons with you here.
Be motivated by love
Our generation broadcasts their lives, or at least a filtered version of them. Acts of service are publicized, even glamorized, for the world to see. Our mother’s care for others was not noticed by many outside of our family, and sometimes family members didn’t realize all she had done. There were no posts of the waiting rooms she visited. She clearly didn’t serve her family for the praise of man. She served because her heart, like Christ’s, was moved to compassion. (Matt. 9:36)
It’s a lie of the devil to think a sacrificial life of serving your family isn’t “a great thing.”
This was a devastating work. There’s much pain in watching illness and age affect someone you love. We don’t know how many times she has witnessed a loved one take her last breath. It would have been easier to walk away. It would have been easier to find professionals. But again and again, she was eager to do good works, walking in when others were walking out. (Titus 2:14) Only love—for Christ and for others—compels this type of sacrifice.
Do the work in front of you
Our generation has been challenged to do “great things for God,” and that call still beats within our hearts. But it’s a lie of the devil to think a sacrificial life of serving your family isn’t “a great thing.” So often, the enemy’s tactic is to complicate the simple commands of Jesus. Well-intentioned questions like, “What is my calling?” or “Where are my talents most utilized?” can distract and delay us. Yet, Scripture is clear that we need only love others like we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
What are the needs within arm’s reach? Don’t devalue or abandon the title of son or daughter, wife or husband, mother or father, niece or nephew. The “others” and the “neighbors” for Mother were those God placed in her life through family. And as those who were the recipients and witnesses of that care, that work changed our lives for eternity.
Portray the gospel
To believe the message of a Savior who laid down his life for us was not a wide chasm, because we saw it every day—in a mother who laid down her own life for us and for others in need (1 John 3:16). We believe Mother was placed within her family to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Her life pointed my family to Christ. She brought heaven to earth because she cared for people, no matter their status, the way Jesus cared for them. We were taught to not fear sacrifice, and that conviction has anchored us through many seasons of our walks with Christ.
Don’t give up
Like all children, we have seen our Mother at her best and worst. We have seen the toil of emotional difficulties and laborious work. Yet, our Mother didn’t give up. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
After my grandmother’s coma, doctors told our mother that our grandmother would never walk again. She was even encouraged to put her mother into a long-term care facility. Instead, our recently married mother and father moved into our grandmother’s house. Every day, the two women would take walks down that long driveway. Many times, my grandmother’s body would fail her, and she would fall flat on the concrete. My mother would lift her up, wipe her skinned hands and knees, and they would start again. Painfully and slowly, Mother taught her to walk again.
It’s our prayer that like our mother, our lives would be marked by the often slow and laborious walk of faithfulness, service, humility and love—a life that Jesus first walked, and passed down to us. Though she never sought affirmation or applause for her service, this Mother’s Day, we rise up and call her “blessed” (Prov. 31).