Because She Cared

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world; for indeed, that’s all who ever have.”- Margaret Mead

The writing I do is largely about my vision of how attentive care impacts within the school system. Yet in my awareness of care that I ascribe to, I truly believe care is fundamental to everything I do. If I care as a teacher, I will care as a human being in all the capacities in which I serve. I write so as to give example to a more innovative way of perceiving care as the foundation to living and learning. It has been my utmost desire to live my life according to these principles.

I wish to share with you a story, and it is a tender one for me to tell. It is a story about my grandmother and her selfless life of service. Her gift of caring for others is the legacy she leaves to me, her granddaughter. She was once a student herself, a young scholar sitting daily in a one-room schoolhouse. Perhaps there was a teacher at some point in her life who was the guiding light leading her forward. Whether this is the situation or not (I cannot ask, as she has already passed from this life to the next), she has been for me a beacon of hope. She has lived out her faith based on the following biblical principle: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (NIV, 1Cor. 10: 24). Here is her story.

Born on October 3, 1920, in Cody’s New Brunswick, she was one of fourteen children. But rather than fade into the background, a face amidst the throng, she made a name for herself as being a favorite sister. A confidant, friend and caregiver. A kind soul. That care-giving would come in handy later on as she went on to be a nanny, most famously for the movie star Donald Sutherland. This experience (along with a photograph of her famous client) was her sole claim to fame. But certainly her most meaningful care-giving was saved for her own three children, one of whom—a son, was born with Down Syndrome. Little did she realize, her widespread commitment to care-giving had only just begun with tiny Eldon Berry’s birth in 1956.

For on a cold December day, thirty-six years into her vibrant life, my eight-months pregnant Aunt Jeannie— my grandmother’s oldest daughter, was driving home from her day job as a civil servant with the Government of Canada where she worked with Indian Affairs. It was a clear evening, but snow lay on the ground. She had a little economy car and visibility was quite possibly low. The doctor said later if she had have moved her head an inch to the right she would have avoided that truck’s plow which smashed through her windshield, slicing cleanly through her skull and brain. That inch— it wasn’t meant to be. Neither for her, nor for her baby. And from that moment thirty two and a half years ago, (a time when Jeannie was just about the age I am now), until she finally left this life, my aunt lived the life of an invalid. Unmoving, un-speaking, unable. She was robbed of everything save the compassionate care she would live to receive throughout the remaining days of her life.

Her primary caregiver, my grandmother, gave her life in service to my aunt’s care. She spent thirty-one years daily making trips to the various establishments (hospitals, manors, long-term care facilities) where my aunt was located over the duration of her illness. My Grammie spent thirty-one years holding her daughter’s hand, stroking her hair, wiping the crumbs from her face. Spent thirty-one years advocating for her—both within the various medical establishments and beyond. Spent thirty-one years acting as her accountant, conducting her financial business up until the age of eighty-nine years old. She spent thirty-one years of her life solely dedicated to her daughter’s well-being. My aunt received the best care of anyone in the province of New Brunswick, I am sure of it, and there are several experts to vouch for this fact. After thirty-one years of living her life shut up inside a building—living life shut up inside her head, my aunt’s body released her spirit and let it sail home. Less than one year later, my grandmother said her own farewells to this life and she flew away to join her.

My grandmother is an inspiration to me. She is one of many, but she is certainly among those I consider most influential. She wasn’t perfect- far from that ideal. But she was admirable in her own way. I hold her in the highest esteem in terms of her ability to care for those needful ones in her life. I have watched her carry out her life’s work and calling from the time I was eight years old. We spent many a day as her grandchildren walking the sterile halls of silent manors, the reverie broken by a moan or a cry from one of the residents. We spent many hours bedside, watching our grandmother hover and fuss. And in watching this unfaltering champion of her own beloved child—an unsung hero during her time here on earth, I was given an example from one of the best after which to model my own life and practice.

The life of my grandmother is a shining example of Jean Vanier’s (1998) concept of ‘becoming human’, with regards to being a care-giver; perhaps she is one of the best I might ever find. For I believe in paying tribute to those who have gone on before, we are reminded anew of why we must continue to carry the torch onwards, until at last we ourselves reach the fading light of day. We care so as to carry on the legacy. We care because the future depends on this decision. We care because we must. We care. And this care is part of what it means to become human: to compassionately extend ourselves both for the benefit of our own personal growth as well as for the betterment of others. To care both for ourselves as well as for the world and its inhabitants therein is the mandate of our heart.

We See What We Want To See

We see what we want to see.
If we want to see the world in front of our eyes through a lens of hope, it’s ours to choose so.
If we wish to view the people in our world as worthy- deserving of respect and value, we can make that choice too.
If we desire to see the possibility in a situation, we have that ability.
If we would like see our neighbor for the good found within, that is a choice we can make.
If we are watching world events right now and the downward spiral that seems to make the news, we can choose to buy into this mode of thinking or stop the cycle from continuing.
We can see what we want to see.
We can.

I wake to an overcast morning. Grey clouds hang low. Rain threatens. We ease our way into the morning and have a late breakfast of toast, cereal and banana-and-yoghurt before walking to the end of the road and back. As we walk, this idea surfaces in our talk. This idea which involves the opening of our eyes to the world around us- to what is and what we choose to see, those things and people that share our world. That have an inherent value that lies within.

I look around me and notice the people. Notice the animals. Notice the world. I notice how easy it is to forget to notice.

Sometimes we refuse to see. That is our choice to make.
At these times, we end up seeing only what we want to see.

I am rushing through the grocery store. There are line-ups in every queue when I go to check out. I quickly slip into an opening, but see out of the corner of my eye a woman in her later years slowly moving towards my very spot. She leans heavily on the cart for support. I catch her eye and ask, “Was this spot one you were headed for?” She smiles. I move back quickly and offer her my place in the queue. As I am leaving for another check-out, I catch a woman behind me politely apologizing to another whom she has accidentally bumped. And at the cash, the shopper in front of me and the cashier exchange pleasantries while I stand back and wait.

And all the while, I am watching.

A grocery store is a place to see and notice. To watch people. For people buying groceries are usually also people with stories, lives, problems, issues, concerns, heartaches, troubles and joys. These people go about their lives and then randomly convene together in this place- a grocery store. Gathering food to feed their families, obtaining sustenance for life. And while they go about this task, people like me have the unique privilege of seeing these others. Seeing the person that lies within. And seeing the opportunity for compassion, opportunity for kindness. The potential to make a small difference in someone’s day.

Small things often make a big difference. And when we look for the best, we often see it.

We can see each other as obstacles. Or we can see one another as gifts.
And in each every-day, mundane place we find ourselves, in every aspect of life: there is opportunity.

Opportunity to see the beauty in humanity that lies within.
Opportunity to notice the best people have to offer.
Opportunity to see what is- not just what we want to see.

We See What We Want To See

We see what we want to see.
If we want to see the world in front of our eyes through a lens of hope, it’s ours to choose so.
If we wish to view the people in our world as worthy- deserving of respect and value, we can make that choice too.
If we desire to see the possibility in a situation, we have that ability.
If we would like see our neighbor for the good found within, that is a choice we can make.
If we are watching world events right now and the downward spiral that seems to make the news, we can choose to buy into this mode of thinking or stop the cycle from continuing.
We can see what we want to see.
We can.

I wake to an overcast day. Grey clouds hang low. Rain threatens. We ease our way into the morning and have a late breakfast of toast, cereal and banana-and-yoghurt before walking to the end of the road and back. As we walk, this idea surfaces in our talk. This idea which involves the opening of our eyes to the world around us- to what is and what we choose to see, those things and people that share our world. That have an inherent value that lies within.

I look around me and notice the people. Notice the animals. Notice the world. I notice how easy it is to forget to notice.

Sometimes we refuse to see. That is our choice to make.
At these times, we end up seeing only what we want to see.

I am rushing through the grocery store. There are line-ups in every queue when I go to check out. I quickly slip into an opening, but see out of the corner of my eye a woman in her later years slowly moving towards my very spot. She leans heavily on the cart for support. I catch her eye and ask, “Was this spot one you were headed for?” She smiles. I move back quickly and offer her my place in the queue. As I am leaving for another check-out, I catch a woman behind me politely apologizing to another whom she has accidentally bumped. And at the cash, the shopper in front of me and the cashier exchange pleasantries while I stand back and wait.

And all the while, I am watching.

A grocery store is a place to see and notice. To watch people. For people buying groceries are usually also people with stories, lives, problems, issues, concerns, heartaches, troubles and joys. These people go about their lives and then randomly convene together in this place- a grocery store. Gathering food to feed their families, obtaining sustenance for life. And while they go about this task, people like me have the unique privilege of seeing these others. Seeing the person that lies within. And seeing the opportunity for compassion, opportunity for kindness. The potential to make a small difference in someone’s day.

Small things often make a big difference. And when we look for the best, we often see it.

We can see each other as obstacles. Or we can see one another as gifts.
And in each every-day, mundane place we find ourselves, in every aspect of life: there is opportunity.

Opportunity to see the beauty in humanity that lies within.
Opportunity to notice the best people have to offer.
Opportunity to see what is- not just what we want to see.

Church and Christians…

Over and over again, a common theme is voiced to me about The Church.  That it is a place of hypocrisy, a magnet for legalists, the anti-thesis of true godliness.  And in ways I have to agree.  There have been several church groups and particular people in the congregations I have attended that would certainly reflect the above sentiments.  Indeed, I can say first-hand that in many ways, church is not all it was cracked-up to be.  After all, it is full of imperfect people on various paths of the Christian journey (or not, because let’s be serious, not everyone who darkens the church doors would call themselves a believer) and all the above are people who are in various stages of growth, maturity and understanding.  How could church be anything but imperfect?

But the problem is that church (The Church) has been held up to a high standard, and for good reason as it represents the Body of Christ.   And when the people that represent The True Church fall short, so too does the reputation of the church.  We are the only Jesus that some will ever see.  And at times, we are doing a poor job at making Him recognizable, I’m afraid.

Speaking personally, I have followed a roller-coaster ride of emotions over the years, which could only be described as a love-hate relationship with The Church.  There are times when disappointment is over-shadowed by mountain-top highs of grace in action.  And there are extreme lows when legalism, silly opinions not based on biblical fact and judgmental attitudes prevail.   When Christians had become my worst enemies.  And I had all but lost faith in people, especially those who call themselves Christ-followers.   I think one of the problems with all of this is that those of us who are tired of looking for true examples of Christians are really just frustrated that many Christians aren’t all they’ve been touted to be according to the standards set in the Bible.  And as far as Church goes, many people similarly frustrated with The Church are really just tired of pretending that this mess we see inside the four walls of the church is truly what church was intended to be.  We are tired of playing church.  Which seems like such a trivial, juvenile activity.  And when we tire of this activity, we do so because we crave deeper knowledge of what Church was intended to be, as Christ designed it.

I believe that the Church is the people.  And the people who make up the true church are believers.  Many believers are new to the faith.  These Christians are the most impressionable.  They are often the most excited about their faith.  They are often the most zealous.  Other believers are growing Christians.  They fall into many different categories: babes, toddlers, teens, mature.  A sign that these Christians are growing is that Jesus is evident in their life.  By their fruits (the good things that accompany Christians who show us what Jesus really looks like) we know them.  Then there are Christians who are not growing.  They fall into many categories as well: babes, toddlers, teens, young adults, old adults, immature.  A sign that these Christians are not growing, despite the fact that they might have been Christians for years and years and years is that Jesus is not evident in their life.  And I’m not talking about rule-following.  I am talking about EVIDENCE.  Grace. Compassion.  Mercy.  Love. Joy. Humility.  Peace.  Hope.  And all the other Fruit of the Spirit.  Gratitude.  And an abiding faith in people as bearing the direct imprint of God.

And so much more than this.   I barely scratch the surface.

The truth is.  The church, if it really was functioning the way God intended, would lead by example.  The strongest would lead the weakest even if it meant that babes would be leading the so-called senior citizens of the faith.  Sometimes grace appears to be travelling vertically.  People often talk about grace coming down, as if to say that the sinners on the bottom end of the continuum need grace from the saints at the top.  I say that the sinners everywhere along the continuum need to extend grace downwards, sideways, and yes-  even upwards to the people who think they need it the least.  The saints (even the judgemental ones) sometimes need grace, even as  they exhibit less than saintly behaviors like legalism, hypocrisy and unjustified conclusions about other Christians in the Church (and all because the behaviours of said latter group of people don’t line up with the former’s interpretation of the Bible.)   The Saints act and do these anti-godly things, causing the Church to reflect their incorrect interpretations of what they deem right or wrong because they have been led to believe that Church is a performance.  A list of rights and wrongs.  An act.  A show.

Which we know according to Jesus, it is not.

Those who love the Church know that church can never be a performance.   Because nothing we sinners can ever say or do will ever be enough to earn us God’s forgiveness.  To earn us heaven.  And we who know this can never live up to even the highest of standards and not somehow err somewhere along the way.  Love’s salvation is not a hard-earned prize, but a gift.  And we re-gift and offer up grace upon grace when we love people in spite of who they are.  Even if they think they are Saints.  When they are really just sinners like the rest of us.

Sinners know that they are completely undone apart from Christ’s mercy through the cross.  And we can love both Sinners and Saints even when either/or don’t yet know who they really are (lost without Christ) and who they can become when Christ is recognizable (the reflection of Christ).   And when sinners choose grace, forgiveness and love instead of bitterness, anger and resentment, they are able to  truly love the Church as Christ loves her.

As if she were His beautiful, ravishing bride.