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Monteen, from the French for ‘mountain’. That’s my mom – a tower of strength to all who knew her, but barely over five feet tall. Her mother shaped her life much differently than she, in her turn, shaped the lives of two daughters. A dark, and mentally unstable woman with a brooding, sometimes violent ill will toward Monteen, Grandmother was no model of nurture and compassion. Yet, my mother dedicated her life to understanding and helping the mentally ill. Instead of hardening her heart, she was moved to give the kind of help her mother had so desperately needed.
Supported by a deeply loving father, she poured herself into her studies and then into her work. She gave herself to patients and to students with remarkable energy and effectiveness. It often took great courage for this little mountain to stand up to violent patients with psychotic strength: drug addicts threatening to kill the next person who walked into the room; confused and deluded people who might take a nurse for a hated enemy, or an attempt to help as a threat against their lives. Even to go to work sometimes was to take risks on their behalf in gang-infested, high crime neighborhoods.
But who would there be to bring help to such needy ones if not for those, like her, with servant hearts, a sense of the dignity and worth of those so difficult to love, and a vision of hope for their wholeness? Such people as my mother follow the example of Christ, who brought light into the darkness and set captives free.
Until her death, she continued her ministry of shedding the light of understanding on the problems people face in difficult relationships and in the challenges of aging. Always teaching, part of her mandate from heaven must certainly have been to multiply herself and the value of her experience a thousand-fold. She took her message, “Don’t be afraid to get well!” seriously – allowing God to cleanse and heal her own deep wounds, and becoming over the years more and more beautiful to all those who loved her.
Monteen took, as her life’s promise, the Scripture verse Romans 8:28 : “We know that all things work together for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. (NRSV)” By the time she died, she still was no saint, but she left me and my children a beautiful example of courage and faith in the face of death. Even in death, she’s a ‘little mountain’ to me now, giving me courage to “Take a risk!” and “Give it all you’ve got.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all the little mountains in all the families I love!