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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!
Don’t waste the food! Don’t waste the oil pastels and the good watercolors! Don’t waste the expensive fabric, the nice paper, the good wine! Above all, don’t waste time playing, chatting resting! Have you ever thought about the paradox of forming the highest things?
To learn to turn ideas into works of art, we must indulge a bit – not recklessly, but with some daring – in wasting art supplies. Give a kid the kind of art supplies you don’t care if he wastes, and I’ll bet they’re also not satisfying to use, either. Interest will wane. To learn to cook, we need to take some risks with foods.
No skill at words is acquired without long practice tossing away and rewriting ‘wasted’ words. No friendship is strengthened without great ‘waste’ of time together. No love is proved by other than life poured out in service. To turn feasts into practice for the Eucharist, we need to taste the finest wine (Note: the ‘finest wine’ I’ve ever been able to afford cost $26 a bottle, but it’s the thought that counts, and paisano is great for most meals. As fans of Rumpole, we call ours ‘Chateau Kaw Embankment’!)
We must learn to value and to give what is of highest value. There’s the paradox. Only a child can give, or use up, or waste with complete abandon, and only an adult can rightly value things. It is the work of growing up to become able to bear the tension of doing both. To give without knowing the value does nothing to honor the recipient, and to value without giving communicates no actual good.
A priest once counseled that if time is our greatest asset, the best gift we can give Him is to waste it. Since I write and speak about Holy Leisure, this was great reinforcement! Sabbath rest is all about learning to be, to be acted upon, to be whole and offer that wholeness to Christ. It can be very, very hard in our goal-oriented, product-producing, efficiency-loving culture to let go and give God some simple leisure time. Even our Christian culture tends toward purpose-driven lives and accomplishing great things for God.
I hope you’ll learn to waste boldly where the great thing being accomplished is YOU!