Three Women, Three Legacies
I enter Flora’s house and find it dark just as if no one is home. In the pink winged-back chair sits a woman of 90. The shades are all closed, as usual, though it is a beautiful spring afternoon in California. Her voice is without effect, low and halting, her eyes looking downward at the variegated brown rug that has been there since the 1970’s.
Flora’s conversation is a litany of her physical and emotional pain. Her complaints vary little from month to month. Unable to talk to me, she talks at me. She is ready to die, she says plainly. She has outlived her 10 siblings and all of her friends and both of her children. Her grandchildren find it challenging to connect with her because of her decades-long depression. Her propensity to criticize has kept her from forming close relationships with anyone. She has had no interests in life, no passion for any cause, no purpose to live for. She used to crochet and garden but can no longer move her body to accomplish these tasks. She spent 70 years trying to survive and at least 20 wishing she wouldn’t. As I leave my brief visit with her I have a heavy heart and lift up a prayer yet again to her Maker for this sad woman to find Life.
For most of the 98 years that Flora lived, she was barely alive. Her critical spirit and resistance to love kept her from attaching to God and to those who loved her. In her inability to give life to others, she pushed away a multitude of good gifts that were hers to receive.**
Melva was the matriarch of the farm. I first met her when my daughters were in the Awana program that she was a volunteer in for decades. Always ready with a smile and word of encouragement, I knew she was a jewel worth knowing.
At 75 she told me of her deep desire to go through the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises. Someday, she said, she was going to do it. And at 78 she did. This year, at 79, she was doing the second year called the Principle and Foundation, with me. We have been challenged all year to let God have His way in our lives- to find what brings us life and lean into it with all our might. This includes letting go of anything that would hold us back from receiving all of God and giving Him all of ourselves in return. It involves detaching from all things mortal so that we can become fully attached to the Giver of Life.
When I went up the farm I loved to visit with Melva. She lit up as she told me about the latest adventures of her grandchildren. Her heart for her family was deep and strong. She shared the history of the farm with me one day, talking about the transition from living in the Bay Area to becoming a farm mom. The joy she found in the land was the overflow from her love for its Creator. And so too, her heart of service to many people.
After she got the diagnosis that the very disease that her grandson had battled victoriously as a child was going to end her life, her eyes sparkled with joy. She held the hands of her longtime friend and pastor and said that she was really living the Principle and Foundation. She was now to let go of all that kept her from being fully present with her God.Melva and I were both part of a small prayer group for a while. Her dedication to come early to church each week belied her years. During the school year, Melva was in the kitchen each Sunday morning before the service, cooking lunch for the college student ministry. When she wasn’t cooking, she was praying with us. My guess, knowing Melva, is that she was praying while she was cooking, too. Melva’s prayers were wise, like her thoughts. 70+ years of praying and following hard after Yeshua is bound to bring some wisdom and hers just leaked out even when she tried to hold it in.
Melva was loved by those who knew her. She was a jewel that shone with the brilliant light of her Beloved’s life. And now that jewel rests in His very crown.
The petite 82 year old woman enters the room of Spiritual Direction Institute grads with sparkly hat and sunglasses and 3 others follow her in. She stands in the center of the room, eyes afire with mischief. Snapping out the rhythm, she leads the others and begins the song and dance. The little nun begins the rap, bouncing up and down and smiling like this is the first time she’s ever done it.
Mary Ann, founder of the training program and Spiritual Directors International, changed the world in her 84 years. She had a vision and her vision brought feet to what is now an international movement to bring life to millions through training and supporting spiritual directors around the world. Her love for God and people leaked out until her last breath. During her illness that launched her into Yeshua’s arms she wanted to insure that her caretakers were being taken care of.
Three women. Three lives. Three legacies created. Two sowed blessing in others and one sowed grief.
What was the difference? Why did one barely survive and the other two thrive? Did the two thrivers have great childhoods and easy lives? Was it all about what life served them? Were they just lucky?
No, those two had as many challenges as the third. What was different was the way they approached the suffering they had been dealt. In the midst of our pain, what choices are we going to make? The answer will determine not only the quality of our lives, but the legacy we leave for our families for many generations. What legacy do you want to leave? Let’s be intentional about it, beloved.
**Flora’s story has a surprise ending! After 40 years of her granddaughters’ prayers, she surrendered her life to the One who created her. In the last 18 months of her life, Flora learned how to smile, how to say please and thank you, how to give and receive hugs and kisses, and how to say “I love you.” After 96 years of resisting the God of the universe, she stepped down from the throne of her own life and let Him in. After more than nine decades of life spent in depression, fear, and anger, she stepped into an eternity of peace and love. When she passed, her granddaughters rejoiced knowing that Flora is now filled with His joy. One of them saw a vision of Flora at 17 in her wedding dress running into Yeshua’s arms and dancing with Him. Truly it is never too late to change! God is good.