Somewhere in the mountains of Northern California, a winding dirt road meandered its way down to a sacred space in the small valley floor and welcomed all of us who came to camp, to sing, and to be a part of each other and the beauty of Mother Nature. This was a yearly summer pilgrimage. The camp was encircled by Mother Nature. The mountains gently shaped the flow of the river that found its path through the valley floor where we camped, sang and listened to “stories” of God’s love.
As a young teenager, it was crystal clear to me that this beauty of blue sky, river, singing, night sky, pine aroma, stars, sun rising and going slowly down was a clear manifestation of God’s beauty and love. This knowledge came through my ears, eyes, nose, skin, inner feelings. Fullness and gratitude were constant companions there, and now, as I write this.
My earthly Mother taught me a similar truth about the senses: “Don’t make up your mind about who someone is until you know them. Give them a chance to show you who they are.”
My mother, a pastor’s wife and a minister in her right, was a gentle, playful, creative, funny woman who quietly influenced all who stopped to interact with her. I remember the Sunday a man and his Japanese wife first came to our church. She was among the women prejudicially known in California as a “Japanese War Bride” — very meek and quiet. My Mom went to greet this woman, gently held out her hand, and the Japanese woman put her hand in my mother’s. I heard my mother softly say, “You are welcome here.” This woman continued to come to our church and invited friends—also Japanese “war brides.” At first, these women were quiet, shy and watchful, but a few months after my mom started a Sunday School class just for them, they became the loudest class in the building, causing all of us to smile and want to get to know them.
Another example of how my mother could see, hear and understand people was her relationship with a woman named Margaret who had severe cerebral palsy. People in church would smile at Margaret but didn’t understand her well enough to talk with her. Whenever I saw my mom talking and listening to Margaret, I hurried over to stand by them and listen. As time went on, I learned to understand Margaret’s words. Slowly, other people in the congregation began to talk with Margaret as well.
We moved to another church in Southern California when I was 14 years old. On Sundays there, I found myself totally immersed in a large group of deaf people who were watching a sign language interpreter. I was electrified by their participation and understanding in a service they could not hear. My fascination with this different form of communication led to a close friendship with the interpreter, and I eventually became a sign language interpreter myself. This new language changed drastically how my brain worked, and how I see differently-abled people as being whole and approachable. As I had already learned from my mother’s openness and caring, people can always be understood, with love and intention.
Thank you, mom, for the deep gifts of what you knew in your heart. I am blessed.