There is an old African proverb which says, “the mother feeds the baby when it has no teeth so that the baby will someday feed the mother when she has no teeth.” The truth of that proverb came home to me powerfully this week when my 84 year old mother fell and broke her hip.
To get the full impact of this you have to know something of my mother. She is the most active 84 year old I have ever known. For example, about a year ago I went down to Atlanta to visit her. I couldn’t find her anywhere in the house. A quick check of the garage revealed the car still in its spot, so she had to be somewhere at home. I finally found her at the back of the house on top of a ladder cleaning leaves out of the gutter. I told her she might be a bit old to be carrying ladders around and cleaning gutters. She looked at me with incredulity that I would even raise the question.
She still holds the record for the oldest person to ever ride down Arvid Metcalf’s famous “zip line” here in Wilmore. She did that the week of my inauguration in 2009. Her house is famous in the circle of her friends for being a “better homes and gardens” type house. If you don’t know what that means, you’re probably under thirty years old. It means that her lawn is always immaculate with beautiful flowers and well trimmed bushes. Her house is so well appointed we could almost open up tours to show it to the public. It is such a picture of beauty. Whether it is the porcelain figurines on the mantle, beautifully filigreed frames on the wall or dainty lace carefully placed beneath every lamp, she has mastered the art of home presentation. All this happens because of my mother’s hard, daily work and commitment to excellence.
Whenever I come to Atlanta she always gives me a list of chores to do (just like old times). Now that I am President of Asbury, my schedule has kept me from always attending to this list as quickly as I once did. One of the items was a large tree in the backyard which needed to be taken down. Before I could arrange to come down I learned that she had taken the tree down herself. In amazement I asked how she did it (she doesn’t own a chain saw – at least not yet). She had taken a hand saw and sawed ten to twenty strokes each day for two months, finally bringing the tree down. This is a small snapshot of my mother. The idea that she is “old” has not yet crossed her mind. She knows how to make things happen and makes sure it happens with beauty, grace and excellence.
So, here I was this week, along with my two brothers taking care of my mother. I helped her to eat (remember the African proverb) and watched as she lay there unable to move. Within 24 hours of the operation she took her first step and now, several days later, she is walking with the aid of a walker. She is headed for two weeks of intensive physical and occupational therapy so, to use her phrase, “I can get back home where I belong.” The physical therapy people have been amazed at her strength – both physically and her inner drive – to get back to her former capacities. For my mother, her physical challenges are also causing her to trust in the Lord in ever deepening ways. Her faith in Christ has always been central to her identity. Indeed, everything she does she sees as an expression of her faith in Christ.
There are two kinds of age. There is outer age and there is inner age. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:16 that although our outward bodies are wasting away, our inner life is being renewed day by day. My mother may be getting old on the outside, but her inner life is vibrant and determined. I am now 52 years old, but my mother is still teaching me how to live in every season of life. She is teaching me how to live with determination and vigor. She is teaching me the meaning of the phrase, “never give up” and the beauty of spiritual growth in every season of life.
The doctor came in on Friday and gave her the good news that she was ready for rehab, but that “her ladder climbing days were over.” She gave him a little scowl. I don’t think she should ever get on a ladder again, or travel down zip lines. But I admire her capacity to embrace life, and she knows that whether in this life or in the one to come, there will be ladders to climb, work to be done, and glory to be revealed.