For a little over four years, I’ve been on an intimately intertwined journey of walking with my mother toward the end of life and hiking the hills and valleys of the future of The United Methodist Church.
These paths have been tightly woven. Mom entered the hospital two days before our first meeting of the Virginia Conference delegation to the 2016 General Conference. I left Roanoke Memorial Hospital after spending the night by her side to do my best to lead the delegation meeting. Two days later she would enter long-term care in Culpeper. The first bout of pneumonia followed in a few weeks.
I prayed constantly leading up to the General Conference in Portland in May 2016 that she would be healthy while I was away. She was, but things took a turn for the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference that July.
More bouts with pneumonia, congestive heart failure, times of oxygen deprived cognitive impairment from the heart and pulmonary fibrosis. Mom’s little body has been through a lot. We thought she was near death in August of last year after the second bout with pneumonia in 6-weeks. Yet she fought. By the start of this year and the Called General Conference session, I was back to praying constantly that she would be healthy during my time in St. Louis. She was.
This past Sunday, her health took a turn once again. Today as I sat by her bedside, she stirred very little after a difficult night. Her breathing is labored. Her skin extremely thin. Her heart that has beaten strong for almost 94 years is growing weaker. She can’t understand why all this is happening to her.
This is the heart that modeled for me that all people – without exception – are loved by God. This is the soul that encouraged me to use my gifts for work in the church. Now of course Mom was the one who always said her only gift was washing dishes and that’s why you could always find her in the church kitchen. What that taught me was that everybody has some gift to use toward bringing about God’s kingdom: every gift is important. It was her hands and feet that taught me how to visit the sick, feed the hungry and care for the broken-hearted. She embodied the Gospel message that I heard in church.
As my mother has been fighting to live for the last four years, my beloved church has been fighting over how to live out just what I stated above: that we are all loved by God, that we all have gifts for ministry and that we are the hands and feet of Christ in the ever changing world of today. Not only have I been losing the physical presence of my mother, I’ve been losing what is most deeply ingrained in my faith about what the church is supposed to be.
I can’t separate the two journeys. I am who I am because of my mother. I am also the person I am today because of The UMC.
This struggle brings me to tears, leaves me confused, makes me angry, causes me great pain – as a daughter and as a United Methodist Christian. One path on the journey will likely come to an end soon. What will happen with the other?
“After all our hopes and dreams
have come and gone,
and our children sift thru all
we’ve left behind,
may the clues that they discover,
and the mem’ries they uncover,
become the light that leads them,
to the road we each must find.
O may all who come behind us
find us faithful,
may the fire of our devotion
light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
lead them to believe,
and the lives we live
inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
find us faithful.”
– Find Us Faithful by Steve Green