I’m not sure how many Sundays went by before I first noticed that the main entryway has become my mother’s self-assigned station at the church on Sunday mornings. It is the ordinary place she makes holy by sharing the gifts she offers: an open door, an engaging smile, and a warm welcome.
When I finally noticed that this was a weekly ritual for her, I began one of my own. I would find myself looking for her coat or gloves resting on the bench in the entryway where she would leave them during Sunday School. I realized that they were signs indicating that she would return to take her rightful place at the door at about 10:05 on Sunday morning. And there she would stay until worship began.
Only I wasn’t her most enthusiastic supporter; I was her greatest critic. I spent weeks reminding her of things she apparently had failed to notice:
“That door’s too heavy for you, Mom.”
“It’s too cold out today, Mom.”
“Mom, don’t you know how hot it is today?”
I even played the most powerful card I held.
“Mom, that door could knock you over and you could fall and break something!”
I can only assume that she rejected my instructions in some form of parental payback for the years I spent ignoring her words of wisdom to me. As she would be quick to tell you when I act up today, “He was raised better than that.” And I could say the same about her.
Immune to my protests, she remains at that door. Sunday by Sunday, she offers what is hers to share, and in so doing she stands as a visible sign of welcome and embrace.
Mary Oliver wrote a poem called “Ice” in which the speaker’s father spends his days making ice-grips for shoes out of old inner tubes and scrap metal. Oliver describes how the father had made and shared these gifts with abandon. Countless neighbors and friends and family members had more pairs than would ever be needed. But, Oliver tells us, they kept on receiving what he had to offer:
No one refused him,
For plainly the giving was an asking,
A petition to be welcomed and useful–
My mother has spent her life giving. Her heart has always been and always will be turned toward others. And there has never been a doubt as to her being welcomed and useful.
Until…well until the realities of aging have forced her to realize that she can no longer do what she would give anything to do. And my well-intentioned warnings must sound to her ears like a damning confirmation that she can no longer be who she is by doing what she does.
But protests aside, I never saw her that way, even until now, which is why I was so slow to recognize in her what Oliver names in her poem. Her giving has become an asking–an asking about her deepest sense of purpose and value and worth.
If that’s what she’s asking by her giving, I will keep on receiving her gifts and answering until the truth beats in rhythm with her heart: She is welcomed. She is useful. She is loved.
I don’t know how much longer she will be at her post.
But I will see her there for the rest of my life, if not hers.