I want to tell you about three people that changed my life. Before I introduce them to you I should probably set some context. My wife works at a nursing home as a speech pathologist. It is a job that really makes a difference in peoples lives but it can really take its toll on you. I call it death row. I will show up to bring Britty (that’s what I call my wife) some lunch or bring the kids by so they can see their momma for a few minutes and you see them all lined up in the hallways. These are people waiting to die. I wished that this isn’t how I see it but when you walk through the halls and you see the zombie like stares, the vacant expressions, you can’t help but see it any other way.
If there is one thing about American culture that I truly loath it is this. It is how we treat our elderly. They become discarded like dirty diapers that can be rolled up and discarded. I guess this is one of the ailments of living in a youth obsessed and consumeristic culture.
What I want to share with you is how I met three people in my wife’s nursing facility that changed my life and I hope that they change your life too. Listening to their stories and watching them live out the last of their days had a powerful impact on me and I hope it will inspire you too.
The first resident that I want to introduce you to is Millie. Millie was 86 when I first met her and she had a zest for living that honestly I wished I had sometimes. There is something about having time to contemplate things, to look over your life and reflect. Maybe Millie wasn’t’ always like this but today she convicts me to my core. Millie was an inspiration to me.
Millie grew up in a time where she lived through one world war, Vietnam and multiple recessions. She is as tough as you get. I can sit and listen to her tell her stories in a way that sounds like I am being read a book. The details are what amazes me. Millie can remember details that would rival the sharpest of memories. I cannot remember what I ate yesterday much less retrieving experiences like her with such clarity and attention to detail.
Millie’s story is a good one. She grew up in Tulsa, OK most all of her life and she loved her family. However, her family can be a bit more complicated that maybe yours or mine. Millie is a life long lesbian. Millie has had to live her entire life hiding a large portion of who she is, and whom she loves. Millie had a partner of over 40 years and I am sure that those that knew her best understood her lifestyle but she grew up in a time that is much different than today.
Millie is one of the most direct people that I know. You always get the honest answer and you always know where you stand with her. No pretentious airs about her and she smiles a lot. Millie has learned to tolerate people and their small minds most all of her life. Now I am pretty sure that she never flaunted her lifestyle in others faces but I am also pretty sure that she learned to be tough and direct because of her sexuality.
In Millie’s room she had pictures of her woodworking shop. She loved to tinker with wood and she always had a project that she was working on. When I think about it there was nothing cliché about her as a women. Growing up in a time like Millie’s meant that you got married, had children and you stayed at home to take care of the daily functions of a home. Millie’s life was wildly different than the norm. She never married, worked with her hands and built things. Because of this there is a very practical side to Millie. She sees life in very practical terms. I guess you have to when your entire lifestyle, work life and home life are so different than the vast majority.
There are a few questions that I always ask people that have lived as long as Millie. These questions give us a bird’s eye view of how they experience the world. If you were to look back over Millie’s life you might assume that she would be a little bitter. I mean why wouldn’t you be if you had to deal with being gay, having to hide the love of your life from the world? I would be a little bitter because I would constantly think “why me”. “Why would I have to be a woman that loved another women”? I would probably also be a little bitter because of my love for tinkering with wood and tools, and having men mock me because that was “a man’s job”.
I would also probably be a little bitter because I would attend church all of my life, like Millie, trying to love God and serve man but knowing behind my back I was being mocked by “Christians” because I was gay, although she never came out and said it, owned publically this part of her life, I would always feel like an outsider. But not Millie! She has a way of being comfortable in her skin and loving herself that quiet honestly is convicting to me. I wished I loved myself as much as she did. I wished that I had the guts to live out my life in a manner that was authentic and true. Millie was just Millie. Millie also volunteered at Hillcrest Hospital for 30 years! Stack your volunteerism next to that and see how it looks.
This is where Millie has inspired me and she should inspire you too. Millie lives life to the fullest everyday. Although she is at the end of her life she does not feel sorry for herself. She has outlived her partner and she sits alone in a nursing facility. No young daughters or sons to take care of her, visit her or love on her. Millie is all alone but she is not alone on the inside. On the inside you can see that she loves God and is loved by God. You can see that she has embraced herself when many others would not. I can say that I love Millie. I respect Millie. Quiet honestly, I wished I were more like Millie.
So as you get caught in your busy lives, raising kids, working for a paycheck or going to church, think of Millie. There are Millie’s all around you and I. They are desperately looking for someone to love them and for them to love. Why do we have categorize people by their color, age or sexual preference? Did Jesus do that? Did Jesus love Millie less than us or is it that we love ourselves less than she did? I am inspired to live my life with no regrets because of Millie. I am inspired to be honest with others and myself because of knowing Millie.
What part of yourself are you hiding from today? What part of yourself are you ashamed of? Is there a part of you that you think is unlovable? I think we can all look to Millie and see that when you live life like a big sloppy wet kiss and embrace all of who you are, Jesus is standing right there. Jesus embraced all of us, even the dark places. The places that no one or only a select few know about. I am pretty sure that Jesus wants us to do the same. Love recklessly. Love passionately. Love ourselves and loving others with no strings attached. No labels. No agendas.
Love liberally today. Love like Jesus did!
Till next time,