My mind is on my mother, today. She was born Nov. 10, 1918. Today is the one hundred and oneth anniversary of her birth. She passed on Dec. 9, 2002, having reached her 84th birthday, one month before. She was a saint in my life, and in countless others. A saint is a person “set apart.” A person designated, anointed, and accepting a divine call to do. A saint answers and faithfully fulfills the call to be an instrument of love, peace, justice, well being, compassion upon this earth. A saint is anyone, who accepts their life and then lives it for the sake of the “others” they have been given.
In Holy Women, Holy Men, the pages are filled with little introductory bios of people who have passed before us, lived among their generation, their communities, their cultures, who were set apart to do the work of goodness, and faithfulness, and compassion in their day. People who challenged the dominant perspectives about education, gender, cultural norms, injustices, governments, conditions in which people lived and suffered or exploited… and with their one life they sowed seeds of change and blessing. Seeds that rarely emerged for them to see with their own eyes, but that were germinated and cultivated for the sake of the generations who followed.
My mother taught 2nd grade. She did it before and after bearing six children. When I entered 2nd grade, she returned to the classroom, the 2nd grade room following a ten plus year break. She loved her job. Her class room was the only place that was her dominion. Life would go according to her direction in the classroom. Everywhere else, others would make things complicated and hard. My father was good at that. As were my siblings and I. But not my mom, she brought peace, and kindness, and stability in my life and in the life of our family.
The school she taught at was in a lower socio-economic part of Bakersfield. In fact, she taught in the heart of where Buck Owens, Merle Haggard’s fame and empires emerged. Oildale. North of the River. A bastion of country music, bar fights, broken families, and hard work, but not so much high esteem for education. By the time my mom retired just shy of her 70th birthday, she had changed and inspired many children to consider their school years…important. There were many who entered her class room still unable to read much, but by the time they graduated into third grade, books were their friends instead of their embarrassment. She was old school.. She rarely took on the “next” and “improved” program passed down by administration, and fortunately she taught in the era where teachers were allowed their freedom to teach.
As my life progressed, often when people heard my last name they would ask, “are you related to Mrs. Lightsey, the school teacher at North Beardsley? When I said yes, they would say, she was my favorite teacher. I would hear it from teens, adults, and parents… she was my favorite teacher. I would respond, “Mine too.”
My mind isn’t only on my mom this morning. It is on Jack and Hazel Mapes, Richard and Phyllis Weeks, Edith Ritter, Jesse Radliff, Jim Holtson, Geof Godlove, on and on and on… we can embrace and remember and cherish who these people were in our life. How they lived and served and prayed and laughed and struggled and achieved with us. How they took care of one another and how they took care of us. How they were present with us and changed our life. Such influence. Such impact these people made…and continue to make for though their being with us has changed, their life with us has not ended. Their prayers and presence remain and emerge all around us in those whom they influenced and inspired.
The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Being mindful of the great cloud of witnesses who surround us… let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” We ran that race, once upon a time, with them running alongside us, right in front of us, or in plain view cheering us along. But now, they with us, not in sight, but in spirit, in heart, in soul, always present. Never absent. Their lives have left an indelible mark because they saints. People set apart who did the work of God in this world. The work of teaching, of serving, of loving, of being… because God is not the God of the dead but of the living.
All who have passed before us. All who have shared life, family, church, community… all is still theirs. This is still Jack’s church, my family is still my mom’s family. We are all inheritors of the life the saints have left for us. And they look to us, who carry the baton they passed, to continue the race with love, in faith, with hope and compassion, gentleness and perseverance, devotion and humility. So that those who receive the baton from us can give thanks for the saints in their life. Amen