During my studies at Phoenix Seminary I was a full-time graduate student, worked full-time on staff at a church and had a couple part-time jobs. It was a gloriously exhausting season of life. One of my part-time jobs was a cleaning business. A single newspaper ad stating that I had been “trained by meticulous Grandmothers” was all I needed to get plenty of calls.
On one particular Thursday in 1994 I drive to East Mesa to clean Mrs. Follett’s house. Whatever needs this dear 83-year old lady may have, my service doesn’t appear to be one of them. Her house is spotless when I arrive. Dust mice are an endangered species in her home. The Scandinavian prayer plaque hanging in the kitchen makes me feel welcome, like the kitchen of an Iowa farm wife which, it turns out, she happens to be.
Wiping off her counter, it seemed robbery to be paid for cleaning an already impeccable house. I mention this to her yet she insists she needs me. Mrs. Follett’s standard of clean is high indeed. She’s part of a vanishing breed. Midwestern farm wives with strong backs and strong values who came through the Depression, raising kids and cattle, sewing clothes, cooking meals, baking bread from scratch, working in the fields, and keeping a home.
I notice the wistful look on her face as she watches me. With a can of Lemon Pledge in hand I say, “This is hard for you, isn’t it?”
“Oh, my yes, it sure is. No one cleans my house like I do. But my arthritis keeps me from doing it so I need help. I just close my eyes and try not to look.”
She looks away for several seconds but can’t help opening one eye. “Don’t forget to dust the bottom of those chairs.”
Her husband of 63 years is dying in a nursing home nearby. He’s lost 20 pounds in the last couple weeks and will pass away any day. With unconvincing bravery she admits, “I know it’s coming. We’ve had a good life. But until the door closes for good, I won’t know how truly hard it will be.”
A drive toward Red Mountain takes me to my next job, a large brick-front home at the end of a cul-de-sac. There’s an Arizona Highway Patrol car in the driveway, obviously taking the day off along with it’s driver.
A forty something man with a thin mustache greets me. His wife is out running errands today, he says. Tomorrow she is scheduled for an MRI at the hospital. He seems relieved that at least for the next couple days she won’t have to endure any more painful invasive procedures, like spinal taps or chest catheters.
His lovely wife is dying of cancer.
The house is dusty. It gets dustier as her condition deteriorates. In the living room, open glass shelves on either side of the entertainment center are full of beautiful family photographs, mostly of their two children; one boy and one girl. Carefully cleaning each picture, I glance over at the man of the house busying himself in the kitchen. His tired face suggests the pewter framed smiles I hold in my hands haven’t been seen around here for a long time.
Back in the master bathroom, I notice a peach colored candle on the ledge. With that, I take extra time to wipe it off along with the rest of her decorative items around the tub, including a small wicker basket full of scented soaps, each shrink wrapped in plastic. A gift, I suppose, from a friend during one of her many hospital stays.
Christian radio and television reach hundreds of thousands and big name preachers address packed sanctuaries from behind ornate pulpits. Biblical scholars publish insightful commentaries. Who knows? Maybe I’d jump at the chance for such opportunities. Whatever our field, we dream of greatness and of positions of influence in large audiences. Certainly God calls each for His purposes regardless the size of the stage.
Yet in dreaming of the “someday when big things” we are wise not to miss doing the “here and now little things” that make a difference in the lives of others. Because it’s true. If we’re too big to do little things for God, then we’re too little to do big things for Him.
God calls each of us for His purposes. His purpose for me on this Thursday in 1994 is to polish Mrs. Follett’s kitchen cabinets to her satisfaction. And to make certain that when Mrs. Butler comes home exhausted from a day of being poked and jabbed by doctor’s needles, she can relax in a hot bath and watch the candlelight bounce softly off her squeaky clean knick-knacks.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
– Philippians 2:3-4
Todd A. Thompson – November 17, 2011