This is the fourth article in our new 7-week series called “Her Story,” stories of ordinary women experiencing, overcoming, or choosing to do extraordinary things. This week’s story is from Shari Harris, who writes about her mother’s extraordinary ability to share the love of Christ with others, even when ALS robbed her of her ability to speak.
She had a quiet, unassuming way and a shy smile. And she had a spark for life that included a mischievous streak; she might unexpectedly play a prank on you when you least suspected it. She had a zest for life, strong faith, and deep love for her family. She touched many with her extraordinary life.
Report cards testify that my mom was a shy young girl. Her personality preferred the background; she never liked attention. Darlene grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, the middle daughter in a family of three children. She liked dolls and could play quietly with them endlessly.
Who might have guessed that as an adult her life would inspire so many? I suppose the same could be said for many great people – many, if not most, who come from humble beginnings.
Stricken with ALS* in her sixties, it must have been hard to be the person in the wheelchair being looked at, whether outright stares or the sideways glance by strangers in public. I’m not sure why our eyes seem to have a tendency to linger a few moments longer than they ought when we see an individual with an affliction – be it a body ravaged with ALS, such as the case with my mother, or a war veteran with an amputated leg or artificial limb – but it happens. The quiet young girl, though grown into a beautiful woman, still preferred not to be noticed in ordinary life; yet, the disease sometimes brought an unwanted spotlight.
My mom didn’t let a crippling disease stop her from going about living her life. Nor did she let the unwelcome attention teeter her off balance.
The first story I wrote about her was called My Mom My Hero. It was about her extraordinary way of affecting people and touching hearts, without being able to utter a word.
It was a Saturday afternoon in December when she wanted to go to an art show in Minneapolis. The disease had resigned her to a wheelchair and getting out while confined to the wheelchair (without being the motorized type or owning a wheelchair-accessible van) provided new challenges. And it was winter to boot. Typically we have snow in Minnesota in early December, and it was a typical winter.
When we arrived downtown, we weren’t able to find a close parking spot. When we got to the address we’d been looking for, we didn’t find wheelchair accessible ramps. My strong dad and husband had no trouble lifting my mom in her wheelchair to get her inside, only to be faced with yet another challenge: steps. It was an old building, with a hardware store on the first floor and the art show on the second. Upon inquiry, we discovered there was a cargo elevator we could use to transport us to the upper floor. That was an experience in itself, none of us having ridden in such an old contraption.
I don’t believe any of the obstacles dampened Mom’s spirit one ounce. My mom smiled and gave a “thumbs-up” signal to everyone along the way. She made friends with every person we encountered that day. She sported the leopard skin-designed hat she bought smartly. After being wheeled around the art show, making friends and purchases along the way, we enlisted help to get back downstairs on the cargo elevator. The young man from the hardware store was enchanted with the woman who could not speak a word, yet communicated love with the world. He was very complimentary as he sincerely thanked us for coming through the store that day. He was blessed and told us so. It was like that with my mom, she made people feel better for having encountered her, even if for the briefest of moments.
The light that came from her heart and her love for life could not be quenched, no matter what the crippling disease threw her way.
I remember how proud I felt as I pushed my mom, in her wheelchair, back out into the cold that day. It was that day that I realized what a hero she was to me – she exemplified living life as God calls us to – fully, no matter the circumstances.
My mother was undaunted by the many challenges of living with a terminal disease that slowly robbed her of the use of her body. She wouldn’t allow the disease to steal her zest for life or her love for her family. Her faith grew strong as her body grew weak.
Her story was one of courage, faith, love, and determination. My mom’s love for life and brave fight with illness inspired many. Some might say she was an ordinary woman, but I think she was extraordinary.
Have you discovered challenges in your life? God is with you. God is faithful. How can you choose to trust God in the midst of your current storms?
Psalm 91:1-2 says, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”
*Often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive, fatal neuromuscular disease that slowly robs the body of its ability to walk, speak, swallow and breathe. The life expectancy of a person with ALS averages two to five years from the time of diagnosis.
Every 90 minutes a person in this country is diagnosed with ALS and every 90 minutes another person will lose their battle against this disease. This crippling disease can strike anyone. Presently there is no known cause of the disease and no known cure.
To read other articles in our “Her Story” series, click on these titles: Seeing God in Loss by Judy Miller, The Best Lemonade Maker by Tabby Finton, and Full Circle by Carol Battista, and Rock Bottom Recovery by Kathy Banta