Years ago when I lived somewhere else and was gainfully employed at our local university, I was at a “Support Staff” meeting where employee labels were being discussed.
There were “Faculty”, who were pretty much the stars of the show. (oh yes, just ask them!)
There were “Administrators” with power to hire, fire and make big decisions. They went to lots of meetings.
And there were “Support Staff”… you know, the ones who cook, clean, maintain, repair, pay bills, punch data (sometimes literally) into computers and prepare reports to be taken to the meetings.
Some thought the support staff label offensive. Some thought the word “staff” sounded like an infection. I personally didn’t care what they called me as long as there was a paycheck at the end of the month with my name on it. (actually, most everyone who worked there didn’t care about labels either… a great crew no matter the label.) (and I had to say that in case anyone I know back then is reading this!)
What I believe is we are all support staff… if you’ve ever loved someone, or been given the grace to serve a difficult person. And I don’t think there’s anything remotely offensive in the label.
In a marriage, when one has temporarily lost her mind and he holds steady until she comes to her senses… that’s being a classic support staff person. And of course, it flips the other way. Or it should.
When you raise a child, they run into mess after mess. You clean things up and teach them better. Then before you know it they run out the front door and into a life of their own. You hope you taught them enough. But when things are difficult (and they will be) you’re still there to encourage. Support.
If you care for an aging parent, you take them where they need to go, make sure they have their pills, listen to their stories and watch in frustration as their abilities evaporate and memories fade. But that doesn’t always feel like support. It feels more like helpless.
Mom has wanted to go out for dinner for quite a while now. So this week I took them to a tiny diner in our tiny town. We got there about 4:30 p.m. so there wouldn’t be a crowd. (It’s not likely you’ll find a crowd in a town of 630, but you never know.)
Dad has forgotten so much that he couldn’t think how to bend his body to fit into my car. At the restaurant you could see his discomfort at being in a space he wasn’t familiar with, handling a plate and fork he had never used before. He struggled with his fork and knife like a toddler and eventually stopped eating in frustration. I spent more time waiting outside the men’s room for him than I did in our booth. We all left exhausted.
I stopped at the little market and bought him ice cream bars.
And later I wrote in my journal – – how do I keep step on this slow walk to death and still fully live? I felt selfish when I wrote it. And forgiven at the same time.
I got the distinct impression it wasn’t my walk to take. But more on that in a minute.
Two weeks ago Doug and I were on the other side of the USA at our son’s army retirement. We were there to honor his 21 years of service, yet he was the one bearing gifts.
David gave me a wooden box, inscribed with his words. Inside, a rose. A steel rose. Beautiful… and quite possibly lethal should I ever need to defend myself! Seriously though, I love it.
A rose of steel.
Through all of David’s deployments… and his younger brother’s, I lived fully. I went to work, I went to church, I hosted holiday dinners, I took my grandson to the park.
When talk of labels made me crazy and I wanted to tell them that people are lobbing bombs and bullets at my boys and I didn’t care about their stupid labels, I kept quiet. I did my job. Then I went home to bake cookies. Because nothing says love from home like a box of stale cookies that have crumbled to bits by the time they make it to the desert. No. Nothing at all.
And the truth is no one but Jesus could walk beside my sons when they were in harms way, anyway.
And no one but He can walk with my father now.
The God who spoke my father’s life into being, the God who knew I needed a dad just like him, will be the one to open Heaven’s door when the time is right. And I don’t need to worry one bit about it.
It’s my job to make the coffee, mind the meds, run the errands. Be support staff with a smile. And to live fully, in this moment, the life I’ve been given.
Last night as I finished dinner prep, Dad mentioned his cousin had stopped by.
“Really, Dad? Your cousin was here?”
“Yes. We had a good lunch.”
Dad’s cousin – the one who served in Europe during WWII – the one who saw Dad’s name on a casualty list and frantically searched until he found him at a troop hospital in France – the one who died about ten years ago.
“Well then, you must have had a great day, Dad.”
“Yes. I did.” he smiled.
Then we sat down to dinner. At the familiar table. With his familiar plate and fork.
He ate every bite.