Mother Antonia’s Great Adventure

Grandma Chinn probably had Alzheimer’s. But we didn’t have a name for it in those days. Her mental and behavioral quirks were just…Grandma. We knew her, not a disease. After a visit with her we said things like, “Bless her heart, she’s a little confused today.”

By the time my father became afflicted with Alzheimer’s, we knew a whole lot about it. In fact, I grew to despise my knowledge of that disease. I found it too easy to relate to Alzheimer’s, not to Dad.

The Bible says that knowledge “puffs up.” Sure does. Knowledge is like vodka; a little of it gives me the swagger and bluster to announce judgments about things far above me, things that are simply none of my business and not within my capacity.

That must be what gives us the arrogance to believe that we can classify human lives as “tragic, good, cut short, blessed, cursed, troubled,” etc. Those are very audacious pronouncements. And our “helping professions” are worse. They use terribly insulting language in their catalogs…defects, deformities, disfigurement, malformed, etc. Malformed? Disfigured? According to whom?

Surely I am not the only one who hears the phrase “vegetative state” as grossly dehumanizing. How did civilized people ever allow an old school yard slur – “Vegetable!” – to enter the lexicon of medical language?

Sounds like knowledge might puff up.

A better perspective comes from David, the Psalmist. He wrote of God, “Even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee.” (Psalm 139:12)

Maybe a life is a life. Maybe lives of one hour or those lived with severe spinal injuries are as beautiful and blessed as ones lived in great health, luxury, and longevity. Is it possible that God sees them alike and grants the grace to live there? Perhaps life needs to be lived straight ahead, without comparison to others and without the imposition of human designs or alterations.

Mary Clarke grew up in the wealth and splendor of Beverly Hills. She was a socialite and had closets of fine clothes. Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and Dinah Shore were her neighbors. Mary lived a typical Southern California life; she was a member of the Beverly Hills Country Club and she married and divorced twice.

When she was 50, she gave away all her possessions, became a Roman Catholic nun and moved into – into, not near – a notorious Tijuana prison. As Mother Antonia, she lived in the same conditions as the prisoners; her home was a 10’ by 10’ cell (which she painted pink) and she ate what they ate. She lived in that cell for the last 36 years of her life (she died in October 2013).

In 1994, when a full-scale riot broke out, the 5-foot-2 Mother Antonia walked through a blizzard of bullets, her face aglow. Eyewitnesses said she never stopped smiling. Armed only with love, she saw the riot come to a peaceful end. Prison was to her what a basketball court was to Michael Jordan. The zone.

She once said, “Happiness does not depend on where you are. I live in prison. And I have not had a day of depression in 25 years.” Incredibly, this woman moved into the darkness and found that it became as bright as the day.

Do you think that Mother Antonia’s great sense of adventure could turn Alzheimer’s or quadriplegia or even death into a brightly lit ballroom?

If God sees darkness and light the same, maybe we can too. I know many people who have lived “a hard life.” And I know it’s not easy. But I’ve also seen them put that life on, like a new tuxedo or evening gown, trusting God to bless it, fill it up, and turn it into a grand ballroom waltz.

13 thoughts on “Mother Antonia’s Great Adventure”

  1. Thank you Ed for jerking the chain on my collar, forcing me to stop running and look in a different direction, consider a different vantage point, and take notice of where I am instead of running toward what ever simply MIGHT look better in front of me.
    Today I can honestly say since this life threatening ruptured brain aneurysm experience and ongoing recovery, I am a better person, more balanced, more in love with God and my precious Lord and Savior Jesus, more appreciative & honoring of people and life. I still have a long way to go, however I am free to say I am a blessed child of God.
    Again thank you Ed, for helping us all adjust.

  2. Thanks Ed for helping us balance the view of what is important in our lives. Your message has caused us to see life in a different way. Keep you inspiring mind and gifted pen reminding us of who we are under all conditions.

  3. Ed, that was BEAUTIFUL! I’m going to print it out and return to it till it’s etched in my brain. 🙂

  4. I often wonder how “differently-abled” lives are blessed and we are not privy to those personal gifts God bestows on those with less than typical life circumstances. I watch my daughter with autism and wonder if she hears God’s voice, sees His angels or catches glimpses of heaven when she appears so happy and at peace with her own thoughts. I question whether my prayers for “healing” may take away something beautiful she has with our Savior. He’s good, and He promises to make all things good to those of us who love Him. So when my prayers don’t seem to be answered in completeness I rest on His promises and entertain my guesses of His goodness.

  5. Rod Shimabukuro

    It’s been too long since I’ve taken a drink at your pub. I’m satisfied in soul, refreshed, inspired and changed in heart! Thank you Ed! While I haven’t been in touch, my life is better…my heart enlightened through your life, conviction and counsel. I’ve accepted “my darkness” and have experienced God’s light in the process. Aloha from the beautiful island of Oahu!

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