Thank you John Moeses Bauan for the amazing photo
Mrs. Bottgenbach never did bring up “Pro-life”. I was a 4th grader in her Primary Class. She was Sabbath School teacher at church for kids my age (similar to Sunday School). If pro-life was a phrase used in the late ’70s, I never heard it. She never mentioned abortion. Even though we were just kids, our ideas interested her. She never taught us a lesson on the importance of kids. Instead, that’s how she acted. We talked about all kinds of things in that class, and still, she never brought up euthanasia. I don’t remember her directly talking to us about racism, either. Or gender bias. And yet she somehow covered it all.
One year she created a Secret Grandparents program. She paired up us kids with the elderly members of church. We sent gifts and notes back and forth to each other without knowing who we were sending or receiving from. At the end the year, we had a banquet and found out who our secret grandparents were. She didn’t sit down and tell us ‘value people of all ages’. Instead, she taught us how to do it.
She created an after church Sunshine Band of which we were a part of. She would take us to the local nursing home, which was very difficult for a shy kid — to sing and bring joy to some of the most struggling members of the community. There was a lady named Gloria at that nursing home who frightened me. She was mentally disabled, was loud and had no boundaries. She would come right up to us kids and maybe hug or tug at us, or whatever she felt like at the moment. Mrs. Bottgenbach was so kind to her, including her in her life, taking her to church, inviting her along with whatever she was up to. Mrs. Bottgenbach didn’t tell us to be kind to people different from us. She just did so and invited us along. I learned from Mrs. Bottgenbach some things she never said out loud:
Humans all ages are valuable.
Going out of my way for all sorts — that’s important
Taking time out of a busy life for those less fortunate is for everyone to do
People who frighten me still need my love
People who I think I have nothing in common with are just like me — people
I have taught Sunday School for the past two years. I have never thought of myself as a kid person, and I’m definitely not a teacher. And yet I’m learning what kids need most. An adult who is interested in them. An adult who thinks kids are capable of great things. An adult who values them as humans, just where they are, and values other humans as well. An adult who shows up.
Our culture is in a war — do our actions and laws value or devalue life? Both sides claim their stance values life best. I say, lets set aside abortion, euthanasia, racism, gender bias, etc — just set them aside long enough to ask if the rest of our lives show a value for life or not.
When is the last time we’ve used the living-room for a nice long chat?
When is the last time we’ve invited each other to share a meal?
Do we ask each other how we are doing, then listen with our hearts?
Do my neighbors and I share flowers, soup, and baked goods?
Do we take an interest in each other’s kids?
Do we know many of the faces we pass in the church lobby, truly know what they are going through?
Do we know the most elderly people in our community?
Do we slow down to spend time with them?
Mrs. Bottgenbach maybe wasn’t a ‘kid person’. I remember thinking she could run Washington D.C. singlehandedly as she could juggle a million details at once. I think we irritated her with our noise and lack of attention. And still, I always knew she liked us and was happy to see us. She kept showing up, kept staying positive, kept making us feel welcome, kept inviting us into her life, planning one program and event after another. She didn’t take it upon herself to set us straight politically. And yet she did.
Mrs. Bottgenbach didn’t make it clear that if I care about a fetus, I better care about the kiddos all around me. But she made the point. I better care about the children separated from their parents by immigration laws. I better care about foster kids stuck in the system, still waiting for families to choose them as their own. I better care about the kids next door.
If I fight against euthanasia, I better also care about elderly stuck in the nursing home who have not had a visit in years. I better care that they would give anything for someone to show up once a week, just to sit beside for a while.
If I care about race issues, I better care about all who cross my path, no matter who they are. I better ask myself “Who do I hate?”. If I care about gender issues, I better treat myself and all others with respect. And ask myself “Who could I be more intentional about being respectful to?”
My life has off and on brought people along my path who make me feel uncomfortable. I still feel shy around people with no boundaries. I still get overwhelmed by differences and smells and high emotion. I’m pretty sure it was Mrs. Bottgenbach who taught me to push past my discomfort toward the greater goal of love, no matter how uncomfortable.
I don’t always know what I think about some of the weightier matters of today’s world. I’m certain I’m neither right or left when it comes to what our culture fights about, as both sides forget to notice the bigger picture. I do know the simple things are true. People of all ages, all races, all sexes, all conditions have value. And when I live that, I am combating some of the darker issues of my time. Mrs. Bottgenbach didn’t talk at all about the right side or the left, but she did show us how to figure it out. She lived a life that values people and invited us to join her. So I did.