As we celebrated All Saints Day I thought about all those people who shaped my faith journey, from my dear great-aunt, who served as my grandmother when her sister, my grandmother, died in my infancy, to Dorothy, who called herself “MOM,” My Other Mother, and demonstrated her huge caring Christian heart, worrying about me and caring for me every week. There was my Great-Grandpa George, who spent hours listening to my endless stories, and kept every letter I ever wrote to him and every drawing I ever made. Each one of these people gave me a glimpse of just how large God’s heart must be, and how important it was for me to share God’s love with the people I met. “Your life may be the only Bible some people read,” I was told.
When I was in high school I read a book called “The Other Side of the Mountain.” It inspired me. It was about a young woman named Jill Kinmont. She was qualifying for the 1956 Olympics when she broke her neck in a skiing accident. The book told about her fight to regain her independence. She fought to go to college, to become a teacher, and to have her own classroom. And it was a fight. No one thought a woman who was paralyzed from the neck down could maintain order in a classroom. Later two movies were made based on Jill’s story, and I found them just as inspiring.
When we moved to Bishop in 1990, who was in the congregation of the Methodist church but Jill? I should have known! Jill’s family had worshiped at the church for years, and so had Jill and her husband John. She had taught at the Indian School until it was incorporated into the public school system, and then continued working as a special education teacher. She raised money for Native American scholarships, selling donations from the Mammoth Mountain Ski Shop at swap meets and fairs. This was hazardous work because Jill had no thermostat to regulate her body, and prolonged exposure to heat or the sun was dangerous. But she would be out there under the trees in those warm high desert days. She was a talented artist. A community day school was named for her. And she became my friend.
When I started a mentoring program at the church, Jill was the first person to sign up. And when she learned her child had a sister who also needed a special friend, she took on both girls. She gave so freely of herself, and her time, when she had every excuse not to. When life placed me in a wheelchair, I had a model of grace, acceptance, and overcoming the odds, all with a smile on her face, to look to. I was at her house one day when a crew from 60 Minutes was there to do a follow-up interview. I didn’t know she wasn’t expected to live more than 15 years past her initial injury. And here it was, 35 years later, and she was still going strong. I believe her faith, and her positive outlook, as well as a strong purpose to her life, had a lot to do with that.
We lost Jill in 2012, a week before her 76th birthday. The turnout for her celebration of life was so large it had to be held at the cemetery. There just wasn’t enough room at the church. She touched many, many lives, all for the better. When it came to naming that community day school, the principal related that he asked the superintendent if the students could have a voice in naming it. The superintendent said they could submit up to three names. They came back with only one – Jill’s.
I told Jill that before I met her, she had been my role model. And when I went into that wheelchair, I joked, she became my roll model. What I never told her was that she was my hero. And for that I am truly sorry. But I think she knew all the same.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
Dear Lord, Thank you for all the witness who have come before us, and who are with us today. Bless those witness who are sharing the message of inclusiveness this week. Give them wisdom to reach new people, and give their audiences open hearts and minds to hear the message and bring it into their churches. This we pray in the name of your Son, the open door. Amen.