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My Favorite Client

I am struck by this thought: If this were my daughter in the wheelchair, would I love her as much as Maxine loves Beth? Could I make my needs completely secondary to the task of serving her? And then could I do as the Book of James instructs and “consider it all joy”? The questions stagger me.

By Ron Hauenstein

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Others stay awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”

–Unknown

If you could sort your top clients into the categories of “favorite” and “best,” would the lists be the same?

Not so in my case. My best clients are the ones who’re the easiest to work with and therefore have generally bought lots of product from me. I make most of my money from my best clients. But my favorite clients are those who’ve taught me the most.

I’d like you to meet my favorite client, but she adamantly refuses to be introduced. When I asked if I could write a column about her, she demanded that she be separated from you by a steel curtain of anonymity, a requirement that adds to the lessons I have learned.

Maxine (a fictitious name, of course) is an angel among us, although she steadfastly insists that what she does is not extraordinary or unusual. “I don’t consider anything I’m doing a sacrifice,” she says. “I asked for Beth with wide open eyes.” In other words, she knew what she was getting into, and willingly took on the assignment anyway.

It’s said that no garment is more becoming to a Christian than the cloak of humility. This woman is well-dressed.

Maxine has cared for a severely handicapped child since the early 1980s. Beth (also a fictitious name) came into the world in 1980 a quadriplegic, afflicted with cerebral palsy. Maxine became Beth’s foster parent in 1982 and last year adopted her. Now age 19, Beth weighs 55 pounds. She spends her days prone in a specially-equipped wheel chair. On occasion she gurgles. Only rarely have I heard her make any other sound.

As a child, she never ran and played with the neighbor kids. She didn’t recite nursery rhymes or ask to be read a bedtime story. She’s never had piano lessons (although she does enjoy music). She just lays in her chair and gurgles. I thought that raising my two children into adolescence was an exhausting challenge, but I have always known that I am blessed by their physical and mental normalcy. I marvel at the spirit that fills Maxine with love for a child that is so different but has, in her mind, so much to offer others.

“Beth gives love absolutely,” Maxine says, beaming. “You have no idea how this little child, through her smile, causes happiness. She transforms people. That is God working through her.”

Maxine reveals few details of how she supports herself except to acknowledge Beth’s SSI check of $506.55, some sewing jobs she takes in and a vague reference to “other work.” For years she has paid life insurance premiums that at times I’m certain were 15 to 20 percent of her income. She insists on having insurance so her passing will not be a burden to anyone.

Maxine, then, is a 67-year-old single woman with no assets and no visible means of support (not even Social Security), yet she is my favorite client. Although I’ve known her for 15 years, I think my learning is just beginning.

As I sat in Maxine’s living room recently, she hoisted Beth from her wheelchair and curled up with her in a corner of the couch. Thin as the patty in a 99-cent burger, Maxine will never see the uphill side of 110 pounds, yet she carries this child— one-half her weight—as if she were a bouquet of roses. Her strength is in her character, but her strength, she will tell you, is not her own.

“My prayer is that Beth will die in my arms so that she doesn’t have to spend one minute in a nursing home,” Maxine explains. “I ask God daily for the physical, moral and emotional strength to care for her all her days.”

Cooing and cuddling, pressing her face just inches away, Maxine coaxes a smile from Beth. “Where I go, she goes,” she offers. They may as well be joined at the hip, these two.

To watch them interact is to witness something so rare, so missing, so desperately needed in our society today. I sat in my chair, numbed by this single-minded devotion to a cause, to something other than self. It was, and is, pure and holy. I know I have never seen it before.

Do you have a Beth in your life? Are you committed to something, totally and completely, outside yourself? No, this is the stuff of monks and Sisters of Charity and Mother Teresa. Which is what makes Maxine’s lessons so penetrating. She isn’t in a monastery. She has not taken a vow of poverty. Her task is simple: “Before God I have a duty.” That duty is to care for Beth. Her own needs are nonexistent.

Why?

“People do not understand scripture,” she lectures, quoting from the Good Book. “‘So long as you do it for one of these, you do it for me.’” Hanging on her living room wall is the Prayer of St. Francis: “For it is in giving that we receive.”

I am struck by this thought: If this were my daughter in the wheelchair, would I love her as much as Maxine loves Beth? Could I make my needs completely secondary to the task of serving her? And then could I do as the Book of James instructs and “consider it all joy”? The questions stagger me.

I will be forever grateful to Maxine. Her teaching has pierced my soul.

In this holiest of seasons, we elevate the needs of people like Maxine and Beth. From Salvation Army kettles to coat drives for kids and food banks for the hungry, the opportunities to serve others are endless. Perhaps sensing that some of you might want to lend her financial support, Maxine intervened before I could raise the subject.

Her only request is this: “Please remember us in prayer.”

The lessons continue. The footprints are large.

Ron Hauenstein can be contacted at 818 W. Riverside, Ste. 500, Spokane, WA 99201, or rhauenstein@ft.newyorklife.com.

 


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