Louella Goldie Westmoreland lived 32 years, never married or became a mother, did not know the enjoyment of a good book or scintillating after-dinner conversation, did not attend school and was dependent on her loved ones to care for her. A high fever as an infant immediately changed her life and the lives of her parents, siblings, and extended family. Her physical heart became weakened, her brain forever altered.
And yet, she brought light.
If I’d shown interest a few decades ago I could share many Goldie stories with you. As it is, what I have barely scratches the surface. She was my great aunt, an aunt to my mother. It is told she enjoyed playing with her nieces and nephews in their childhood games even though she was their elder. They would run around the yard playing tag and Goldie would, in her own way, shout, “I’m gonna get you!” Probably her family understood her speech better than anyone from outside.
She had no choice but to spend Sundays in church. The family relocated to Texas from Arkansas and her parents, my great grands, were charter members of Houston 1st Church of the Nazarene and took their faith and its practices to heart. The denomination was young and on fire with its beginnings propagating from nearby Pilot Point. One Goldie story I’ve managed to track down came to be so well known within the extended family that even distant cousins could tell it. It naturally centered around the life of the church.
Often during evening prayer meetings, a time of testimonies would be offered. If you are not familiar with this practice, it is an opportunity to openly declare your Christian faith and give example as to why at that particular time your walk with Jesus is especially beautiful and bright. It is not as often seen in churches today, though all recognize that being able to give “testimony” to one’s faith, articulating the work of Jesus in our lives, is good and even necessary when we call ourselves Christian. Goldie wanted to participate, was encouraged and allowed to do so. Apparently she did so at every single prayer meeting. Ha! Every one. And her testimony was always the same. She would stand when called upon and say, “Be good today.” And sit back down.
Now, as the story was told throughout the family at large, it would be related like this:
Be good today. Plop.
It happened so many times in exactly the same way, and Goldie would plop back down into her seat in exactly the same manner every time, so that it caused the telling of the story to evolve in that direction.
Be good today. Plop.
I’d sure like to have been a witness to that. Sweet thing.
Of course not all moments were sweet. That, as they say, is an understatement.
It is naive to imagine that every scene was photo worthy or could have a pleasant Be good today. Plop. story attached to it. But yet here we are with our perceptions and our “bigger picture” of Goldie’s life, the family’s life. And we call it good. Basically and deeply good.
If you or someone you know is in a caretaker role for someone like Goldie, you understand it may be difficult to find any light in the day-to-day. It can be hard and heavy. Often isolating. My great grandmother, Sula Jane Westmoreland, Goldie’s mother, was her primary carer, companion, and protector. No doubt the siblings, especially Evelyn, played their roles, but mother Sula bore the brunt. This was her child. Her mother’s heart held the memories of who the infant was in the “before” scenario, when raging fever changed her child. Healthcare in the early 20th century was, well, you know. The fact that Goldie survived at all was astounding. A mother’s soul carries those memories and the pounding trauma of them every day but cannot allow them to seep into what must be done to get on with life. There were five other children. And, as if there needed to be more anguish, two other boys were lost in infancy. What kept that mother going? Well, faith of course. And in the hardness, the darkest nights, and the relentless neediness of Goldie, it must’ve also been that steady unbreakable cord of connectivity between mother and daughter. As the hymn says, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” You do what has to be done. She did indeed do it.
Today, in this age of rapidly advancing medical knowledge, many difficulties which were once a life sentence can be alleviated or even remedied entirely. But not all. We still have multitudes among us who need care . . . from infants to elders with reasons as varied as the imagination can stretch. Story upon story can be told of “how we got to this place of need.” To me, one who has not had to access this assistance (yet) in life, the world seems saturated with help, but finding the exact right solution must surely still be a challenge. Government programs are available along with interventions, benefits, and appropriate resources. Private and faith-based organizations offer plans and promises. Fiduciary companies push “special needs” trusts to safeguard income without reducing eligibility for public assistance. It’s all there. Public assistance. Private assistance. Church assistance. It’s a complicated world to navigate with a lot of genuinely good available help. And yet . . .
. . . it still comes down to that relationship, the day-in-day-out care — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual — of the individual by the caretaker, the scenes no one witnesses except God in heaven and which continually challenge their participants. In Goldie’s case, thankfully, she had family up to the task. During that era, especially, it was an exception to the rule. I wonder if the concept of “respite care” or what it might’ve been called then ever occurred to anyone so that the burden could temporarily be lifted. I like to imagine it did.
Goldie didn’t intend to leave a legacy nor would she have known the meaning. In reality it was her mother, father, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends who carved it out through their concern and honorable treatment of this baby/little girl/young woman. Their love and dedication to her was profound as a reflection of Jesus and His treatment of all people. Her legacy stands on their shoulders. And in her smile.
The light cast by Goldie’s life and those who cared for her created a ripple not only within the family pond but in generations to come of all those with whom she came in contact. We would do well to bask in that light and learn.
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14:12-14 NIV
I will exalt you, my God and King,
and praise your name forever and ever.
I will praise you every day;
yes, I will praise you forever.
Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
No one can measure his greatness.
Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
and your wonderful miracles.
Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue;
I will proclaim your greatness.
Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness;
they will sing with joy about your righteousness.
The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
The Lord is good to everyone.
He showers compassion on all his creation.
All of your works will thank you, Lord,
and your faithful followers will praise you.
They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;
they will give examples of your power.
They will tell about your mighty deeds
and about the majesty and glory of your reign.
For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
You rule throughout all generations.
The Lord always keeps his promises;
The Lord helps the fallen
and lifts those bent beneath their loads.
The eyes of all look to you in hope;
you give them their food as they need it.
When you open your hand,
you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
he is filled with kindness.
The Lord is close to all who call on him,
yes, to all who call on him in truth.
He grants the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cries for help and rescues them.
The Lord protects all those who love him,
but he destroys the wicked.
I will praise the Lord,
and may everyone on earth bless his holy name
forever and ever.
Psalm 145 NLT