She hobbled, bent out of shape, like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. My heart tightened in my chest as I watched my mom struggle with a movement we take for granted: walking. I had watched her continuously battle health problems since I was little, but nothing like this. I questioned what quality of life was left for her if this was already her reality in her fifties.
Her list of health problems was ever growing. Fibromyalgia? Check. A heart condition? Yep. Arthritis in her joints? That too. Allergic to an exuberant amount? You bet. Raynaud's disease and circulation problems? Of course. Oh, and don't forget a thyroid problem. But this—this was different.
She knew pain. It was an old friend. One that had latched on and never let go. She never let it stop her. She loved outings, hikes, dirt biking, and any other adventures the family could dream up, but not anymore. Those were all fleeting memories, ghosts of the past.
Her body had become a prison. She no longer could do the things she loved. Her sneakers lay forgotten, no more hikes or walks in the neighborhood. Daily tasks had become hard. Gray clouds had settled over her life, and they wouldn't relent.
She deflated slowly as every new doctor scratched their head, saying, "Nothing else can be done." Her life was forever changed. Two vertebrae eroded against each other, all cushion gone. Degenerated discs and arthritis, they said. A clinical diagnosis, but they didn't have to watch what I did. No matter how hard she tried to hide it, I saw in her eyes the excruciating pain holding her captive. It doesn't matter how much you circle the wagons. Sometimes broken things can't be fixed.
Despite her new life, I watched her smile beam and the skin around her eyes crinkle. Her blue eyes sparked full of passion and joy. I heard her laugh bounce off the walls. Pain couldn't cage her smile.
She was full of gentleness and grace. It seemed like her life's mission was to build people up and cheer people on. Her days looked different. What she could physically do was limited, but I marveled at her incredible influence on people's lives. She couldn't run a marathon or help with math or science, but she was one to lend a listening ear and fuss over you for not eating.
When describing my mom, one friend who had a messy family life said to me, "She's the mom I've always wanted but never got."
Another friend living away from family said, "She's my Greenville mom." She became a mom to those who needed one. A peaceful presence for my friends amid their tumultuous seas.
Ignoring her pain, she cooked enough to feed a small army every Sunday night. A gift for the young adult group that she co-led with her husband.
"Having people over isn't hard for your mom, is it?" my friend asked.
"No, it's not. My mom has always said she wanted people to feel like they could come over whenever they wanted," I said.
Every person who met her was better for it. Most had no clue about the health conditions she fought daily because she was too busy playing twenty questions to get to know the person. She loved learning others' stories.
When someone asked her what her job was, she said, "I'm just a mom." As though her work was somehow not important. The truth is she was more than "just a mom." She was weaving a legacy not only in her children but also in anyone who providentially ended up in her path.
Her life may have lost movement, but it never lost meaning. Her skill set never changed. People. She was skilled with people. She could make the most outcast person feel included. She saw the overlooked and loved the unlovable.
Sometimes talents and skills don't look normal or can't be seen at first glance. Being equipped for a purpose can look like a stay-at-home mom, refusing to bend the knee to pain, and instead using her gifts to make others feel seen, heard, and loved.
At that moment, I realized Velvet Baker was more than her diagnosis and pain. She had a better quality of life than most. She had mastered loving like Jesus loved, and that is a skill worth pursuing.