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Paula Sandford: A Life Well Lived



by Mark Sandford


They say that Alzheimer's makes unresolved issues flood out like a cresting river with no levee to keep it from drowning the ones you love. The formerly passive husband rages; the submissive church mouse complains incessantly. Not so for Mom. She had submitted her ways to Christ, alias Aslan the Lion whose words my Dad read to us at bedtime in The Chronicles of Narnia. The White Witch was threatening to kill young Edmund whose heart she had poisoned, but Aslan promised him a way out: “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead . . . death itself would start working backwards.”

When I was as little as Edmund, the witch's poison still clouded my mother's mind. But then she and my father, John Sandford, discovered the medicine of inner healing, and her life became a testament to its cure. There are those who can fake the Christian virtues, hiding their poisoned hearts from everyone—even from themselves. But if there had ever been any doubt, Alzheimer's proved that Mom was not one of them. Whenever Maureen and I visited her, memories of the angry mother of my distant childhood faded in the warm glow of gentle hugs and kisses and “I love you” and “I'm so proud of you.” We never detected a hint of anger toward us.

Mom's brain had Alzheimer's, but her spirit did not. Inner healing purifies the spirit, opens its cage, and bids it to fly free. And so it was with Mom. Our beautiful daughter, Michal, despaired that some of her dreams may not come true. Unaware of this, Mom admonished her, “Don't you give up!” Our son, Jasha, discovered a talent for song, and was soon belting out the national anthem at local basketball games. Unaware of this, Mom pressed her frail finger into his chest and assured him, “You can hit the high notes!” She became her most prophetic in those last days, expressing her gift through a simple, unaffected mind that could not help but reveal the purity of a life well lived.

In 2012 on Mother's Day, we all said goodbye to Mom at a service here in Post Falls, Idaho. On the bulletin we posted the following poem, which is also a prayer. Mom penned it at Christmas, 1949, at the tender age of seventeen. She was in her first semester at Drury College and had met my father only a few months earlier. Little did she know that one day she and Dad would live out this poem, teaching the world to pull up roots of bitterness that drink in death and to put down good roots, sucking up the love that makes us bloom and greens the world around us, drinking it in from the One who makes death work backwards.  . . . I think God answered Mom's prayer.


A Poem About the Seasons 

Paula Sandford, age 17, 1948


With the passing of each autumn into winter, cold and bleak,
A million leaves fall lifeless to the earth to lie,
To rest, to die, and myriad snowflakes fall to
Smother out the flame-like small faint tinge of red
Which lingers on. The leaf lies on the soil till it is soil.
Winter goes, and come the warmer winds of spring to
Melt the snow. Deep from the new rich earth comes life,
And new born strength shoots upward through the roots.
The tree responds with burst of green. The glad world sings!
Warmed by Mother Sun and cradled in the breeze, each tiny leaf
Begins its life - it grows from youth, then blossoms full maturity;
And comes the autumn once again. The leaf with passion
Spends its reservoir of strength and all the world is painted
By the beauty of its dress. But as inevitable
Winter comes, so, too must die this leaf. So follow
All the years - with spring, and summer, autumn, winter -
Each a new life – spent - and death.
Each one of us who calls himself a child of God is but a leaf
Upon a single tree. That tree is God, and though its
Leaves are some so beautiful and others not, each
One is needed, else a branch would be unclothed and bare.
Oh, that I might grow and flourish nearer to the heart
Of that great tree - that its life-giving sap be
Sent a' surging through my veins to give me
Strength to cling - unmoved by foreign winds which
Strive to tear away and carry me to lands afar - to drop
Me in the filth and mire of worldly pleasure
Which would eat away my flesh till I become
A part of the debris. Oh God that I might
Blossom on the tree of life eternal --
Blossom with a splendor and a radiance which would say
To all the world that I am Thine; that all
The strength that I might have is spent for Thee.
And all of my desires but for Thy glory.
And God, when autumn comes to me, may I
Too, wear luxurious color, not to glorify myself,
But Thee. And when it comes my turn to drop from off the
Branch and fall to earth, may I have lived so richly
And so near Thy heart, that I become a part of that
Rich soil which hugs Thy roots and helps to send the
Constant flow of strength to leaves newborn. May we,
The two of us, dear Lord, work side by side;
I, Thy companion - Thou, my eternity!
© Mark Sandford 2019

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