Friday, March 6, 2009

Who We Ride For: Kathleen Baskin-Ball

Kathleen Baskin-Ball September 16, 1958- December 2, 2008

We'll continue our profiles of the people we ride for with someone who helped inspire the cancer-fighting side of our trip and the youngest person either of us personally knows to have been taken by cancer: Mia's childhood preacher, Kathleen Baskin-Ball. Here's what Mia had to say:

Most of us agree that charitable action should be an integral part of one's life. That its scope should be large, its motivations selfless, and its impact meaningful and wide-ranging. My dear friend and former pastor, Kathleen Baskin-Ball, epitomized this ideal.

She went straight from college to seminary, and in 1989 was recognized as a rising star in the Methodist world. But instead of seeking an appointment to a nice, cushy, high-profile congregation, Kathleen opened a new church called Nueva Esperanza in a poor West Dallas neighborhood full of recent Mexican immigrants. She spent six months in Mexico learning Spanish and when she returned she could preach to her congregation in its native language. She devoted herself to serving the youth and teen moms that composed much of her congregation and resisted Methodist officials' calls for her to switch churches. She preached and served and mentored at Nueva Esperanza for five years before being moved to Greenland Hills UMC, where I met her when I was 11.

Kathleen was a beacon of a woman. A wonderful orator with the warmest of smiles, I knew even then that she was someone special. And more than that, that something special worked within her and inspired her. When we first joined the church, my then eight year old sister, startled to see a female pastor after years at a male-dominated church, asked Kathleen, "so do I call you...pastoress?" Kathleen smiled at her and said, "No baby, you just call me Kathleen."

She spoke of God's love, often shouting out her signature catchphrase, "Glory Be!" Her style was wonderfully unorthodox: sometimes she would pick up a guitar and sing (she had a wonderful voice) and hymns were often accompanied by her dancing and keeping time with a tambourine. Her smile lit up the room and her hugs were given often and freely. I can't count how many times I left that church, even as a young teen, feeling full up to the brim with love. During her seven years at the church, membership doubled. The sanctuary had to be remodeled and expanded. When she left to share her gift elsewhere, we left the church. We tried out a few others, but none felt near as right. She spent the next seven years at a suburban church (Suncreek UMC) where membership tripled during her tenure.

Kathleen did all of the charitable things that pastors do: she led mission trips, taught bible studies, counseled church members, and preached on Sundays. But her biggest and most enduring charitable action, the thing that grew every church she touched and touched and changed every person she met, was her ability to connect with people and make them feel loved. As one church member recalled, "I have never known a pastor to love on everyone the way Kathleen loved on every person at Suncreek [the suburban church]. She called everyone by name and made every person that walked through the door feel special, just as God wants every child to feel. Kathleen was open, honest, funny, and made the most weary stranger feel at home and welcome."

While at Suncreek, Kathleen married and had a son. In January 2007, when her son was three, she was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma, a particularly lethal and unforgiving kind of cancer. She was diagnosed on a Saturday and was scheduled to begin chemotherapy immediately. Not wanting to miss preaching, she asked "How much would I lose if I started on Sunday afternoon? The church has to see me first. I can't disappear. That won't be healthy for me or the church." And so she preached that Sunday and was then whisked off to start chemo. She shared her diagnosis and her progress with her congregation and continued to minister to the very end. She missed only a single regularly scheduled sermon, sometimes preaching from a stool because she didn't have the strength to stand. On November 16, 2008 she preached all three services at the church.

Photo from

In late November, after learning that a costly surgery would only add a month to her life, Kathleen chose to enter hospice care and opened her home to those who wanted to say goodbye. The line to her front door stretched down the street. One person who went to see her noted, "She wouldn't let fatigue get in the way of visiting with each person. Instead, she asked her husband to bring in the oxygen tank and she continued on." Another recalled, "When we saw her last week, it was she who was lifting our hearts and spirits - not us lifting her as it seems it should have been." To top things off, the Sunday before her death she baptized 35 babies.

She died December 2, 2008 at age 50. Her memorial service was attended by more than 3100 people - a testament to the staggering number of lives she touched.

When Kathleen was first diagnosed, she said, "I believe that God is healing all the time. What I won't try to put into a box is what that healing looks like...I think for God to be victorious in my life means that I will learn to live through this in a way that shows that love has the last word and love is victorious in the spirit of who I am, whether I get well or not." She was passionate, caring, selfless, and inspiring, and she left a hole in my heart when she left. But I feel so lucky to have had her in my life, even if only for a few short years. And I am convinced that love will have the last word.

If you'd like to write a profile of someone who has been lost to or is fighting cancer and have us publish it in our blog, please email us at or leave a note in the comments. Please do the same if you'd like us to ride in honor or memory of someone you know.

Be well,

Arik and Mia