Blindly Jenna fled the hospital room. Soft light beckoned through a window in the door at the corridor’s end. As though escorted by an unseen usher, she pushed through and found herself in the hospital chapel.
She sank heavily onto a pew. It’d been months since she’d been to church. The last stages of Alistaire’s illness had consumed her. He was now at peace, but Jenna had none for herself. As she leaned her forehead onto the back of the pew before her, acrid tears dropped. She half expected to see them sizzle on the carpet.
What a rotten disease Alistaire had battled! To slowly lose all mobility while his mind stayed vibrant. God, how could you be so brutal? Are you even there? Do you care? What is the point of this suffering?
She heard the door swoosh as someone entered the room behind her; Jenna kept her face down.
The newcomer quietly settled into the pew across the aisle. Out of the corner of her eye, Jenna saw an older gentleman wearing hospital scrubs and a nametag. His head was bowed.
Jenna’s nose clogged. She pawed unsuccessfully through her purse for a tissue. Twisting in the pew she scanned the room for Kleenex. You’d think there’d be tissue; I’m sure I’m not the first person to come in here weeping.
She turned towards the aisle to find a box held out to her.
“Housekeeping hides them under the pews. Guess they think they look tacky out in the open,” the gentleman said. “I’m Pastor Neville, hospital chaplain. If there’s anything I can do…”
“Thanks,” Jenna helped herself to tissue and blew her nose. “My husband just passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease. So awful. But I didn’t come in here to pray. Just…feeling like God hasn’t been around much lately. Or that He cares how much I’m hurting.”
“I certainly understand that feeling, Mrs…?”
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Rowan. Just sorry it’s under sad circumstances.”
“How can you say you understand? You’re a chaplain. Don’t you have to believe God cares?”
“I do believe He cares but there was a time I didn’t. May I tell you about it?”
Jenna shrugged and tilted her head in a half-nod.
“Forty-some years ago,” Pastor Neville began. “I was a sour young man. The girl I loved and expected to marry chose another. Didn’t want to have their happiness shoved in my face every day of my life, so I joined a group of migrant farm-workers hoping that laboring in the harvest would help me forget. It didn’t. It just took me far from my boyhood home and faith.
“We hit northwest Washington in time for blueberry season. I remember this one field where the bushes were as big as trees and almost intertwined together. I could hear the others but not always see them through the foliage. I’m sure my scowling face would’ve scared them away anyway. Suited me fine because I was having it out with God in spite of His deaf ear.
“I was stripping berries madly off branches and scornfully berating God for His absence when suddenly angels began to sing. I couldn’t see them but somewhere in that blueberry patch, a couple of young female voices raised sweet harmony to the heavens as they picked. It was like an enchantment, their choruses transporting me back to the church I attended as a boy,” Neville grinned. “They were all lovely songs but one really struck home.”
He sang softly,
“Days are filled with sorrow and care,
Hearts are lonely and drear;
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.
“Troubled soul, the Savior can see,
Every heartache and tear;
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.”
An enigmatic expression crossed Jenna’s face.
“It reminded me how I’d invited Jesus into my life as a youngster,” Neville continued. “Bowing my head over my pail of blueberries, I thanked Him for being there. Sorrow remained but the load lightened a little. Wish I’d thanked those young ladies for bearing the burden with me but I guess they’ll never know; at least not in this life. But since then it’s been my desire to come along side other folks and help shoulder the load.
“I’d like to do that for you, Mrs. Rowan.”
Jenna nodded dazedly, “You already are. Do you by any chance remember the blueberry farmer’s name?”
Her trembling smile greeted the chaplain’s answer.
“I’m one of your ‘angels’,” she whispered.
(Song excerpt from Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary by John M. Moore.)
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