The elevator ding announced that I had reached my floor. A moment later, the doors opened to the hallway leading to my grandmother’s hospital room. I will never feel normal visiting someone I love in the hospital, but I had grown accustomed to the routine of finding a parking spot, trudging the long walk to the hospital, and navigating the maze of floors and corridors that led to her room.
It had been a few weeks since I received the telephone call from my mother informing me that Granny had suffered a stroke and had been taken from their home by ambulance. It was the kind of news that would ruin anyone’s day. No one plans to sit in the Critical Care Waiting Room while a loved one is fighting for her life down the hall. But this was Christmas Day, and I had expected to spend that day sitting in the living room exchanging gifts with Granny, and afterwards sit down to Christmas dinner together. Clearly, life doesn’t always come in packages as pretty as those we place beneath the tree.
However, I did discover a strange similarity between Christmas morning and the hospital waiting room. On the former, you experience joy when you are handed a package with your name on it, even though you have no idea what it contains. In the latter, your spirits rise whenever the nurse who gives updates on the critical care patients calls your family’s name, despite having no clue what that update will be. There is within each of us a capacity to see the best in things, even in the face of the unknown.
Thankfully, Granny pulled through those early hours of her illness. As her health improved, she was moved to a private room, but her condition was highly variable. The doctors said there was uncontrolled swelling in and around her brain. Among other things, this caused my grandmother to say and do unusual things, and we never knew what to expect when we went to visit her.
On this particular day, Christmas had disappeared from the rearview mirror, the new year had come, but Granny was still in the hospital and not doing well. I knocked on the door and walked in to find her eyes full of distress.
“Here’s my grandson. He’ll tell you,” she said to her nurse. Then she turned her attention toward me and said, “She thinks I’m lying, but you’re a man of God. I know you’ll believe me.”
At the time I was attending seminary, and in my grandmother’s mind, even when it was healthy, that qualified me as a holy man.
“What is it, Granny? What’s wrong?”
“They don’t believe he’s there. I can see him, but they can’t. I know you’ll be able to see him,” she said.
The nurse excused herself from the room out of courtesy to my grandmother and me, and I questioned Granny further, “See who? What do you see?”
“Jesus, of course! He’s standing right out there in the sky. Don’t you see him?” she asked, pointing to the window. “A man of God should be able to see him.”
As I stared at her outstretched arm, I felt somewhat like Ebenezer Scrooge being forced to view his fate by the Ghost of Christmas Future. I wondered what I would or wouldn’t see as I walked cautiously toward the window. I have always believed that God is present everywhere; but when I looked out the window that afternoon, the only thing I saw was sky and clouds.
Somewhat hesitantly, I told my grandmother the truth, which was all I could do. “I don’t see him, Granny, but I know he’s there.”
That answer seemed to satisfy her, if not me, and she grew less agitated. “I knew you would agree with me,” she said. “Anyone can see that he is standing right there.”
Granny never came back home to Mom and Dad’s house. A few weeks after my visit, she passed away at an extended care facility, but I will always be grateful for the lesson she taught me at the hospital. She was right; anyone can see Jesus. He is like the beautiful gift that lies beneath the wrappings of the world, but you have to expect the best from the unknown. I knew he was there that day, but I had chosen not to see him. Thanks to Granny, now I always choose to see Jesus in the sky.
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