Don’t visit a nursing home to find fulfillment. Lena taught me that.
It all began innocently enough. The church was going to visit Fairlawn, so I went too. With an accordion strapped to my shoulders , a smile plastered on my face, and a straw doll of kindness propped up in my heart, I began the night confident I could “minister” and make a difference. I think I did ok in the first six rooms.
I held feeble hands, read The 23rd Psalm aloud and prayed “Our Father” more than a dozen times. I got to listen to a lot of unintelligible rambling, and in reaction to some of the smells I got to re-swallow my dinner more than twice. I also played Amazing Grace standing in yellow puddles, and saw death up close for the very first time. I pushed through the first six rooms a little dazed but thinking I was getting the hang of it.
Then I walked into the seventh room. This was Lena’s room. It said so on the door. At first I wanted to run away but was something kept me from backing out. I approached her bed cautiously.
“Hi. How are you?”
Lena was all bones covered by parchment paper thin skin. She was an x-ray with short thin white hair laying without a blanket in a stale hospital bed. I feared her, and pitied her, but couldn’t take my eyes off her.
She didn’t speak. When she heard my voice Lena opened her wide black eyes to an incredible size. Her mouth shaped itself in to an “O” and then she scrunched up her face into an incredible look of pain . Slowly she pushed her chin up and pulled her head back and wailed a desperate cry from the depths of her soul. I’d never heard anything so pathetic and frightening in my life. I had no reply.
Lena was obviously blind but she knew where I was and stared in to the air in my direction. Turning back to me she reached out. This brought her up out of the bed just enough to expose too much of what was under her thin blue nightgown. I blushed and turned my head. Then she relaxed and lay still again.
I moved closer and took her hand. Afraid I might break or bruise her I laid the fragile appendage across my palm. In return she squeezed and dug in her fingers nails. I didn’t admit pain. Instead I offered to pray for her. She didn’t respond but I prayed anyway.
“Lord, Lena needs you more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Will you walk past the blindness and show yourself to her?”
When I opened my eyes she was staring at me again. I quickly said amen and hurried to the next room.
I continued playing, praying, and ministering through several more rooms, even shared the sinner’s prayer with an old man, and then the night ended and we all went home.
Later that night in my living room I stretched out on the floor, put my hands behind my head, and thanked the Lord. For a moment I felt fulfilled.
“Ahh,” I said in a sigh, “I have done everything you asked me to do today. Thank you for using me, Lord.”
The feeling lasted only a minute, then I heard Lena’s howl again, and all the satisfaction drained away. I tried to shake it off and went to bed. Lena appeared in every dream, wailing, reaching out, calling me.
I went back to Fairlawn the next evening by myself and only visited Lena. She greeted me in the same frightening way, but I was ready for her. I prayed sooner than I could get offended, and read her the Word. The visit lasted only 10 minutes, but the time was significant and meaningful.
I was a regular at Fairlawn for a few more months. My visits with Lena really didn’t get that much better or longer, but I became better with others because of her. Lena tore up my straw doll and challenged me to be real. I dropped by two and three times a week. Sometimes I did six rooms, sometimes only Lena‘s, but I knew my mission and ministered to and for the people living at Fairlawn, not for myself.
God’s love will never let you back way from needs or allow you to rest in fulfillment. Lena taught me this, and I’ll never forget her for it.
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