This post is part of my “stories” series. In this series, I share stories of how people live their lives in response to the gospel and as a demonstration of God’s love in order to teach us and to provide an example to provoke us to love and good works. (See “stories: A New Series” for more information about this series.)
My friends go to the nursing home almost every week to read the Bible and sing songs. Before they begin to read and after they sing, my friends (along with their four boys) make their way from resident to resident and pass out hugs and listen to their stories. Since I was not teaching last summer, I went with them a few times. On my first visit, I met Mrs. Jennie.
Mrs. Jennie is in her mid-eighties and rides around in a motorized wheelchair because her legs are very weak. I sat beside her the day that I met her, and I held the song book open for her when we sang. She later told me that she couldn’t see the words, but she appreciated me holding the book for her.
After my friend read from Matthew’s gospel about “the least of these”, Mrs. Jennie leaned over to me. In her New York City accent she said, “I’m not an atheist, but all this religion stuff is new to me. I only come to Story Time because of him”. She pointed at the three year old son who was passing out song books to the residents with a big smile on his face. When he got to us, he handed me a song book and grinned at Mrs. Jennie. She touch his hair and beamed back at him.
We made a connection that day, and my family has fallen in love with Mrs. Jennie. We visit her in the nursing home every week. As we got to know her, she started telling us more about herself and her family. We found out that she has a daughter that she doesn’t talk to, and that there was even a restraining order once. She told us that she had two sons (“Both of them were good boys”), and they both died in traffic accidents when they were 21. Each one left a wife and child behind – and a mother who wondered why they were taken from her.
Mrs. Jennie talks about how she’s different now than she once was. She talks about how she was once mean and angry and sad, but now she feels “blessed”. One day, when we were visiting with us, she pulled out an evangelistic tract that a well-meaning person had given her. She said, “He wanted to push me to make a decision. I told him that I couldn’t pray something that I didn’t mean in my heart. Plus, I told him that if I needed to talk to someone, I have you and your family.”
In December and January, we were out of town for several weeks, both because we were travelling for Christmas and New Years, and because my wife’s father had open heart surgery. We sent word to Mrs. Jennie through our friends, so that she would know what was going on and why we were not visiting her.
Later, the kids and I came back home and left Margaret in Alabama for a few more weeks to take care of her father. We went to see Mrs. Jennie not long after we got back home. The first thing she did as ask about Margaret’s father. Then she said, “Tell Margaret that I’m praying for him. I don’t know how to pray, so I look out my window and talk to God like he’s here with me. I think he hears me.”
Last week, for Valentine’s Day, we gave Mrs. Jennie a bouquet of roses. She barely talked for our whole visit. Finally she said, “I don’t know what to say. No one has ever given me flowers before. Not even my husband.” She half-smiled and half-cried for the remainder of our visit.
On one visit, Mrs. Jennie surprised us with a gift. She had painted a picture of a cross and had it framed for us. When she gave it to me, she pointed to the cross and said, “I’m very close”. Mrs. Jennie still struggles with the death of her sons. She still wonders why God would take them away from her. But, God is changing her. I’m glad that God has allowed our family to be part of her life and part of the process that he’s using to draw her to himself.