I sat beside her for 35 minutes. Violet was her name. She was in her eighties and was leaving her nursing home in 3 days, and she couldn’t stop talking about how ready she was to drive a car again. We had come, our small group of college students, to sing in a local nursing home. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound… Brian’s fingers picking his guitar, voices lifted up. She sat behind us, listening. Coarse strands of gray hair tangled around her face; her toothless grin welcomed me as I left my group to chat with her. She told me her story, and tears filled my eyes as I felt her hopelessness. And it made me think.
Mother of 9 children, but “only one visits me here”. Her first born to a soldier welcomed into her family’s home. Then he left to war and never came back. She married later, and didn’t listen to that Methodist preacher that told her he was a no-good scum bag. He was a drunk and fathered two more of her children. Then she left him vowing to never marry again. She had 6 more children to various fathers, and they had all moved on to life away from her. She was lonely talking about how sad she would be to leave her friends at the nursing home. “I’ll come visit them.” she said. “It can sure get sad in here.” She watched Joe, our college pastor, commented on how young he was to be a pastor (that’ll make his day!), then said wistfully, “He comes in here a lot with his nice smile. And he brings a lot of joy.” And it made me think.
She told me how she lost control of her car and went over an embankment. A trucker saw it happen and stopped. He saved her life by stopping. Her aorta was severed, and she was heliported to UVA for a few months before moving into the nursing home. She would get her false teeth the next day, because hers had been shattered in the accident. She had no idea how she would afford another car, because the man she was living with had died while she was in the hospital and his son took all the money they had saved together. “But I’ll figure it out.” she said, “I always figure it out.” And it made me think.
She asked about my family, and I told her of my dear ones: my husband strumming the guitar, my children at home. She gazed at Brian, “He’s handsome.” I agreed. “He has a nice smile, too. His music is good. It will make the old people happy.” I agreed. I told her my daughter was a red-head and a pistol. I told her stories about the boys and their escapades. She laughed. “You should bring your kids in sometime. It would make the old people happy.” She was detached from the reality of who she was. And it made me think.
After a while she patted my arm. “You should go join your friends.” I told her I was happy here with her if she wanted me to stay. “But others need you, too.” she said. “Besides, I gave up on the old man upstairs a long time ago.” My heart broke as I looked into her eyes. “You know, Violet, He’ll never give up on you. Look how He spared your life.” She smiled. “I wish…” then she broke off and gazed wistfully off into space. I shared some more with her, then after she encouraged me again, I went to find the others. But before I moved, I found a little corner to myself, and I wept. I wept at the futility of this life she lived. I wept for her loneliness, for her lostness.
I felt detached the remainder of the night. Smiling and gripping hands, sitting on beds, singing hymns with others at the top of my lungs. Joe had the opportunity to minister to a woman who only spoke Spanish. There was Frank, the eighty-eight-year-old who wheeled his chair with the group the entire way singing every song giving his tidbits of advice along the way. There was Mildred, who couldn’t see to read the words I held beside her, but she loved to hear, and she asked over and over for different hymns. At the end of our time, we all joined together and sang, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks”, and as I sang, “I am bound for Promised Land…” over and over and over, all I could think about was Violet. I couldn’t get her out of my head. I still can’t.
I’ve thought about the hopelessness of her life. And I’ve thought about the life I have been given. I’ve thought about all the times I’ve sat and gazed wistfully muttering, “I wish…” and then singing that line from Wicked the musical, “wishing only wounds the heart…” How many heart wounds have I suffered by wasting my life in wishing things were different rather than making a difference? How many Violets have I missed along the way? How many opportunities to minister have passed me by? How much time have I wasted focused on the past rather than the beauty of today and the promise of the future?
In His book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper writes this prayer,
Forbid that any, Lord, who read these words would have to say someday, “I’ve wasted it.” But grant, by Your almighty Spirit and Your piercing Word, that we who name Christ as the Lord would treasure Him above our lives, and feel, deep in our souls, that Christ is life and death is gain. And so may we display His worth for all to see. And by our prizing Him may He be displayed in all the world… Let love flow from Your saints, and may it, Lord, be this: that if it costs our lives, the people will be glad in God… Take Your honored place, O Christ, as the all-satisfying Treasure of the world. With trembling hands before the throne of God, and utterly dependent on Your grace, we lift our voice and make this solemn vow: As God lives, and is all I ever need, I will not waste my life…
As we left the nursing home, we saw a rainbow. Someone said, “How fitting.” And I say, “Amen.” That God would leave us with the promise that He will not forsake us. Promises in the sky. Reminders of Who He is, the Treasured One. And because of Who He is, and because of all He has given me, I make this my prayer… “as God lives and is all I ever need, I will not waste my life…”