He sat in his wheelchair, gray sweatsuit stained with that day’s meals and drops of saliva he kept wiping with a tissue, tattered black World War II hat perched on his head.
Our group of college students had once again enveloped a nearby nursing home with love, music and encouragement. We do it frequently, and it is an amazing time.
As we walked the halls singing hymns, residents would come join us, some listening, some singing along, some just happy to have young and fresh faces to encourage them. We stopped at Eddie’s door and began How Great Thou Art. I realized he was mouthing the words and went into him asking if he’d like to share my chorus book. He shook his head, “I have such a hard time reading no more.” His words were garbled and hard to understand.
He sat and talked to me while our students sang. I quickly realized he must have suffered a stroke at some point, because I recognized those same symptoms my grandfather has suffered–the drawn face, slurry speech, and lack of emotional control.
He pointed upwards, “The good Lord don’t make mistakes,” he slurred. “I… I… I… been put here for a reason. He’s a good bookkeeper. He don’t make no errors.” I smiled as he said, “I like these hymns. I know them all. Can they sing Great is Thy Faithfulness?”
Of course, they could! We sang Great is Thy Faithfulness together, then he told a couple of the guys what he had shared with me–how God doesn’t make mistakes, how He’s always good.
The students moved on, ready to bless another soul, and I stayed with Eddie for a while. He told me his story, confirming multiple strokes. I probably understood a third of what he was saying, praying the whole time, “Lord, let me understand him so I can really talk with him.” He shared of the War and where he fought as a Marine, how he hated war but did what he was called to do. He talked about his school days, and how he walked 6 miles each way to school and back even in the snow. He talked about his family, most of them gone now, but he has a niece and nephew who visit him.
Then he said it again, “I… I… I… been put here. God has me here. He don’t make no mistakes.” He choked up, his face crumpling, tears streaming. “I’m ready to go to my real home though.” I grabbed a tissue for him, then sat and cried with him. “Didn’t used to be this way. Used to be when I was a kid we took the old people into our homes, we didn’t just leave them as outcasts.” I sighed a heavy sigh for him and his pain. It felt unbearable.
Then he said it again, “But… but… but God don’t make no mistakes. I’m here for a reason. He’s a good bookkeeper. He don’t make no errors. What we was just talking about? Already written in his book. He knew we was gonna talk about it.”
We chatted some more, then he pushed me on my way, “You go sing some more. Other people need you, too. Besides, I got the good Lord with me. I’m not alone.” How could he have known how badly I needed to hear his words of truth?
I hugged him, prayed with him and went back to our group of singers, passing students and residents as I walked, trying to regain my composure. We sang some more, then moved toward the exit. Bingo night had just let out, and residents were walking or wheeling toward us with their stuffed animal winnings in hand. We started to sing again, and I stood with a woman, Joyce, and her daughter who had stopped with us, and Joyce sang all the words by heart.
She told me about her cancer struggle and showed me where she was receiving radiation on her nose. She told me about her breast cancer and radiation, and we talked about how awful cancer was. “But,” she sighed, “God promised to never leave me. I hold onto Him.” Choking back tears, I nodded. How could she have known how badly I needed to hear that?
She requested Amazing Grace, and as we sang I looked around.
Down the hall was a student sitting on the floor next to a man holding his chorus book to sing. Two residents sat with two of our girls holding hands, praying in a circle together. Two of our group exited a room having spent most of our hour there sitting with a man who had trouble hearing… Up and down the hall there was no one alone, no student by themselves, they were all with residents, sitting, praying, singing, LOVING.
As always happens when we go to the nursing home to be ministers of love and peace, I walked away ministered to. I love how God does that-gives us divine appointments for the good of each other, not just for the good of one.
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…
God lives and is all I ever need…
Thank you, Eddie and Joyce, for ministering this truth to me.