Helgi

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Helgi loved bright colors.

 

My 91-year-old mother lives in a supervised independent living facility just down the road a bit from where I live. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people—both those who live there and those who work there. One side of the facility is assisted living–for those who need extra support and help.

I feel great joy when I visit with my mother and the many residents who reside there. There’s Joyce, who sits near the front entrance in the beautiful lobby, who takes my hand each time I come into the building, with a ready smile. There are hugs from Roy and his wife Pat, Susie, Art (a gem of a person), just to name a few. And Helgi.

Helgi was born in Czechoslovakia. Her grandparents perished in a concentration camp during the German Occupation. But Helgi and her mother were fortunate. They escaped to London, where they survived the bombings of that city during WWII. She and her mother eventually reconnected with her father, who had immigrated to America several years earlier. Helgi eventually married, was a nurse, and outlived all of her family. She was a beautiful lady.

I say was—because three days ago Helgi left this world.

I knew she wasn’t feeling well and I had planned on stopping to see her. Helgi was a woman of Faith. And I felt a deep desire to sit and pray with her. Except, I didn’t. I got busy with other things. Unfortunately, we all do that—even those of us who are His Followers.

It was two days ago that I finally stopped by Helgi’s apartment—and it was empty. Someone said she had moved to the assisted living side of the facility. So I walked the halls looking for her name outside each assisted living apartment. Finally, when I couldn’t find her, I went to the front desk.

They know me there. I come to see my mother almost every day. When I asked about Helgi, they said, “She died yesterday afternoon.”

I couldn’t help myself. I got emotional, choking out these words, “But I had hoped to sit down and pray with her. The Lord was nudging me, and I didn’t listen. I should have. I’m so sorry.” The receptionist looked at me with kind and tearful eyes, “I know,” she said.

It’s only been a few days and I’m still feeling the loss of a friend. The missed opportunity to spend time with someone transitioning from this world to the next saddens me still. And I am reminded of the blessings we receive when we listen to the nudges of the Lord.

I hope to be a better listener the next time.

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A Christmas Tradition

 

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I started a tradition four years ago with the birth of my first grandchild—a grandson. And now I also have an almost 2-year-old granddaughter.   They are both sweet, loving children—and quite normal, for they love receiving presents.

While I cherish the fun of buying them special Christmas gifts, I truly longed for a way of showing them the real meaning of the Christmas season.   I know from my own experience the joy that comes from giving to someone who is in need, and I wanted my grandchildren to have this experience as well. Thus the tradition: buying a gift for someone in need each year as one of their Christmas presents.

Here’s my hope: As they begin to grow older, they will be just as excited on Christmas morning to discover who they helped this year as they will be for any of their other presents. And as young adults and eventually a father and mother themselves they will continue this tradition of giving a Christmas gift to others.

My grandson’s presents over the past 4 years have been 2 chickens to a family in Africa, a doll to a child in need in the USA, a warm coat for a refugee boy in Syria, and this year—a winter care kit for a refugee child in Europe facing a freezing winter.

For my granddaughter, her gift last year was 2 weeks of milk for a hungry baby—and this year, a loving-care package for an orphan girl in India.

I read a devotional earlier today entitled, “Life is Best Lived When You’re Awake.” The author’s premise: Appreciate all that God has given you. Pay attention to the wonder of being alive. Notice and help the people around you—especially those in need. Then he asked, “Are you awake?”

God bless you as you think about and give to others in need this glorious season—as we celebrate the Birth of our Lord! Merry Christmas.

Gift ideas for children in need all over the world can be found at samaritanspurse.org and worldvisiongifts.org. You can make a difference for a child or a family in need for under $25.

 

Crossroads

The IntersectionA terrible tragedy occurred on Saturday morning in Stillwater, Oklahoma.   A car plunged into the Oklahoma State University Homecoming Parade crowd killing four people—including a 2-year-old boy—a child the age of my little granddaughter. Another 47 people were injured, several in critical condition.

It’s understandable that we are angry with the 25-year-old woman who has been identified as the one responsible. Many consider her to be a monster. I myself was angry at her, asking how she could do such a horrible thing, hurting so many innocent people.

But then God reached out and touched my heart—and I remembered. How could I, of all people, not feel compassion for this woman.

Most of my friends will be surprised to read what I’m about to tell you. Only my family and a handful of others are aware of this difficult chapter in my life story.

~~~

Six years ago this past September, I made a left turn at a green light at a busy intersection. I turned—and never saw the motorcycle that was heading toward me from the opposite direction. It all happened very quickly. I remember seeing him only at the very last minute.

That’s all that I remember. The next thing I know, I woke up inside a smoke-filled car with airbags deployed and shattered.

As a result of a split-second decision, my life has never been nor will it ever be the same again. The motorcyclist didn’t make it. I wasn’t drinking; I wasn’t texting; I wasn’t on drugs; I wasn’t speeding; I wasn’t on my cell phone. I simply made a left turn and didn’t see the motorcycle.

I’d like to say I can’t imagine what the driver in Oklahoma is thinking or going through at this moment—but unfortunately, I can. No matter what the rest of us might think of her, she is numb, in shock, feeling desperate, hopeless, full of fear and unbearable anxiety. And she’s just beginning her terrible journey—and I can tell you it gets worse before it ever might get better.

Please understand. I am in no way condoning or excusing this woman’s behavior—whether she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or mentally unstable. We are after
all, all accountable for our actions. I’m just saying that we’ve been told not to judge or condemn, to love our neighbor, and to forgive others. God offers redemption to even those who seem most unlovable.

So I would ask each of you: Pray for the families of those who lost their loved ones. Pray for the families and the victims who are critically injured and recovering. Pray for all who were touched by this horrific incident.

But also pray for this woman who has to be, inside herself, hurting, too. I know I feel compelled to do so. I hope that you do, too.

 ~~~

In the end, my traumatic journey turned out to be a blessing. The Lord called me, said he loved me, forgave me for this and all my past and future sins, and asked me to follow him. And I said “yes.”

I wish this for everyone who has their own unique walk as they journey through their time on this planet. My family, my friends, all of those affected by these terrible events in Stillwater, Oklahoma—and yes, also for the woman who is responsible.

Pachelbel’s Canon

IMG_3787Three of my hospice patients passed away over the holidays. None were 11th Hour. Two of the passings, I anticipated. You can tell when a hospice patient is nearing the end, even if they aren’t 11th Hour. The third, a surprise, just happened today.

And it was this third that “hit” me the hardest. While I’m always touched by the loss of the brave and noble men and women that come to the end of their lives, I must admit that I was very fond of the woman who passed away this morning.

Her name was Ellen. Unlike most of the other patients, Ellen was usually up and about and in her wheel chair whenever I came to visit. As far as I knew, she didn’t have any family close by—there was nothing on her walls to indicate family or friends (no pictures, cards, etc.). Whenever I came into her room or found her in the hallway, she would beam with pleasure to see me.

Lately, each time we would meet, I would pull out my little Bluetooth wireless speaker and play piano music for Ellen from my cellphone. She loved the piano. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire was her favorite Christmas song. But her favorite song of all time was Pachelbel’s Canon. She would hug the little wireless speaker and tear up every time we played it.

I am going to miss my sweet friend Ellen. I know she’s in a better place, and for that I am grateful. She’s in Heaven now–with the Lord and a multitude of angels singing more beautifully than any of us can possibly imagine! I can see her in my mind—beautiful, full of youthful energy, glowing with happiness, beaming her precious smile of recognition right down at me (with a ‘wait til you get up here’ kind of look in her eye)!

Someday I will see Ellen again. Until then, for Ellen, one more time, here’s Pachelbel’s Canon:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlprozGcs80

A Thanksgiving Wish

A painting purchased in China years ago in support of a struggling artist.

A painting purchased in China years ago in support of a struggling peasant artist.

It was almost 1:00 before Ron and I headed for lunch at a little Italian sandwich place just around the corner.

We drove separately—I would return home to do some work; Ron would head to the store. As I parked in the lot in front of the restaurant, I noticed a woman sitting alone in a truck next to my car. I thought nothing of it.

We walked into the restaurant, sat down to enjoy our sandwiches, and finished about 40 minutes later. As we headed back to our cars, I noticed the truck still parked in the space next to my car. But this time the door to the truck was ajar and the woman inside was crying.

I was in a hurry to get home, but felt compelled to stop. I asked, “Do you need some help?”

“Yes,” she said, “I can’t get my truck to start. And I can’t reach my husband. I don’t know what to do.”

I saw Ron backing out of his parking space and raced over to flag him down. When he saw me, he pulled over and I explained that a woman in a truck needed help. He parked his car and walked on over.

The woman looked relieved and grateful.

Ron got into the truck, tried to turn it over, but he couldn’t get it out of park. There was no electrical power. He opened the hood, pushed, pulled, and shook a couple of wires (admitting he had no idea what he was doing), then got back into the truck and turned the engine over. It started! With the power restored, Ron shifted out of park and into gear and the truck was ready to go!

The woman was ecstatic. She asked if she could give us each a big hug and we accepted. Ron warned her as she drove away not to turn the engine off under any circumstances until she was safely home.

We followed her in both cars as far as we could until she only had about a half mile to go.

Later in the day, I told Ron he did a good thing. He said he had no idea what he was doing, but glad it had all worked out.

So here’s my Thanksgiving wish for all of you: May you be blessed with the opportunity this holiday season to help someone in need or share with others who are less fortunate.

Maybe it’s comforting a child who has fallen off a bicycle, or slipping twenty dollars to a young mother in line at Walmart who is short the cash to pay her bill and has to decide whether she should return the milk her children need or the baby’s diapers, or buying an inexpensive print to help a struggling artist.

The tiniest act of kindness pleases our Father in Heaven. It says so in the Scriptures:

Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

Proverbs 19:17 “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Matthew 25: 35-40  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lillian

I lost one of the hospice patients I regularly visit this morning, and I am deeply saddened.

DSC02120Saddened because I will miss her, even though we never had a real conversation. There were no long, or even brief, talks between the two of us. Our visits were always one-sided. I talked; she listened. And that’s the way it has been every Saturday since August.

I had come to the nursing home this morning armed with a freshly downloaded reading of the book of John on my iphone to share with Lillian. I eagerly stepped into her room and found her physically present—but, sadly, gone.

As I turned to go for help, a nurse and coroner with his gurney quietly entered the room. They told me Lillian had passed about an hour before I arrived.

Over the past three months, I read numerous Bible passages to her, prayed over her, and listened to some of my favorite hymns with her.

Like I said, we never had a chance to engage in a formal conversation. But I could tell when she enjoyed a particular song. And I could see by her physical movements or her facial expressions that she was listening to my words.

I heard something beautiful in a hospice meeting earlier this week. One woman in training said, “I like to tell the family at the passing of their loved one, that their last breath on earth, is their first breath in Heaven.” Then she said, “Death is nothing to be afraid of.”

I pray my loved ones at death will pass over into eternity to be with our Heavenly Father. I want that for Lillian. I want that for my friends. And I want that basically for everyone!

So while today is a sad day, it’s also a day for rejoicing.

For “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

John 5:24

Rest now in peace, dear Lillian.

Nothing on My Tongue But Hallelujah

From the Hallelujah song by the Canadian Tenors

 
Several weeks ago, I had an 11th Hour with a hospice patient. For those of you not familiar with this term, it means the patient is, in the opinion of medical staff, in their final hours.

I spent several hours with the patient, Lillian (a fictitious name), over a 2-day period. On the morning of the 3rd day when I arrived at the nursing home, I expected to find that Lillian was gone, but by the Grace of God she was alive.

The nurses told me Lillian had miraculously recovered. I stopped by her room briefly to check in on her, then said I’d be back later in the week.

When I arrived at the nursing home the following Saturday, I found Lillian in her usual state—sleeping and nonresponsive. I sat down and started to talk to her. I talked about my mother (both Lillian and my mother are close to the same age), what it must have been like growing up in the Great Depression, being a teenager during WWII. I even played a couple of songs from the 1930s-1940s.

As I was getting ready to leave, I remembered a beautiful, contemporary song that I had just downloaded on my cell phone—the Hallelujah song by the Canadian Tenors.

They tell us in hospice that patients, even when they are nonresponsive, can hear you. Family, friends, and volunteers are encouraged to talk to hospice patients. I love playing music to those I visit.

So I decided to play this song for Lillian before departing. And here’s the amazing thing that happened. Sitting by her bedside, I witnessed a miracle. About 4 and 1/2 minutes into the 5-minute song, Lillian, who never moves or speaks, sat straight up, eyes closed, and began to silently mouth the words “Hallelujah” along with the Tenors as they sang their final chorus.

Startled, surprised, awed, amazed—I can’t really find the right word that precisely describes my thoughts, my feelings, my reaction at that moment. But I can find the words to describe what I think happened that afternoon to Lillian: I believe she was touched by the Holy Spirit. And for that, I say, “Hallelujah!”

 

If you’d like to hear the Hallelujah song, here’s a link to the Canadian Tenors. I chose this version because you can see the lyrics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8UELF3IATw

A Tiny Seed

I listened to a sermon the other day in which a minister said we should share our personal experiences of mighty acts (things that happen to us that we believe are the work or Hand of God). A few days ago, I ran across this photo and it reminded me of an experience I had on a business trip to India. One that I think was a Hand-of-God experience. But first let me take you back a few years into my past.

Like so many others, from the time I left high school throughout my working career, I put the Faith I was taught as a child pretty much on hold. A kind way of saying my life was busy with things I thought were more important.  But God, ever patient, never abandoned or gave up on me.

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Missionary Home in New Delhi, India

I was blessed with the opportunity to travel overseas with my work–to Europe, India, and multiple trips to China.  Whenever I traveled to third world countries, I always took gifts for the children. This was true of the trip to India with two of my working colleagues. We arrived in India with stuffed animals, coloring books, watches, toy cars, books, etc.

When we had finished all of our business, we hired a driver to take us to an orphanage where we could leave our gifts.  We arrived at a compound inside the walls of a New Delhi inner city location.  Unbeknownst to us, there had been a communication glitch, or maybe the driver just got lost, but we never made it to the orphanage like we expected.

Instead, we stopped at a Missionary Home full of people terminally ill with tuberculosis and other diseases.  We walked through the open-air buildings with men, women, and children all sick in their beds and volunteers hard at work watching over them.

Not quite sure of where we were or what we had just experienced, we thanked the sister who walked us through the facility, left the toys for the children, and donated the small amount of money we could find on the three of us.  We had also brought along little bars of soap, shampoo, plastic combs, toothpaste and toothbrushes that we had collected from the hotels we stayed in along our journey.  And we left those, too. We never saw the sign posted at the gate (pictured) until our departure.

The next day we left the country.

For years, I felt the trip to India had been a mistake and a disaster. But then five years ago something happened in my life that returned me to my Faith. I’m a new and totally different person. Now I look back and view this trip to India and the stop at the Home for Dying Destitutes as a blessing–a Hand-of-God experience.  Of course, at the time of our journey, I didn’t see it.

Even though I was, at that time, out of fellowship, somewhere in the middle of New Delhi, God planted a tiny seed in my heart that began to slowly germinate and grow. For years, I’ve felt the nudge to help children and the elderly–those who are most vulnerable.  Well, three weeks ago, I finally listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit and began volunteering inside a nursing home for hospice.

Yesterday was my first 11th Hour experience sitting with an elderly woman alone in this world as she passes on to the next one. What a privilege and blessing it was to spend that hallowed time with her.

A tiny seed starting to grow? I truly believe so.