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Archive for May, 2014

My daughter Stacy is an angel sent from heaven to delight everyone who comes in contact with her. Stacy is one of those women that walks into a room and lights it up – not only with her beauty, but with her smile and grace. She is lovely beyond description, both inside and out. And although she is one of the most beautiful looking women I have ever seen, her depth of character reaches far beyond her beauty. Many times she has jolted me with her gift of wisdom and determination. If Stacy put her mind to something, she was always determined to do it and nothing was going to get it out of her pretty little head.  Often as a child Stacy would be so persistent that I’d give in just to get her to stop bugging me. She never let her young age deter her, and now in her adult years her wisdom and determination are even more prevalent.

The other thing I have always admired about Stacy is that her beauty, to her, has always been secondary. Her first thought is love. Everyone that knows her loves her, because she loves them. From the time she was a little girl, her gift of love was apparent to her dad and I, and he fondly nick-named her the “Velcro Kid” because when she was with you, she was stuck right to you. Stacy’s beauty draws people in but her love keeps them in relationship. And with her gift of love and perseverance, comes confidence and grace.

The attributes of Stacy, unfortunately, have not always been as true of her mother. In contrast to Stacy’s innocence and confidence, I have often confused God’s gifting as useful tools for my gain. Particularly when it came to being pretty.  In my younger years I fell prey to using my gifts in self-centered ways, which typically back-fired, leading to self-pity.

I found myself in that awful place of self-centered-self-pity just before Christmas many years ago when Stacy was about 5 years old. Here is the story of when God used her unique blend of grace and persistence to prevail in order to do His will and ultimately to teach me about the “Purpose in gifts”…

Each year close to Christmas my sisters and I had a tradition of taking our kids to a nursing home where we would walk the floors and sing Christmas carols to the residents. We had 8 children between us, so with the kids, my sisters, and a few tag-along friends we made quite an ensemble. We would happily walk through each floor of the nursing home joyously bellowing out our merry Christmas tunes. We always started out a little shy, but by the time we reached the middle of the first floor the kids were leading the way singing their hearts out and greeting the old folks that would come scurrying out of their rooms to see us.

We went to the same nursing home each year, but this was not a typical middle class nursing home. It was a state ran facility. Now we’ve all heard horror stories about how bad some nursing homes can be, but you cannot even imagine the depth of despair until you visit a state ran facility that houses people who are very low income and with no other financial resources to take care of themselves.

This particular facility had 3 floors that looked pretty much like a hospital. As you progressed up each floor the sadness would thicken as we saw declining degrees of the human condition. It wasn’t that the faculty was neglectful toward the people, it was apparent most of the workers genuinely cared for the residents. It was just that there was only so much money available in state funds allocated to the home. So with that along with whatever social security paid, the nursing staff did the best they could.

The first floor housed residents that could somewhat care for themselves, however, they needed someone  to remind them to eat, take their pills, clean their rooms, etc. The people on the first floor were mostly of sound mind and were typically strong enough to walk or be pushed in wheelchairs. Some of the residents on this floor were convalescing and would be leaving at some point, but for most they were nearing the end of the winter season of their lives.

The second floor housed elderly people who could no longer care for themselves. They needed round-the-clock supervision. Many were mentally ill in various stage of dementia and Alzheimer, and most had disabilities that kept them confined to wheel chairs. When our little band of carolers would go to this floor, we would be ushered by several of the orderlies who stayed close by, as the people were unpredictable and sometimes a little intimidating. But, our kids continued to merrily sing Christmas carols and shake the hands of each person. I was always so proud of how outgoing the kids were as they wished everyone “Merry Christmas!”

The third and last floor of this nursing home required special permission to go on it. When my sister originally sought out a nursing home we could carol at, the head of the facility said we would not be allowed to tour the 3rd floor as the people were in critical health and the last stages of life. Many there had progressed their way through each floor to finally land on the third floor where they lived out the remainder of their life and passed away. The third floor was restricted, but my sister, also blessed with the gift of persistence, finally talked the nursing staff into allowing us on the 3rd floor.

The third floor housed the dying and the severely disabled, physically and mentally, however, not all were old people. A few of the residents were young people who had been in horrible accidents but had no money for their continued care, and no one to care for them, so they were put in this facility to live out their lives. It was a tragedy to see some of the severely disabled young people there year after year.

I remember one young man that was on the third floor who had gotten in a motorcycle accident. He was in his 30’s at the time of the accident that left him completely paralyzed. He laid in that bed with a sound mind, unable to move and communicated only by grunting – 1 grunt for no, 2 grunts for yes. He had a wife and family that spent long hours with him – at first. His money had run out as his medical expenses soared, so he was resolved to spending the rest of his life in the same bed on the third floor of that state ran facility. Year after year we would see him and he always remembered us. Each Christmas visit we made a point to go to his room and spend extra time singing to him. There were always hugs and smiles as he gave us 2 grunts acknowledging he had remembered us from the previous year. The two most significant memories I have of this of this young man were that he had the biggest smile you have ever seen, and that as the years went by his family stopped coming to see him.

People in nursing homes sadly don’t get many visitors, and if you were in this nursing facility it was most likely because you had no one to care for you and no where else to go. Needless to say it was one of the most sobering and heart wrenching things to see. Yet we believed we could make a difference in the lives of these forgotten people even if for just one night at Christmas. 

After the first year our children got used to going to the second and third floor of the nursing home. They saw past the tragic circumstances and happily bounce from room to room delighting people with their youthfulness and song. How the residents loved the kids. The faculty got to know us and each year would make an announcement that we had returned with our unique Christmas cheer to delight the residents and they allowed us to meander a little longer than their rules permitted.

As we walked the halls the residents would come out of their rooms, some using walkers, some using wheel chairs and some being pushed out in beds by nurses and orderlies. They would join in our songs. They delighted in seeing our beautiful children and caught their excitement of the magic of Christmas and the birth of our Savior.

As I mentioned, when I was younger I did not always appreciated my God-given gifts as being from Him – meant to share with others for his good will. One particular year, close to Christmas and ironically the evening of our annual caroling, I had been in a particularly negative rut for several days over an offensive statement I had heard said about me. Earlier in the week I had applied for a job and lost the position. I had tried really hard to get it and felt sure I would. After I had aced my first interview, I was confident my experience, professional demeanor and pretty looks would be the closer. But, instead of the door opening because of my attributes the door slammed shut. Upon following up on the position I was told they felt my looks would be a distraction to the job.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard this – the same message had just recently been conveyed to me from a committee at church as I had sought to serve in a particular capacity. My being pretty would be a distraction and hinder the ministry.

Being “pretty” had opened doors from time to time, which had been an advantage in the past, but recently it had become a hindrance to me getting what I wanted…and I found myself sinking into the self-centered-self-pity mode.

There I was, the morning of our caroling adventure, feeling very sorry for myself. I looked in the mirror with a selfish and bruised ego and demanded God to answer this question “why God did you make me pretty?”  On this day I saw it as a curse, and as silly as it sounds now, I stood there crying and pleading with God for an answer as to why he made me pretty.  …No answer came.

As the evening grew closer I got the kids ready for our caroling adventure. They put on their festive Christmas attire, found the jingle bells, and out the door we went with some homemade card ornaments we had put together a few days earlier to give to the residents.

Everyone looked especially radiant that night including me. But unfortunately my attitude was nothing of the sort. Still sulking from the loss of the job and feeling discriminated against from church, we left for the evenings annual Christmas caroling. My thought was I’d go through the motions, faking my Christmas joy in order to be a good example to the kids. But internally I had even became angry at God for not answering my earlier question…”why did you make me pretty!”

When we got to the nursing home we made our usual rounds to the first and second floors. The residents were so happy to see us. Many had remembered us from the previous year. We missed some as they had passed on but there were new residents to take their place. On this night there was particularly more joy and love in this place than even on previous visits. The peace and merriment of Christmas was present and everyone including our little band of carolers were recipient of God’s joyous presence. Eventually I even dumped my self-pity “baggage”  and joined in the merriment and blessings we were witnessing as God “showed up” that Christmas caroling evening. I had completely forgotten my questioning God earlier that morning, and was just thankful to be part of bringing so much joy to others.

As we reached the third floor, the “last stop” for residents in their twilight years, God’s presence abound even more. For a moment I paused and watched as my 5 year old little Stacy skipped through the hall singing her heart out with the other kids. She was darling in her little Christmas dress and her hair curled in pigtails. She actually was so friendly that night that I became a little nervous because she kept wanting to go into patients rooms who were not coming out into the hall to hear us sing. So I decided to hold onto her hand to keep her close.

Up on the third floor the nurses had asked us to be careful about not going into rooms, even though the doors were left open, because they were afraid the children may see something that would be upsetting, so we tried to contain them to the hall as best we could.

There was however one room that Stacy was adamant about going into. With her unique brand of persistence she continued to tug on my hand over and over again, saying “mommy come in here, we have to go in here.”  I kept telling her we were not to go into rooms if people were not at their door, but Stacy persisted. “Mommy, please come in here” and before I knew it she let go of my hand and darted in the room – alone. I followed after to bring her back into the hall.

As I entered, the room was dark with the exception of a single light in a corner. There were two beds, one unoccupied, the other occupied with a very old sick man laying flat and staring up at the ceiling. Stacy was already at the man’s side standing on her tiptoes and I could see from the doorway that she had captured his attention with her loving smile. She began merrily chattering and when she saw me she said, “mommy lets sing to him.” The other carolers could be plainly heard out in the hallway bellowing their Christmas carols, so I said “Stacy, jut let him hear everyone else”. But Stacy persisted, “mommy come closer and lets sing to him.” I realized she was not going to give up until we sang to the man so I approached the bed. The man had not seen me yet, but was intently looking at sweet, beautiful, smiling Stacy.

When I got to the bedside I could see the man was really ill, so much so that he could not lift his head. All he could do was lay there motionless. It was obvious by his slow shallow breathing and cloudy eyes that he was dying. I realized then why he was not pushed out into the hallway to hear us sing as the other residents had been.

Immediately I was filled with compassion and sorrow. Stacy persisted, “mommy sing to him.” So at the relentless determination of my daughter I began to sing. And as I did the man’s gaze turned from Stacy to me, and he saw me for the first time since I had entered the room. Immediately upon seeing me, this man who before was gaunt, had sunken eyes and gray coloring, now had a face lit up as if he had just seen something glorious. His eyes began to dance and a huge smile came to his face. I continued to sing and Stacy joined in. Then just as the song was ending, Stacy ran out of the room, leaving me on my own. I stood there, finished the song, and then there was silence.

The old man never took his eyes from me, and I saw them began to fill with tears. He then softly said  with delight “Your here” (pause) “I have been praying that God would send a beautiful angel to take me home to be with him and you’re here.” He began to cry and thank God for answering his prayer, never releasing his gaze from my face. At that moment I heard God say to my heart “you see Janie, that is why I made you pretty.”

I too began to cry and just then Stacy came running back in the room and started tugging on my sweater saying “here mommy give him this.” I looked down and in her hand was one of our homemade Christmas card cutout ornaments with the picture of a beautiful angel that closely resembled me, dressed in powder blue (the same color I was wearing.) I took the ornament and put it in the hand of the old man. As the old man took hold of the ornament, his gaze turned from me to the angel on the card ornament and he beamed at the site of the card the same way he had at me.  Stacy and I were both reverent for a moment then she took my hand to lead me out the door. Stacy seemed to have realized our mission was accomplished in the old man’s life, but what she did not realize is that a mission was also accomplished in her mom at that same moment.

I kissed the old man on his forehead and told him I would see him in heaven. Stacy then quietly said “come on mommy,” and we walked out the door. I took one last look as we got to the doorway. The old man never took his gaze from the angel ornament in his hand and he continued thanking and praising God.

I have no doubt that the old man passed away shortly after that, it was obvious he was just waiting for God to answer his prayer of having an angel usher him into heaven. God had used me to answer his prayer and I had been given the gift of holding his hand for a few moments on this final journey.

I left there a changed person. No longer did I question why God made me pretty or any other number of “why questions” around my God-given abilities. God had made it clear He had given me certain gifts to be used for his glory. I just needed to be humble so God could show me that gifts are not given to be self-servicing or to manipulate to get our own way. They are given to us so we can bless and minister to others. So we can be His hands, His feet, His eyes, ears and voice.

I am thankful to Stacy who at a very young age was tuned into God enough to know exactly what He wanted, and what her mommy needed. I was given an amazing gift that night to be a blessing to others, and personally healed (and forgiven) in the process.

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