July 24 2016 | Sherrill McLeary –
Last week we talked of how Enuma, a young theology student travelling the globe feeding the poor and offering what resources she had to those in need- was feeling she was being a good Christian and serving God. Enuma later experienced, what she called a nudge from God to offer service right where she lived.
This morning I want to tell you about the nudges I’ve felt from God to serve.
Today the words I speak come to you rooted in the Christ light we share in this building each Sunday.
A few years ago our congregation formed caring connections which is a combination of the prayer group and the pastoral care members. We gather once a month around the Christ candle, check in with one another before respectfully offering up names we are caring/praying for. The part I like is when we hold hands around the light and pray openly and sometimes silently. This is community in service to one another as the prayer shawl ministry is as well.
One Sunday morning as I was literally walking out the front door of the church, someone stopped me and asked for assistance within the coming week with a short worship service that our church members offered once a month at Kiwanis Care Centre. All I had to do was read a scripture, sing a couple hymns and offer up a prayer which seemed like a pretty tall order.
The service was always at 1:30 just after lunch and medications a time when you would think the residents would be sleepy and sometimes they seemed that way, but when you sang “How Great Thou Art”, “Jesus Loves Me” and their favourite, “In The Garden”, well, they were very much awake and all always joined in The Lord’s Prayer.
Every month I felt an inner sense of belonging to these wonderful seniors in care. And it was very difficult for me to give up when circumstances forced us to discontinue the services.
I was then approached by the Recreation Therapist who asked me if I would like to visit one-on-one with residents who did not have visitors or companions and that most volunteers felt uneasy visiting alone with someone unfamiliar to them. That’s when I applied for and became an official Vancouver Coastal Health volunteer. And, because of my chatty, friendly nature, fit right in. I was given a list of names to visit. So I gathered my little kit of bible, hymn book, Canadian poems and some stories, and a deck of playing cards, put on my official badge and off
I went down the halls to resident’s rooms to listen to and encourage them to tell me their stories.
I never thought about what or why I was doing this – I simply just enjoyed and felt comfortable visiting and helping out with other activities when I was asked to do so.
The enlightenment and realization to serve is what followed.
While volunteering at Kiwanis, my whole world fell apart and I was forced to give up all volunteer work. My life transitioned from that of wife to care-giver to my husband of 50 years who was, in 2011, diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. When George was admitted to Kiwanis care facility after a 6 month stay in Lions Gate Hospital, I became very lonely and very angry at everyone, especially God. Why me, why him.
I was now dividing my time between travelling to Vancouver to visit my step mother, Marie as well now, to Kiwanis to visit George. I cried and screamed and wallowed in my sadness for a very long time, until one morning when I awoke with puffy eyes, to the bright, rising sun, chirping birds and my little friend, rufus, the humming bird, I suddenly realized how fortunate I was to be a part of this world of beauty and that I have a choice to live life each day to the fullest or drown myself in sorrow.
Well, God had nudged me after giving me time to grieve my situation. That awakening made me think of the hymn we sung earlier “Morning Has Broken” A whole new day, a whole new life.
It also reminded me of Winnie the Pooh when he said that today was, and I quote, “my favourite day”.
I had time to contemplate what’s next for me. I talk to God a lot all day long and out loud as I feel this gives me strength to – you know the expression “keep calm and carry on”.
One day an email came across my computer, from First United, asking congregations members to join an on line prayer community. Once a week, Rev. Sally McShane would email us names in confidence to pray for. I felt by doing this I was able to be of some service within my faith, and I formed a very special bond with these names. I began to feel useful once again. A nudge to serve.
A year ago George and several others were transferred to a ward which was suddenly made up without much thought, I felt, or consideration for the residents. It was a quick fix to address a needed situation. The staff encouraged me to write a letter, gave me a name as they in their positions were not able to do so.
So I spent a few weeks preparing a letter to the management at L.G.H. and K. The letter was factual, well thought out while trying to be non-judgemental and in support of the residents and staff of the new ward. The letter of concern was well received and within a few days I saw changes and was granted interviews with K manager and head nurses. They appreciated my advocacy for not only my loved one but for their staff as well as the residents. Another nudge to service
A few months later, I was approached by a specialist physician who frequents K and was asked if I would give a talk at a convention, the topic being my life as a care-giver, the system, how it serves me or not, and where it can improve.
I felt honored and humbled, and at the end of March I gave my first speech to 200 professionals and I somehow felt once again this was an opportunity to advocate for other care givers who for various reasons, mainly fear, are not comfortable to speak up. This was definitely a nudge from God and I knew I was not alone.
I now, once again, and for the past two years, volunteer 2 days a week at Kiwanis working with “special care” residents within their recreation therapy programs and have been able to build a trust with these residents who live in the later stages with dementia.
One evening while in the dining room with George, I asked the whereabouts of a particular resident that I had not noticed for about a week. He was quite a character and always made himself known when he entered the dining room. I was told that he was dying and that they could not locate his family.
I suddenly felt a “rush” of emotion and found myself asking if I could visit with him.
I sat by his bed using my best skill that of chatting, and told him how much I enjoyed his drumming and how I would smile when he banged his coffee cup on the table asking for more when all he wanted to do was warm his hands around the hot cup. I told him he was loved by all who knew him and then just sat and held his hand.
The second night (and after receiving some advice and a hug from Rev. Nancy) I told him if he wanted to go, he could, that he didn’t have to wait for family to arrive that they would come when they were able and again just sat and held his hand. He died a half hour after my visit and the next week I was introduced to his family who expressed their gratitude to me for visiting their loved one.
Within the past 3 weeks Marie, my step-mother was dying after four years in care and at the age of 90. I visited nearly every day and at the end of that week Marie passed away with me and my daughter by her side. She simply stopped breathing as we prayed together and held her hand. Michelle and I were reduced to jelly as we buried ourselves in Marie’s blanketed body and cried uncontrollably.
This was Love in action indeed.
I have just experienced the end of life good-bye to two people. Was this another nudge from God to serve? In reverse order, I have worked the practicum, now all I have to do is take the course as a volunteer either in pastoral care or oncology, hospice, where ever my volunteer badge and God send me.
While resolving which way I am to go, I have recently been trained as one of 1500 volunteers for Isobel McKenzie, the provincial advocate for seniors for BC, to conduct a survey to more than 27,000 seniors who occupy a bed in a care facility in BC. I am looking forward to beginning interviewing next week and hearing their stories and I am excited that our seniors advocate and her team actually care about our seniors in care.
I can hardly wait for the next nudge from God and where that will take me. I feel a sense of renewal, usefulness to my community and I know that comes from the commandment Jesus gave to us to “Love one another” or as Enuma said “Love one another well”. I can make a difference regardless how small and right where I live.
I have performed service most of my life but it has taken me into my senior years and George’s illness to realize that it has become a true calling rooted in my faith within the light, the light that had once darkened for me.
This is my nudge from God to service and may it continue to be so.
Now, please say with me the quote at the top of the page of your announcements written in italics, from Martin Luther King Jr.
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.
You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
May it be so for all of us!