Saturday, January 25, 2014

Paying it Forward - a Reflection including football

Remember Frank? The anonymous donor in the Amazing Grace story who blessed hundreds of residents this Christmas?
Yeah. Me too.  In fact, remembering Frank has really challenged me to examine my attitudes and motives. For example, I love going to the nursing home on Christmas Eve to sing with the residents and watch them open the gifts. But Frank gave with no expectation of knowing how his gift went over.
I was thinking about this when I went to sit with Pastor Brown in dialysis the next Saturday night (December 21). He'd been at this dialysis facility for about six weeks, and 
for that entire time there had been a very interesting fellow there at the same time.  Because he quite thin he is always cold, so he comes each week for dialysis with a big, black, battered sub-zero mummy-style sleeping bag, which he climbs into when he's hooked up to the dialyzer.  Partway through, he reaches up and pulls the strings surrounding the opening, closing the bag over every bit of him except his nose and the arm where his lifeline is. 
Anyhow, he always appears cheerful, and the weekend after the above shopping spree he showed up in a Seahawks Santa Hat that had seen quite a great number of better days.  I smiled at him.  "I like your hat," I told him, and he grinned the most astonishingly huge grin.  "Thank you," he said. "The 'Hawks are going to win tomorrow."
"Are they?"
"You bet.  Those Giants are going DOWN."
We exchanged a couple more pleasantries and he left, and I thought no more about it.  I remembered him the next day when the Seahawks won, and wondered how he was celebrating.  The following Saturday on my way to dialysis, I stopped in the drug store to pick up a prescription.  As I walked back to the pharmacy, I passed the clearance section, and there was a stack of Seahawks T-shirts printed with photos of men I assume to be key players of some kind (Although I was in marching band and went to every home and away game for three years, I have no idea what's going on down there on the field). It was quite nice, and was on sale for $9 (normally $29).  I heard that Familiar Voice.  "You should get that Seahawks Fellow one of those. I bet he'd like it."
I was nonplussed, and proceeded to have this mental argument with the Voice. I'm quite stingy, you know, and I hold onto my money pretty tightly.  "But...I don't even know his name!"
Silence.  A sarcastic Silence, if that's possible.
"OK, so that's not really important, I guess.  But what will he think of a stranger giving him clothes."
"It's not clothes. It's a Seahawks shirt."
I guess God knows about the Seahawks.
"Well, but it's a 2X!  It would fall right off his body!"
More silence.  With an exasperated sigh I dug through the pile.  2X, XL, XL, 3X, 2X...and there on the bottom, M. I should have known it would be there.
So I got it.  But how to present it?  You can't just hand somebody a shirt and say "Merry Christmas, Person-Whose-Name-I-Don't-Know-and-have-only-said-six-words-to-in-my-life."  But there was a sort of dented gift box on the clearance rack as well.  It wasn't a shirt box, more of a mug box, but it was shiny and red, and when I poked the dent with my finger it popped out and became invisible. So I bought both and bunged the shirt into the box and off I went, completely forgetting about my prescription.
But when I got to Dialysis....the Seahawks Fellow wasn't there.  He'd been there with Pastor Brown every time for the last six weeks, but this time there was no sign of him. Now what?
After dithering for a while, I called one of the techs over.
"Excuse me...there's usually a man here at this time..." I described him, but the blank look was disappointing.  In desperation, I finished, "And he comes in with a big ol' sleeping bag and pulls the strings..." And I pantomimed pulling the strings around my face. The tech's face lit up.
"Oh! That's Herbert! Yeah, he came in early today."
It was the 21st. No more Saturdays before Christmas.  But the beauty part of dialysis is that I knew he'd be back.  So I followed the tech to his desk and showed him the box. "I got him a little Christmas present...if I left it here would someone please give it to him when he comes in on Monday?"
He grinned.  "Sure.  Just leave it right here and stick a note on it."
A note.
What to say?
The problem, God showed me, was that I was disappointed that he wasn't there so I could give it to him personally and see his reaction, and take credit for it.  But God was teaching me something, so I went back and talked it over with Pastor Brown.
He suggested that I tell him the story of how I came to be getting him the present.  So I did that, without identifying myself, and at the end of it, remembering Frank, I wrote, "Merry Christmas from the Lord." and clapped the lid on the box.  There. If he didn't like it, he could talk to the Lord about it.
The box was gone when I came the next Saturday, so he must have received it. And only that one tech had seen me leave it, so I'm sure nobody had any idea where it had come from.  And as I was leaving I realized I was just as tickled as if I had given it to him in person.
Every time the Seahawks played, I pictured Herbert in his new shirt, and prayed for him. 
And just as an interesting caveat, last week was the Big Important Game that decided whether the Seahawks would go to the Super Bowl.  And Herbert was there at dialysis on Saturday...wearing his Christmas shirt!  He showed it to me very proudly as he was leaving.
"We going to the BOWL, Baby!" he predicted, and he was right. 
And I pray for him, and Frank, and for other opportunities to pay it forward.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Question of the Day

The question I was confronted with today at the Community Care Center (CCC) was:
"Do guns have souls, Chaplain?"

This resulted in an hour-long debate with a resident whose theology is mostly orthodox at its base if you have the time to really listen and sift through several layers of absurdities, but who really has no interest in your opinion on the matter, however scripturally-informed it may be..

Honestly, if you pray "Not my will, Lord, but Yours," you'd better be prepared for anything....

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Just a Little

So far I've written only about the difficult blessings that come with nursing home visitation.  But most of the time I just enjoy my visits with the residents.  Residents like Bobbi.

Bobbi's been on hospice for some time; with contractures of all four limbs and half blind, she is mostly bed-bound.  I visit with her for an hour or so every Sunday, and sometimes on Wednesday, and we talk and laugh and tell stories. Sometimes she dictates cards or stories and I write them down for her. 

Until just recently, food was a major topic of conversation.  Particularly her favourites, Mac and cheese, cherry pie, lemon popsicles, and chicken noodle soup.  Most of which are just memories for her, as swallowing issues prevent her from eating regular food or unthickened liquid.  But as her condition has progressed, she has stopped talking about food, and her conversation ventures ever more into the realm of the fantastic.

She always asks about my kids, and when I report some frustrating issue or unendurable misdeed, she always replies, "Oh, that's alright...they're little angels!"  She says that no matter what it is: the little boys' attempt to clean the kitchen by squirting dish soap all over the floor or my daughter's April Fool's Day prank: unscrewing the shower head, filling it with Red Kool-Aid powder, and screwing it back on.  None of it matters- they're just little angels!

But this past Sunday, Bobbi wanted to talk about food again, which I considered to be a positive sign.  Eventually we got round to Angel Food Cake.
"Oh!" she rhapsodized, "Angel Food Cake is my favourite!  I used to love it when I was a little girl!"
Seeing an opportunity for some good-natured ribbing, I leaned over her bed and asked,
"Is that because you were just such a little angel when you were a girl?"
She peered at me with her one good eye and nodded.  "Yes," she asserted, very gravely.
"Hmm." I joked.  "I like Devil's food cake.  I wonder what that makes me...."
She jumped semi-upright in the bed as though activated by springs.  "FAT!" she roared, then crashed back onto the pillows laughing her head off.  BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA!



"Laughter doeth good like a medicine," and Bobbi and I were both feeling pretty healthy after that.

God Will Make a Way

Note: if you have not yet read the background post, "Finding Nathaniel" please find it in the list on the right side of the page and take a few minutes to read it.  This will make a lot more sense if you do.

Since the events described in the previous post, I have fallen into the habit of visiting Pastor Brown during dialysis every Saturday.  We talk and pray, and occasionally sing.  Usually I stay for an hour, but sometimes we get talking about the Word and I look up and several hours have gone by.

For a while it was Saturday morning up at the VA Hospital.  But due to renovations, Pastor Brown's schedule has been changed to late evenings in Tacoma.  All the dialysis techs know me, and they are very supportive and helpful.  However, healthcare privacy laws (HIPPA) make them leery of sharing information with me.  Pastor Brown has made his wishes very clear, however, and I am in his file as part of his treatment team, looking out for his spiritual health.

Once again it has been made clear to me that this rather odd relationship is something the Lord wants to promote.  When I arrived at the dialysis center on Saturday, the tech greeted me with "He's not here - he's been admitted to Madigan through the ER."  Madigan is the big hospital at Joint Base Lewis/McChord (Army/AirForce).
I've visited Pastor Brown at Madigan in the past. It's quite a procedure.  It's at Exit 22 on I-5, but in order to visit without a military decal you have to drive two exits past it, go to the Visitor's Center (VC) and take a number.  Then you wait in line for a long time until your number is called. You hand them your license, registration and insurance card, and they issue you a day pass.  You do this every time you want to go visit.
The VC closes at 8, and by the time I found out he was there it was nearly 8 and there was no time to get there.  SO the next day, I left the Community Care Center (CCC) early so I could get to Madigan and still get home at the usual time.   Last time, I waited in line at the VC for an hour and a half so this time I took my Kindle and all my charting from the CCC.  And it turned out I was the only person there. It took maybe 4 minutes to get a pass.
Then on to Madigan which was, typically, completely deserted.  This seems to be an oddity associated particularly with military facilities: they shut down on the weekend. It's a bit eerie - even the escalators had been turned off.  But I knew where to go, so I just took the elevator.
Now, I'dphoned his granddaughter last night, and she said, "Oh, sure. Come and visit him tomorrow.  We won't be visiting him there."  This morning I called the hospital to ascertain his whereabouts, and they cheerfully gave me his room number in ICU, and the direct number for his nurse, Amber.  I called Amber from the CCC and told her I was coming and she said the VC was open until 8 so no worries. I could come see him at any time.
Now....I spoke to all three of these people, and figured everything was in order.  But I got there and the nurse (who was not Amber by this point) said, "Oh, no. You can't visit him - no visitors: he's in isolation."  I told her I'd talked to all these people, and she said she was very sorry, but no visitors. Even staff has to gown up and wear masks and gloves and all.  I told her I'd happily wear a mask and gloves and all, but she was adamant.
There wasn't much I could do. I stood there looking at the door, wondering why I had gotten this far, only to be stonewalled at the very end.  And hoping his granddaughter had told him I'd called. I prayed quickly that if there was a way I could just let him know I'd come, that the Lord would show it to me.  I watched the staff going in and out of Pastor Brown's room.  Now, the isolation rooms at Madigan are pretty serious.  There's a two-door system, with a small anteroom where staff scrubs and gowns up, and I saw when the door opened that there were windows between that room and Pastor Brown's.  So I asked his nurse if I could just go into that room and wave at him through the window, so he'd know I'd come.  She was skeptical, but another nurse behind her stepped up and said, "Sure.  I have to go in to check his vitals.  Come in with me."
Nurse 1 was determined to keep her eye on me, so she came in too. I caught Pastor Brown's eye through the window and waved.  His face lit up and he twitched his fingers and called, "Hey!  Hi!  Come on in!"
But Nurse 1 poked her (unmasked) head in the door and said, "Sorry, Mr. Brown. You can't have visitors in isolation."
He scowled.  "She ain't no visitor."
"Well, yes, she technically is."
"No, she ain't. She's part of my treatment team. And she come a long way.  All the way from...." (momentary panic, as he'd completely forgotten where I live).  But it didn't matter. Nurse 1 was standing on protocol. She works in a military hospital. She exists to stand on protocol and the guidelines were perfectly clear.
"I'm sorry  - they should have told her not to come down here.  You can't have visitors.  For their own safety."
His heart monitor was jumping all over the place, and he barked at her:
"Ain't nobody been here to see me all day, and now my minister come all the way down here to see me and you ain't going to let her in?"
Her grimness faltered just a bit. She turned to me.
"You're a....minister?"
I shook my head.  "Only to him." I pulled out my badge from Lifecare, with my chaplain's cross on it. "I'm a chaplain."
Apparently, chaplain is a step up on the bad news scale from "minister" because she was suddenly in a hurry to get me a gown and mask and gloves and things.  I told her she didn't need to make an exception for me (I hate making exceptions, and BEING an exception is even worse), and I wasn't a military chaplain or anything, but she loaded me up, helped me on with the gown and showed me where to scrub up when I was done. 
Then she left me with him, saying, "You visit as long as you like...we have no set visiting hours.  Just talk to him until he falls could....uh...keep staying after that if you want...." and with that she was gone.
I have no idea what that was all about, except that I had watched the Lord make a way beyond what I had had asked.  But we had a great visit, and I was glad I'd gone, because he was quite ill and very frightened. I let him talk until he got it all out, then we read and recited some Scripture and we prayed together.  It was a wonderful prayer time, and I left (having scrubbed up per instructions) praising the Lord for making a way.

"If God is for us, who shall stand against us?"

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Finding Nathaniel

The next update requires some background.  For many of you this is a rerun, but I'm sure more updates will be built on this one.  Read through it at your leisure and I'll post the most recent update in another few days.

May, 2013

A nursing home is a perilous place to love; as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, 'People come and go so quickly here.' Residents recover and go home, or get transferred to other facilities, or die. Even if they stay, dementia can take them to another place, though they occupy their same bed and chair; a change in medication can turn your friend into an enemy overnight; or a stroke can completely change a personality. But even knowing all that, there are some you can't help loving, and Pastor Nathaniel Brown was one of those. 
Nathaniel arrived sometime in January and at first I thought he couldn't speak.  After all, the two other men at his table couldn't speak, and whenever I greeted him he responded with, at most, a grunt and a nod.

So in February, when I was getting together a list of residents who wanted communion, I almost skipped him. But as I walked away I felt a holy nudge, and so to do due diligence I said, “Hey, Nathaniel, if we offer communion on Good Friday, would you be interested?”

And he looked me in the eye, his whole face lit up, and he said, “I bet you didn’t know that I’m the pastor of the old Pentecostal Tabernacle in the city. Been there for 30 years…” He went on talking, and I ended up having to go and get a chair; and then he preached  me a flawless 40-minute sermon on the Holy Ghost!

After that I always called him “Pastor Brown,” and we had him close us in prayer at Wednesday Bible Study. He started giving me great feedback to pass along to the young men who preach for us. Starting in March, every time I came in he'd wheel himself out and wait for me, and when he saw me he'd throw his arms open and give me a hug and a sloppy ol’ kiss on the cheek. In short, he became special. It seemed safe enough; he was a long-term resident and was likely to be there for the rest of his life.
I visited with him every Sunday and Wednesday, and just listened to whatever he wanted to say. He told me about dialysis, and about his family and some of his history; he fought at Okinawa and had plenty of stories.

Early in April he beckoned me over and said, “My daughter told me she’s looking for a new place for me to live. Pray for me about this.”

So I prayed dutifully, only once giving in and praying selfishly, “Please let the Community Care Center (CCC) be the best place for him.” But I know how hard it is to find placement for somebody, so I wasn’t too concerned.

I went to see him on Sunday afternoon to give him my card and tell him to call me when he found out what was going on, but when I went to his room he was asleep, so I prayed by his bed and left. But when I went to see him on Wednesday he was gone.  His family just came in and said, "Pack your things Dad- we've found you a new place." I didn't get to say goodbye.  Nobody did.

Since I don’t work there, and am not his family, they’re not allowed to tell me anything that’s considered personal information, so I was not able to find out where he’d gone.

I still wasn't too worried; he's invited me to come sit with him at dialysis, and I figured I could track him down that way. He told me his appointments were Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 10 AM, and he described the facility in great detail (though he didn't know the name of it).  That night I did some research, and found the only dialysis facility in the city that matched his description to a T.  So on Saturday I took myself up to the facility, to the facility he described. 

They're closed on Saturday. 

This was Strike One.

On Sunday I went round in faith to his friends at the CCC and asked them to sign a card, figuring I'd go up on Wednesday. Some of them went to HUGE lengths to scribble something down. They had no idea what had happened to him; not even his roommates - and there was a bit of trauma among his particular associates. I was able to allay this somewhat and give them at least the closure of signing the card. 

So on Monday I called the facility I'd found to confirm he was coming on Wednesday, and they said, "He's not in our database." They're the Regional Kidney Centers, and they do most of the dialysis in this area.  Next I called the private company, which does 90% of the dialysis the RKC doesn't do.  He wasn't theirs either. So I called all the unaffiliated dialysis centers, and nobody claimed him. It was like he didn’t exist.

I had struck out; all I had was his description of the facility. And I didn’t even know how reliable that was.  After all, he just said to me a month ago, "I'm doing all my dialysis in up here now!  I used to go to SanFrancisco on Monday, San Diego on Wednesday, and Seattle on Saturday, but now I'm all in Seattle, praise God."

I know he's a veteran, so as my last-ditch effort I called the VA on Tuesday.  Over the course of several hours I talked with six very kind and sympathetic people who couldn't help me at all because I didn't know the last four digits of his social security number and that is their ONLY search criterion.  I ended up calling a 206- number (The Seattle area code) and talking to a very nice lady who said she could help me navigate the bureaucracy. At one point I said, "He lives in South King County; why would he have to go all the way to Seattle to dialyze?" and she said, "I don't really know where you mean....I'm in Kansas." 

I got frustrated and said, "I didn't think ‘where does the VA send people for dialysis in Seattle’ was such a difficult question."  She was silent, then said, "Oh. Well, if that’s what you’re asking, as far as I understand it, unless there's some problem he'd dialyze at a VA hospital."   So I called the VA hospital and confirmed that they DO do dialysis there, though they were unable to tell me whether he had an appointment for Tuesday at 10, because I don't know his "last 4".  I decided to run up there the next day, just to see, on the off chance that he was there.

Wednesday morning I was really feeling like I should NOT go on this wild goose chase. There really wasn't much hope, I had a lot to do, and it was the end of the homeschool year and my kids had to do math! But a bigger concern was that I'd never been there. I'd just had eye surgery and my depth perception was a bit goofy. I also felt fairly stupid and vaguely creepy, tracking him down like this. But at the last minute, a good friend who is also on dialysis encouraged me to go and said, “Oh, that will bless his socks off!”
So  I grudgingly took the four youngest kids and we went up to Seattle, mathbooks and all. 

The directions from the VA website were wrong, but the GPS got me within hailing distance of the hospital. But even then, I very nearly turned back. I pulled into one very long, twisty aisle of the parking lot, and found that there were no free spaces AND the other end was blocked off. It was a dead end in a narrow lot with no place to turn around. So I backed up 100 yards down the twisty lot....with one eye…in a 15-passenger van.  I just wanted to go home, but having come so far it seemed a pity to waste it, so I prayed and kept backing.

After much maneuvering, I finally got a space, and in we went, kids, mathbooks and all. We regrouped inside and read the information placard. Renal Dialysis: 5th floor, so we went to the elevator. I told my youngest button-pusher “Five, please.” 
“But Mommy, there’s only four.”

Sure enough, there were only 4 floors. We tried another elevator.4 floors. We must’ve gotten the location wrong.  I asked at a desk. Yes, dialysis is on the 5th floor, he told me, and when I asked about the elevators not going all the way to 5, he looked at the neon green medalert bracelet I have to wear until my eye heals, and his expression showed he was clearly thinking it was MY elevator that didn't go all the way to 5.
But then a little lady behind him said, "I’ve been up there. I’ll take you up...all of our elevators except one stop at the 4th floor." So she led us through this convoluted maze of passages and rooms and doorways marked "Do not enter," until at last we came to the Only Elevator that Goes to the 5th Floor.

The lady at the dialysis check-in desk had no information, and directed me to the nurses. So I went back and said, very hesitantly, to the nurse, "I'm here for Nathaniel Brown - do you know when he'll arrive?"

I cannot describe the joy I felt when she pointed to a bed and said, "There he is. He's just now finishing, and his driver won’t be here for 45 minutes. Why don’t they get him into his chair for you and then you can take him out and have a nice chat; he'll enjoy that."
He looked over then, and when he saw me he started yelling. ”Hey! Lookit, everybody! My pastor come for me!”(I can’t get him to stop calling me Pastor.  He’s an 80-year-old Georgia preacher, and considers he has the authority to decide who is a pastor and who is not).
I took him out to a spot in the hallway where I could observe the children doing math, and I told him about my search.  And then I knelt down by his chair and gave him his card and showed him all the messages from those he left behind. 
"I'm so glad you come for me," he said with wide eyes. "I never thought anybody would come searching for me."

I looked up at him and answered, "You know the Book, Pastor Brown.  'What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one, will not light all the lamps and sweep out all the corners carefully until she finds it?' I was just sweeping out the corners." .
And he grinned so wide I thought his face would split in two.

He gave me his phone number and address at his new place and told me not to forget him. I reminded him that he had been constantly in my prayers, and he said, "I want you to pray for me right now." So he took my hand and I laid the other hand on his shoulder, and we prayed together, right there in the renal dialysis hallway. He’s Pentecostal, and prays very dynamically, but everyone just smiled at us and walked around. Except for one burly orderly who punched each of us lightly on the shoulder and said, “That’s Scripture you’re praying, Man, I’m going to post that on Facebook today….”

When his driver arrived, he gave me a hug and a happy kiss on the cheek, and I kissed his forehead and told him “Safe travel, Pastor Brown. Go with God.”

And as the driver pushed him away down the hallway, I heard him talking animatedly. “You see that lady who give me the kiss of peace? She’s a pastor I worked with at the CCC. She come all the way up here to find me, and she just kept sweepin’ out the corners until she found me….” 

So Pastor Brown knew that he was loved, and not forgotten.   

Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I've had several questions about how the gifts went over, so I thought I'd just put up a little note as to the results. 
Christmas Eve started out awkwardly.  I wanted to deliver Herman-the-bus-driver's GPS personally, and he would only be in between 8:30 and 10.  We would be there for the party at 2:00, and I had a bunch of things I needed to get done before then.  But I had to run to the church to pick up a music stand anyway, so I went to the Community Care Center (CCC) to meet the bus driver and drop off a few last minute gifts.
While I was there the receptionist came and said, "Do you know your front tire is completely flat?"
Sure enough, there was a big ol' nail in my front tire.  The same one that had a screw in it last week, which required us to buy two new tires we couldn't afford, because the tread was too low on it and it had low integrity. 
So I said to Herman, "Do you have an air compressor in the shed to pump up the bus tires? I've got a flat. I need to pump it up enough to get me to the tire store."
He said "Let me check," and out he went.  He didn't come back and he didn't come back and he didn't come back.  While we were waiting, I went round to as many of our regular worship attenders as I could find and asked them to pray that the tire could be patched, quickly and cheaply.
After a long time, we spotted Herman coming back across the parking lot with a grocery sack in his hand.  
He came in the door, handed me the sack, and said, "here you go."
Inside was a small, 12V air pump that plugs into the cigarette lighter.  The activities lady (who had just come on the scene) said,
"I have one of those in my trunk.  Go and return that one and she can use mine!"

 I handed the bag back, but he wouldn't take it.
"It's your Christmas present."
So now I have an air pump.  It worked just spiffy fine and we made it to the tire store without incident. 
They patched the tire in 15 minutes, and didn't charge me anything.  I had great news to report back to my prayer partners.

We made it to the CCC at 2 for the party, and this is what we saw:
Due to privacy laws (HIPPA) I am not permitted to take photos with residents in them, but here's one I was allowed to take:

Those are only a small number of the gifts that came in. The rest are on rolling carts outside the room.  At the party there were treats and caroling, and we strung jingle bells on curling ribbon so they could play along with Jingle Bells.  
Maisie loved all her new clothes, and Loreena just sat there running her hands over her new sparkly sweatshirt and fleece throw. "Oh, my goodness," she said with shining eyes. "I've never had anything this nice."
There was one very kind but gruff older man who runs errands for other residents.  Every day he makes 2...3...12 trips up to the grocery store in his power wheelchair, bringing back this or that for residents who cannot leave the facility.  He's been doing this for years, in all weathers, wearing just his battered hoodie.  It made me sad to watch this, but he's very proud and is such a giver that he can't receive graciously.  But Christmas was my chance; so, with some of the cash donations that came in, I bought him a warm winter coat, a hat and nice pair of gloves, and a pair of extra wide socks. When he unwrapped them, he cried. 
"Oh, I really needed these.  And I love the colors!" he said. 
I'll stop there because I said this was going to be a short update.  But I could go on for days, reporting the many ways God used your contributions to bless the residents in a very special way this Christmas.  I praise God for you!