Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jehovah Jireh....

I don't worry about ministry provisions too much.  It's not just the big things like Adopt-a-Resident and Frank's gift, but a thousand little examples of how He provides for His people.

On Tuesday I gave a little speech to the Ladies' Bible Study at church, and told them that I need help writing cards.  We send Birthday cards to all our regular attenders on their birthdays, plus valentines, Easter cards, Christmas cards...etc.  I have a very small budget for cards, and some come in by donations, but with February's 12 cards going out, plus Valentines, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. 

Two ladies signed up to help write cards, which is an enormously helpful blessing.  Now I could concentrate on where to get nice cards for not much money.

Then at the Wednesday Bible Study, one of the Activities Ladies pulled me aside and said, "I went with the outing to Walmart yesterday, and found out that Bess doesn't have a coat!"  (You met Bess and her Walker Thing in the last post).  She went on, "All she has is this thin knit sweater.  Do you think there's something you can do about that?"

I said "Sure!" (my standard answer).  On the way home, I prayed and then began to plan.  I had to get my son some sneakers from Value Village, so I'd look for a nice coat for Bess too. I wasn't counting on spending that money, but maybe God would send some extra.

That night I went to pick my kids up at church, and our AWANA Commander saw me and said, "Oh!  I'm so glad I caught you!  I have some things for you.  Remember that lady we sponsored for Adopt-a-Resident who liked angels?  Here's a blanket someone donated with an angel on it.  Oh, and here are some more cards I got -some birthday cards and some Easter and some other things.  And..." she paused and looked hesitantly at me. "I don't suppose you could use a coat, could you?  It's nice and warm and tan, about my size. I got it, but I just didn't like the color."

So there. All the needs were taken care of in one stop - and I didn't have to spend any money.  He is Jehovah Jireh  - The Lord our Provider.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Smile a Day...

Nathan Hansen, a friend, former student, and all-around bodacious fellow, posted the following on his Facebook page:

"[Have you ever gotten a genuine smile from somebody? Not just that 'look at me, I'm smiling' smile that everyone in the Northwest can plaster on their face at will, but an actual, raw smile - one with heart and energy behind it. I got one from an Asian guy at the library today. He was coming in on crutches, so I held the door for him. He gave me this big, stupid grin like he was just over the moon that somebody gave a rip about him. If I can make one person smile like that, once a day, until I die, mine will be a life well-spent.]"

Do you share Nathan's sentiment?  Does it seem impossible?  Let me assure you: it's not.  If you'd like to make this kind of difference in the life of someone who is struggling with loneliness, disconnectedness, and loss, consider becoming a nursing home chaplain.  Once you are known, the smiles - and also the genuine tears, which are sometimes just as good - pour forth every day.  Many times a day, even. Every time.  I'm not kidding.

Just today, when the kids and I went to visit Josef, their favorite resident, we found him in the dining room sulking.  He prefers to stay in his room but this time a saucy aide made him come out.  My littlest boy told him it had just been his birthday, and showed off his presents.  Meanwhile, my almost-13-year-old was standing behind me, measuring my height against his and finding out with enormous glee that he has passed me up. Josef thought that was the funniest thing, and he laughed aloud.

From there, I went to the room of a resident who is a pastor. He had failed to show up for Bible Study, so I went to see whether he was OK. He confessed to struggling with depression and I shared that when I was in his shoes, there was a particular Scripture that made a difference.  Standing right there in his room, I laid a hand on his shoulder as we opened the word together and had a dramatic reading of Isaiah 45:2-3.  There were the tears and the smile all at once, and he committed to praying and asking God to show him the treasures in his darkness.

And on the way out of his room, I ran into Bess, who grinned a huge, toothless grin at me and said, in her slow Kentucky Drawl, "Oh there she is! My friend who got me my Thing for my walker! I got me some tissues in there an' my glasses an' a extra couple packets of sugar an' creamer!"  (She received one of the walker caddies from Frank's donation. She calls it her "Thing" (obviously with a capital letter) and every time I visit she eagerly tells me what she's carrying in it today).

See what I mean? There were three instances of the Nathan Hansen Principle in 20 minutes, and that's not in any way unusual.  And when Abbie caught me on the way out and said, "Did you hear me ask for prayer for you in the Bible Study?  You do so much for so many people I wanted to make sure you got prayed for!" the genuine, heartfelt smile was mine.

The difference is real. Sometimes it's just for a day; sometimes for eternity.  And the beauty of it is, it can happen for anyone. If you feel God tugging at your heart, consider becoming a chaplain.   The need is great. Pray about it.  And if the Lord leads, let me know.  I'd love to help you spread some smiles around.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

You Need to Get a New Bible, Chaplain!

It is Saturday, and I am once again looking forward to an evening with Pastor Brown at the dialysis center.  And I know just what he's going to ask me. After I gown up, fetch myself a stool, and hear all his updates (we missed last week because of the snow), he will turn to me expectantly and say "What've you been doing with my Bible this week?"

After I found him last Easter (if you don't know what I'm talking about, read the post called "Finding Nathaniel" from earlier this year), he told me how he'd come to disappear so thoroughly from the Community Care Center (CCC).  His granddaughter had taken the home health care aide certification class, and when she had passed the state test his daughter had brought him home to live with her.  His biggest worry when he lived at the CCC was that someone had sold a Bible that he thought a great deal about; he asked me repeatedly to pray that it hadn't been lost or sold.

One week, he was smiling when I came in and he said, "I knew you'd be here today. Get me that bag on my chair."
I brought him the plastic grocery sack hanging from the back of his wheelchair and he said, "Look in there."

Inside was a very battered Bible. The cover was nearly off, pages in the back were dropping out, and it had obviously been stuck together with plain present-wrapping tape a number of times.  As I held it he looked on with great eagerness.  "Read the inscription!" he commanded and I very gingerly opened the back cover.  Here is what was written inside, in faded sepia ink:

"Property of Nathaniel Brown (Military number,  Army division). Given him this Mother's day, May 13 1951, Kubayashi, Okinawa, by Chaplain Kraswell."  And there were two Scriptures afterward.

"Wow!" I said. "You were a youngster then, weren't you?"
"I surely was. That was when I was a green private in the Korean war.  I'd been wounded, you know, but not bad enough to get sent home; only bad enough to hurt and keep me from having any fun at all. So I called the chaplain over and I said 'I'm prayin', Chaplain. How come my prayers ain't bein' answered?' An he look me in the eye an' he said, 'You pray, son, but you don't believe. Tell you what you need to need to take this here book, and read it, and learn Who you prayin' to, and then you pray, believin'."  
And then Chaplain Kraswell inscribed the Bible to him, handed it to him, and went about his business.  

The young Private Nathaniel Brown read that Bible, off and on, for many years; through the Korean War, and on into his posting in Germany, where it was finally lost when he left it behind. 25 years later, Staff Sergeant Nathaniel Brown finally prayed, believing, and came face to face with the Lord of Glory.  And then his old Bible from Chaplain Kraswell took on new meaning to him, and he went searching for it.  He started at Fort Lewis here in WA, and they sent him to three other bases, finally ending up at Fort Benning, where he was deployed from during his very first tour of duty.  There they promised to see what they could do and hung up the phone, and he thought it was over. 

His eyes lit up as he told me, "An' then, three months later, a package come to my door, and there it was!  They found it some way and sent it on back to me!"

I was completely awestruck to be holding such a miraculously-restored Bible, and I flipped through it carefully and then returned it to the sack. He told me about reading from that Bible in Germany and preaching from it in the US a half-century later, and how he carried it with him all the time until he came to the nursing home.

That evening I told my family about it, and by next Saturday I had some questions ready for him.  But as soon as I began asking him, he said, "Well, why don't you pull it out and see for yourself."
And so I did, and then he said, "Look back there at that inscription again," so I obediently opened the back cover. But this time, next to the sepia ink was something new, lettered carefully in black ink. It said,

Presented to Chaplain Debbe Carson, June 1, 2013, by Elder Nathaniel Brown.  Pray Believing.

"This is for you," he said. "I want you to have it...for your work."
He was as thrilled to give it to me as I was to have it, but it was -and is- in a fragile condition. My mother made a quilted cover for it and I carry it with me everywhere, using it in the nursing home, at church, and at co-op.  But the cover has now come completely apart, and whenever I take it out pages drift to the floor like leaves in the Fall.  Each time, someone looks at me, astonished, and says, "You need to get a new Bible, Chaplain."  And every week I tell them no, I don't; because I know that when I show up at the dialysis center on Saturday, Pastor Brown's going to ask me what I and his Bible have been doing that week, and I must unfailingly report.
So from time to time, I'll post updates on what I have been doing with Pastor Brown's Bible, so you can share in the adventure.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

With All Your Heart - A Valentine's Reflection

Valentine's day is one of those holidays. It's supposed to be a happy day when we celebrate love, but what the media and the greeting card companies promote has little to do with love.  As a result, many people end up feeling empty and lonely on "love day," because in the final analysis, what the modern celebration of Valentine's Day does is polarize the world into the 'haves' and the 'have nots.'

Do you remember making a shoe-box valentine mailbox for school, and carefully crafting and filling out cards for your classmates?  Perhaps you were the one whose box was full to overflowing at the end of the party, or maybe you were the one looking on after receiving a few obviously obligatory cards with a name scrawled at the bottom.

It is the same way in the nursing home - at the other end of life. The residents with families and attentive friends get cards, flowers, balloons, candy, or even that most coveted of surprises - a visit.  And the others...well, they watch.  Sometimes community groups will drop off a box of generic valentines for the Activities Department to pass out, possibly with packets of conversation hearts, and the organization's name at the bottom. From your friends at the Library Council.  That sort of thing. This is not a bad idea, certainly, and more organizations should consider doing that.  But still, to our precious brothers and sisters in the nursing homes, receiving Valentines that talk about love, with a stranger's name at the bottom, can just reinforce the idea that their own no longer care about them.  

Definitely, the residents enjoy getting cards and notes from people they know; people who demonstrably care about them.  Cards from their visitors and the chaplain are always appreciated.

When I took over leadership of the CARE Ministry, I made a commitment that all the residents who regularly attend our services, plus some others that I visit with myself, would receive special valentines. But have you SEEN the Valentine's cards in the stores?  Yikes.  What sort of cards should I send, then? I decided to take a lesson from those early elementary school Valentines parties and make some of my own.  Here is a photo of the process:
As you can see, they're very simple.  A $6.99 box of 100 flat note cards and a bottle of glue were the only materials.  But instead of the usual "Be Mine" sentiments, each card has a Scripture that talks about love or the heart, to give God's perspective on love.  Some of the Scriptures included:
  • For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16)
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and Strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. (Joshua 23:14)
  • My Heart rejoices in the Lord (1 Samuel 2:1)
  • My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart (Psalm 7:10)
  • But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation (Psalm 13:5)
  • A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)
  • A cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22)
And a particularly appropriate one for the pastor-resident who prays for me and encourages me each week: 

  • Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.  (Philemon 1:7)
Last year 17 of these valentines were distributed as a sort of a trial run, and they were enjoyed for a very long time. Some are still hanging in the rooms; some have been pressed into service as Bible bookmarks; a couple have gone home with families of deceased residents.  This year I was blessed to hand off almost 40 of them to Activities, to be distributed on Valentine's Day, each one with a Scripture chosen for the recipient personally, and a warm message on the back. 

It's a small gesture. But that's the great beauty of this ministry; small gestures can make all the difference. Because when the residents see that someone who is not even a relative shows an interest in them; cares about them; loves them; suddenly it becomes easier for them to believe that God could love them as well. 
And after all, our goal is that they be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.