Without warning, I found my mental state rapidly shifting. For one week in late March, it seemed to spin out of my control. Increasing anxiety gripped my soul, its force building stronger each day. Suddenly, the anxiety transformed into a deep depression. Never had I felt such a heaviness pressing upon me. After a few days, the weight lifted.
Making sense of it left me pondering: Why now? I had been treated for anxiety and depression for the last 15 years. For most of that period, my moods remained stable. Any shifts lasted only a few days. Through medication and therapy, I learned to manage my illnesses. However, this time, I felt blindsided; the symptoms appeared unexpectedly. Even though I was exhausted, the experience left me puzzled.
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His presence in the doorway, caught me off guard. Normally, I observed him shuffling up and down the hallway with his walker. ” During my visits to my grandmother’s room in this assisted living facility, this elderly man and I routinely passed each other. Often, his facial expression spoke of anger and his sharp outbursts to others to “Move out of my way!” convinced me that avoidance might be best. In fact, he was known in my head as “cranky man.”
So on this particular day, I was startled when I spied him pausing in the doorway of my grandmother’s room. The door had been left open to the main hallway because my mother, sister, and I were cleaning out her room. A few hours earlier, we had laid her to rest. Her death brought an end to a deterioration of her health; culminating in a recent diagnosis of bone cancer. It was a day full of emotion, pondering and celebration. As we focused on going through the items during what was already a long day, “cranky man” wandered in to ask how things were going. I must admit that two thoughts came into my mind upon his greeting: 1) “It’s the cranky man who tells us to be quiet” 2) “I just want to finish”.
Ironically (and I’m convinced divinely appointed), my young son came running in the room which caused the conversation to turn to the energy of a 10 year old. Being polite, I asked our visitor where he grew up. To my surprise, he answered, “Chicago.” Well, of course, that drew me in. On top of that, he had been a pastor. Who knew that we shared two common elements in our stories? For the next hour, I was engaged in conversation with this man who I merely knew as my grandma’s neighbor.
I listened as Bob (no longer the “cranky man”) shared the most amazing story of his childhood. Placed in an orphanage as an infant, he was later adopted by a couple. His parents, both followers of Christ, added two more sons through adoption. As Bob told his story, his eyes conveyed the love he had for his father; a man whose life radiated Jesus.
Bob’s father was a physician and felt a tug to leave a potentially comfortable place in life to a small town in Illinois. The size of the town wasn’t an issue of adjustment. However, it didn’t believe in medicine! Despite the very real possibility of being ostracized from their new neighbors, moving plans proceeded. As a young boy, Bob wondered how the family would be treated. Would people befriend them?
Perhaps church would provide a place of welcome and refuge for this family of five. Boldly, they made their way to worship one Sunday. What would happen if anyone knew of his father’s occupation? Bob fearfully waited for reaction…..A man suddenly stood up; pointing at Bob’s father. News travels fast in small towns. The rumors of a physician coming to the town had been realized. The man; recognized. A demand to leave followed. Apparently, the perception of medicine was correlated to evil. Firmly, and bravely, this physician responded that his family was staying.
To three young boys, one had to wonder if they perceived that action as a blessing or a curse.
However, in telling me the story, his eyes lit up as he shared the courage his father showed in choosing to stay despite the church praying for him to leave. What would give his parents the courage to make such a choice? Where are they finding peace in this tension?
What Bob so powerfully witnessed was the hand of God moving beneath the scenes. This physician brought healing to wounds of the flesh but also restoration to wounds of the soul. The knees of three young boys ached from their nightly prayer routine. Patients names were added to other list. Sometimes, the prayers lasted an hour. Despite the admonition to keep the information confidential, the manifestation of the hand of God appeared before their eyes.
The transformation that took place in that town as a result of his father’s legacy continues to reap fruit. In fact, with tears in his eyes, Bob recounted the day his father died suddenly. The entire town shut down for the funeral.
The conversation morphed into lighter substance. We laughed about his rebellious antics which resulted in being kicked out of a prominent Christian college. We agreed that we would meet up again. How could I not? I longed to be blessed more from his gleanings!
In one hour, Bob let me into his soul.
How many other times have I tuned out such an encounter? What more of God’s character and works would I know if I learned to open my eyes and my ears to the nudges of the Holy Spirit? What blessings do we miss when we don’t tread in the places resided by the “least of these?”
I would have never imagined that the most profound moment of that day would come after my Grandma’s funeral. God is Good.