“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:130-14
A couple of months ago I applied to volunteer at a women’s and children’s shelter in my area. After meeting with the volunteer coordinator, I was plugged into the Resident Services Department, completely out of my comfort zone. As a Resident Assistant, it’s my job not only to maintain a safe environment for the women and children, but also to interact with them. To ask them how they’re doing. To listen to their stories. For a chronically shy and anxious person, this is a monumental task.
It’s gotten a little easier as the weeks have gone by. As I learn to match names with faces and get into the routine, I’ve lost some of my initial reserve. A very small some. For that I owe special thanks to one particular woman.
It’s Going to Be Okay
My first shift involved being in charge of med calls in one of the houses. Med calls are fairly straightforward – locate the basket for the individual, find her name in the binder and check off what she takes, then have her sign the form. That first night, though, I was pretty nervous. I couldn’t find the key to open the cabinet to get to the baskets. When I finally managed to get it open, I forgot to get the binder down. I was nearly in a frazzle.
Toward the end of the allotted time, an older woman in a fluffy red bathrobe came into the room. She smiled at me. Asked what my name was. And then she said, “It’s going to be okay.”
That immediately put me at ease. I got through the rest of the med calls without incident and went home feeling like being a Resident Assistant was something I could actually do. One kind, calm stranger helped me feel better.
The next time I came in, she smiled at me again – and she greeted me by name!
She never forgot it.
Choices and Consequences
I never did get to know her very well. After missing a couple of shifts due to illness, I came back to find that she herself had gotten very sick. Holed up in her room with an oxygen tank, I saw her only briefly. But she still smiled.
She had made choices, and those choices had led her to the shelter. Though the details were never made clear to me, I could see that she had lived a hard life. Whether it was all her own decisions or the decisions of others, she had been to that rocky bottom we all fear. There, on her knees, she made another choice.
She chose Jesus.
Earlier this week I attended her memorial service. Listening to story after story, I learned how much that final decision had changed that kind stranger. He took her natural bent toward people and grew it into a deep, abiding love for everyone she crossed paths with. She came to be the “grandma” for all the kids. She was a source of laughter and encouragement. Most importantly, she desperately wanted to know the Lord. She wanted to love Him better each day. She wanted to obey Him in all things.
I listened as husky voices, deepened by drug use, rose in praise of God and His amazing grace. I saw arms covered in tattoos and track marks raised to honor the King. The tears flowed freely, but each person in the chapel stood firmly in the hope that this parting was not forever. As one of her friends put it, this lovely woman had only changed neighborhoods.
I look forward to the day I see her again. I want to hug her and thank her for her kindness, the one small act that gave me the courage to keep from quitting.
Death hurts. The separation of loss stabs at our souls. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to grieve. But let’s remember to cry and grieve in the presence of the Lord. Let’s hold on to the hope – the reality – that it’s not forever.
One day we’ll move to the same neighborhood.