KOH2RVA: Day 269

doctor-shaking-hands-with-patientI had lunch with Bill and Emily Johnston yesterday, an older couple from First Baptist who have been kind to me from the beginning and haven’t slowed down yet. We went to the Dairy Bar after yesterday’s Senior Adult Bible Study, where I indulged in the special of the day (a barbecue sandwich with French fries) and finished it off with a scoop of Cookies ‘n’ Cream ice cream (note: this is not a healthy meal.  You will pay for it.  I’m getting ready to run five miles as penance).

We talked about a lot of things over lunch, but eventually they asked the question that prompted the invitation. “What do you want us to do?” they asked, and what they meant was, “What do you want us to do to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia?”

I was moved by the question.

Here they were, people who have invested their whole lives in Richmond, who have worked tirelessly through the years to bless the city and heal its inhabitants (literally—Bill is a retired pediatrician and Emily was his nurse), asking me what I wanted them to do to bring heaven a little closer to earth. I couldn’t think of a thing, and so I asked them what they were already doing. They began to tick off a long list of volunteer activities around the church but eventually started talking about their regular visits to the hospitalized and homebound. They told me that sometimes they offer to take a homebound person to the store, or out for lunch, and then they looked to me for approval. “Is that a good thing?”

I slipped into the role of teacher for just a minute. I told them about my own parents, who are in a nursing home. When I go to visit them I usually offer to take my mom out to lunch. She is physically very healthy, and cheerful as a cricket, although she admits she can’t remember very much. My dad, on the other hand, is in the hospice wing. He can open his eyes when I call his name, smile and take my hand, but a few minutes later he is nodding off again. So, they have different needs. I visit with my dad for about three minutes and with my mom for about three hours.

I used that example with Bill and Emily to emphasize the need for sensitivity in each situation.  People who are recovering from surgery may not need a long visit if they need one at all. They’re trying to heal, and that takes a lot of energy. They don’t need to use it up entertaining guests. On the other hand someone who is home alone day after day may savor a visit like I savored that scoop of ice cream—relishing every bite and not wanting it to come to an end. “You really just have to be sensitive,” I said, “and do what’s best for each person.”

And then I heard what I was saying and looked at the two of them sitting there across the table, nodding, taking in every word.  I was embarrassed by my own insensitivity. What could I possibly teach Bill and Emily? They’ve been out there day after day, visiting the hospitalized and the homebound. They may not have gotten it exactly right every time. None of us do. But doing it is so much better than waiting till we get it all figured out or coming up with a list of reasons why we can’t.

“What do I want you to do?” I asked, eventually. “Exactly what you’re doing. You two are bringing it—you’re bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

“What more could I ask?”

5 thoughts on “KOH2RVA: Day 269

  1. You needn’t be “embarrassed”, Jim; it’s been my experience that it’s the most obvious things or factors or elements that most of us overlook first — until we really start “problem-solving” in a very big way! When we live with love in our hearts AND actions, as well as words, we really are involved in bringing KOH2RVA — at least in my humble opinion!

  2. I love this story! Yes, Bill and Emily are both wonderful ambassadors as Christians and for FBC that we can all aspire to emulate! They are truly “bringing it!”. I believe your story about your own parents may have served to validate and affirm to Bill and Emily of the importance and “loving gift” that they give to each of those they visit. All of us need this affirmation from time to time! I’m confident that they heard this in your comments, and this blog reminds us all about this important gift of love. Thank you, Bill and Emily!

  3. Bill and Emily are two of my many favorites…they do a great job of keeping former staff and clergy connected to the church with updates on beloved friends! Also, glad to know the Dairy Bar is still around…fond memories of many a less than healthy lunch with saints such as Charlotte Brown, Bette Watlington, Jo Belcher and Becky Payne and Jim Flamming!

  4. The Dairy Bar is THE place for FBC folks to go. I never go without seeing someone I know from church. Your advice to the Johnson’s is so right on target. It really goes along with the thoughts I have been pulling together on a generational approach to Radical Hospitality. I’ll be seeing you soon to discuss it. Every one needs to feel that what they can do is an important part of the picture, and you did that for Bill and Emily. I run into them from time to time in different places, usually when I have one or more of my grandchildren with me. They always stop and visit. Love seeing them. As I have said many times already, KOH2RVA has done more to create a mission field in Richmond than anything else has. It would be great to publish a directory of the projects that have grown out of it, but maybe it already exists. We need to have a great celebration on day 365, and invite some of those who we have found to help in our city. Thanks again for giving us the push we all needed.

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