I 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?”