"God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have a mission -
I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
... I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons ...
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
... He does nothing in vain.
... He knows what He is about."
- John Henry Newman
- John Henry Newman
"I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."
"So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought."
-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Yesterday, Larry Junod and I were able to take communion to Barbara Bates in her home, not more than a mile from the church's parking lot. It was not a long journey for us. For Barbara, though, the occasion marked a significantly long road that she has been traveling.
In late September, Barbara went with a few friends to see a musical performance at DePauw University. It was meant to be a lovely and relaxing evening. But, on her way to her seat, Barbara stumbled and then fell, breaking both her shoulder and fracturing her hip. One misstep was going to mean a long road to recovery. And to make matters worse, Barbara has had a series of setbacks over the last several years, compounding her physical pain with emotional and spiritual distress.
For the last several weeks, I've gone to visit Barbara from time to time. She always deeply appreciated the visits, just as she appreciated the cards she got from us, her church family. But, I knew that the visits and the cards were not enough to fully console her. To put it bluntly, Barbara couldn't wait to get out of there. As necessary as her rehabilitation and therapy were, this was not where Barbara wanted to be. She is a lover of God's creation, so being confined in doors watching the leaves first turn and then fall from a lone tall oak outside the window in her room was not enough to satiate her desire to be outside, to experience the changing of the seasons. Plus, Barbara loves conversation and the presence of others. She has a sharp mind and a curious spirit. Hers is the type of personality that survives off of engagement, off of conversation about art and nature and the changing world around us. She needs it as much as her lungs need oxygen. But, unable at first to get out of bed, she was wilting. Furthermore, even when she was well enough to eventually push herself in a wheelchair or travel a few rooms over by foot, she found that many others in the rehab facility were physically or mentally worse off than she was. Her quest for companionship often went unfulfilled.
Consequently, being home for Barbara was an immense joy. When she met us at the door (without the aid of a wheelchair, of course), I could already tell she was feeling more like herself. Some signs of her injuries remained, but she was happier.
During the course of our conversation, we eventually made it back around to the place where she had spent the last eight or nine weeks. It was then she commented on the peculiarity of her leaving. She had been ready to go almost from the moment she got there. And the last time I saw her, she was packing up all of her things on Thursday morning for her scheduled departure the following afternoon. She couldn't wait to get beyond what seemed like a confinement to her.
But, strangely, she noticed something as the time drew near for her to go home. Her physical therapist said she was going to miss having Barbara around. Not that she didn't want Barbara to go home; it was just that Barbara brightened up this woman's life. And others said the same: other patients whom Barbara had befriended in her time there, other nurses on the floor. Whether Barbara knew it or not, God had been using her unique personality and lively heart and mind to engage and bring life to the first floor rehabilitation center at Asbury Towers. She didn't want to be there, but she was God's instrument.
The significance of what Barbara told Larry and me quickly passed. The conversation went on to what she was planning to do now that she was home, but I couldn't help but think of that quote I had read recently by John Henry Newman above. I couldn't help but smile at the knowledge that God does have a way of using us for His purposes and for His glory - even in moments we would classify as frustrating or restricted.
We can never know what role and purpose God might be up to in and through our lives. That is difficult for us. We want to know and see the significance and meaning of our lives. We also shy away from the dryer and more difficult seasons of our lives, believing that there can be little good to speak of when it comes to injury or illness, even boredom and a sense of insignificance. But, we can never know just how God might be using the events of our lives for some other purpose, some deeper purpose.
As difficult as it may be, our task sometimes is not to see the bigger picture of what God is up to. It is, instead, to seek to be faithful to God in the place where we are, which - ultimately - means trying to love God, those around us, even ourselves. It means being about life and hope and giving life and hope where we are.
"My desire is to to depart and be with Christ," Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, "for that is far better" (Phil. 1:23). But, despite his eagerness to move on to his eternal home with Christ, he knew that there might yet be a reason for his presence here in this world. He was called to use his life so others may be blessed and grow in their joy in faith (1:25). No doubt, it was hard for Paul to admit this; just as hard or even harder as it was for Barbara to briefly imagine that God may have been using her as a blessing to others in her stay at Asbury Towers. But, as hard as it was, he continued to come back to this realization: God's plans for his life in this world - whatever they may be - were far better than the plans that he could come up on his own.
So may we too live fully and faithfully where we are. May we press on to be who God made us to be where we are and to seek to bless those around us as well.