The value of friendship.
I had the great honor of worshipping with some special folks yesterday. Well, I actually did this three times yesterday. The last opportunity happened to occur at the emotional care unit at our local hospital. Emotional wellness is something many of us take for granted. We don't have to deal with long bouts of depression or sadness. We haven't undergone surgeries that adversely affected vital areas of our brains and we haven't had to grow up in toxic family settings.
The six precious souls I met and worshipped with yesterday have experienced more than they bargained for. I heard frustrations about physical ailments that led to emotional instability. I heard of family members who angrily treated their ill loved one with uncaring and impatience. I heard of chronic sadness that has sapped the life out of a few. It is difficult for me to understand their plight. I have been blessed in my life to a degree unmatched by other people and their lives. I sometimes feel guilty for never having suffered mental illness.
Yesterday, I spoke to these folks and learned their names. I looked them in the eyes and shared the love of Christ with them and reminded them of their great worth. We talked back and forth and they were more than ready to read scripture and sing a few songs. I watched a beautiful thing occur. Women and men that society has labeled (weird, crazy, unsafe, and unstable just to name a few) expressed their deepest desires for love, mercy, and forgiveness.
One person, I'll call them Janet, (not their real name) appeared sullen and had nervous twitches. They spoke in soft undertones and rarely lifted their head. Throughout the 45 minutes we spent together, I watched a marvelous movement of God's Spirit roll around that room and witnessed the body language of several do a 180 change.
As we closed our time in worship, we stood in a circle holding hands. I encouraged each of them to not bow their head for the benediction, but rather look at one another and experience God's good gifts through appreciation and recognition. Each person was reminded of their unique God image within and how God loves them more than they know or understand. I told them of their ministry opportunities standing right next to them and how they needed to care for and love one another.
Afterward, one person lingered and we spoke of various things. As we stood talking, the quiet sullen person returned and handed me this.
I reached out to admire their art and they turned to walk away. I asked, "Is this for me?!?!" They paused and turned back to nod their head then quickly disappeared. At first glance it looks like a page out of a coloring book. It is not. The picture is all free hand and the detail tells a great deal about the giver of this gift. They care and are willing to work diligently to produce something beautiful.
I walked away from the hospital with tears welling up in my eyes. I could leave and go home; they could not (at least not yet). My ride home was filled with thoughts and emotions. I asked questions inside my head like, "Will they be healed enough to return to their homes? Will they find ways to forgive and to receive forgiveness for all that has occurred in their lives? How is God working in their lives and what will the future look like for each of them?
This morning I will be going to purchase a nice frame to display perhaps the best gift I have ever received. This gift was created by another child of God, offered to me without cost, and done so out of love and appreciation. Oh, that we could all do this kind of one on one ministry everyday. I'm talking about the giver of the art and not the pastor who received it.