March 20, 2012

My New Favorite Day of the Week

I've always been comfortable talking with almost anyone one-on-one, whether I've known them for a while or we've just met. There are few social situations that really stretch me. Some people call that being a loud-mouth. I like to think of it as being outgoing.


The elderly, however, is one group of people (I'm a little embarrassed to admit) among whom I've always felt a little ill at ease. I'm not sure why exactly. It doesn't make much sense. I just don't know what to say or how to act or if I'm seriously getting on their nerves.

My husband, on the other hand, has a gift. It's more than just your normal, being fine around the elderly just like any other person sort of thing. The man just warms up to anyone with wrinkles and becomes their best friend instantaneously. I mean it's love at first sight every time. He just knows how to connect with them and love on them so they feel important, special, and heard.  It's pretty amazing.

After we spent two weeks at my 91-year-old grandmother's house, I realized that I think my son has inherited the gift.  He and Grandma played as easily as old friends.  She would pull out the poker chips and he'd reorganize them make big mess.  He'd eye her walker and she'd take him for a ride in it.

When we returned from California I was listening to one of the sermons we'd missed while we were gone, and our pastor was talking about giving.  He was challenging us to give in any way we can.  Give monetarily.  Give  our service.  Give things.  Give our time.  He threw out a bunch of different suggestions, but only one stuck in my mind and I knew God was working on me.

"Show up at a nursing home and just hang out and talk with the residents.  They often get few visitors and little stimulation and even if they are in a great home, it's not their home and they long to connect with people."

This was the first suggestion I'd heard of that offered a way to minister with my son, instead of while my son was with a babysitter.  In fact, this was the first suggestion I'd heard in which my son would be the primary source of light and joy and enjoyment.  I mean, have you heard a two-year-old giggle!?  I knew immediately that it was a perfect fit.

Um, except that it was so far out of my comfort zone that I put it off for two weeks, and almost drove away when I finally had pulled our minivan up to the front door.  I'm not kidding.  I felt completely ridiculous, but I had to pep-talk my way through getting us dressed and out the door.  Then I had to pep-talk my way through walking us up the front walk of the assisted living home just six miles from my house. I even called from the car, just to make sure I wasn't walking into the wrong place.  Ahem.  Or something.


"Dr.'s Touch Assisted Living.  This is April.  How may I help you?"

"Uh...  Is this an assisted living home?"

"Yes, dummy, that's what I just said. Yes, ma'am, it is."

"Oh, um, okay.  Well... my son and I would like to visit with your residents and hang out with them for a bit.  He's two and a half.  Would that be a blessing to them?"  Please say no.  Please say no.  

"Yes, sure.  Come on in."

"Okay.  ......See you in a minute."

Good grief, Lord, I'm a chicken.

We walked in.  The residents were eager to see who we were.  I was introduced to Bob and Jim.  We sat.  I said, "hello."  I really had no idea what to do or say, so I talked to Danny.

Then Chris came up the stairs.  She made a bee-line for us and introduced herself with a smile.  We joined her at the table and spent the next hour talking off and on and watching Danny play with his cars and the pieces of a Boggle game.  I learned about Chris's family and where they live.  I told Chris the Footprints story, since she had a bracelet that her daughter had given her with footprints and the phrase, "It was then that I carried you," on it.  Sometimes we didn't talk at all, and later I learned that's totally okay.  Another woman who is 99 years old came up the stairs and introduced herself and told us how terrible the news is these days.  Chris was disappointed at lasagna for lunch so I offered to eat hers for her.  She asked for my card and before I left, we agreed that next Monday we'll play checkers.

And then an extra gift:  The manager of the home arrived and introduced himself.  He played and joked with Danny until he was in a fit of laughter and he thanked us for coming.  He offered praise, encouragement, and suggestions on what we could do while we're there, and how to interact with the residents who are less responsive.

"When can you come again?" he asked.

"Every Monday," I said, with a breath.

"That's wonderful!!" he said.  And in that answer, I had all the encouragement I needed to come back.  I hugged Chris goodbye, and headed out with a smile.

WAY out of my comfort zone is sometimes the best place to be.  I can't wait until next Monday.