Editor’s note: “Living on Purpose” is a Kentucky-based religious column provided free to the Bartlett Express. We also welcome local columns with similarly universal messages; send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who have visited a nursing home or a medical care facility, you know what I mean when I refer to these places as difficult and uncomfortable. The sights and sounds are difficult for our emotions to process and explains why many would rather avoid them altogether.
I have heard people say they do not like hospitals, nursing homes or funerals and this is usually because they provoke us to think more deeply. When we look around and witness how individuals are coping with aging and health problems, it is a normal response to live in denial as the old saying reminds us, “out of sight, out of mind.” However, there is really no need to dread or live in fear about our future, because whatever we may go through, God reminds us in Psalm 27 that He will always be with us and take care of us.
My good friend Ian, who is a highly intelligent and humorous newspaper editor in Texas, shared a story with me recently about his experiences with nursing homes. He said that many years ago, when he was still living in England, he was the chairman of his hometown’s carnival association. This was a nonprofit committee that organized an annual festival, which included an elaborate parade featuring the annual carnival queen and her court of two princesses. These beautiful young women were the winners of a beauty pageant during a gala the previous fall and were now ready to go on tour. As a part of the carnival promotion, the association would take these girls to surrounding cities and have them participate in other parades and public appearances, thereby optimizing the carnival’s fundraising potential for local charities and other worthy causes.
Ian tells how it was easy to get the royal court excitted to attend these festivities as they would quickly make friends with local celebrities, along with having the opportunity to meet swarms of potential suitors along the way. On each official outing, the carnival queen wore a white wedding-style ballgown and crystal crown and the two princesses wore colored ball gowns and crystal tiaras. To all the children they met, they were, indeed, touched with the magic of fairytale royalty. However, with all of the attention and star status, there was one stop on the tour that was not considered glamorous. They were required to visit a facility for physically and mentally disabled patients.
My friend found himself trying to persuade these “rock stars” to devote their morning on Christmas Day to spending time with individuals whose severe handicaps would break your heart. Every Christmas holiday it was a part of his duty to collect the girls and chauffeur them to the hospital and with absolutely no hint of his inner apprehension, convince them that what they were about to do would forever change their perspective of life.
Each year, a new group of celebrities would enter the hospital with trepidation, obviously intent on getting the ordeal over and done with. However, surprisingly, these young ladies would stay at individual bedsides far longer than anyone would have expected, hugging and chatting with children who could hardly speak. The mask of pride and pomp quickly melted into a sobering realization that many innocent individuals live each day with misery and suffering. As they embraced the elderly, you could sense the power of compassion that was creating waves of gratitude and humility in everyone present.
The girls always thanked everyone later for giving them the opportunity not just to spread some fairytale magic to the chronically unfortunate, but also to realize just how blessed they were.
Members of the clergy are more likely to be seen in prisons and health care facilities, but we do not need to be an ordained minister to brighten someone’s day. It is precious to develop friendships with these individuals and I know there are many lonely people that would simply love to have someone visit and talk with them. I understand it is a sacrifice to pull away from our busy schedule, but according to Matthew chapter 26, this is an act of compassion that reveals the heart of God.
Written by Dr. Billy Holland, who lives in Central Kentucky with his wife Cheryl. He is a Christian author, outreach minister and community chaplain. He wrote “A Lifestyle of Worship — living in the awareness of God’s presence,” and his new CD is “Keeper of My Soul.” To learn more, visit billyhollandministries.com.