A friend, who belongs to a congregation that has a pastoral vacancy, asked if I could pay a visit to one of their members who is in the hospital. The man whom I’ll call Jerry, is well into his “golden years,” and suffered a stroke. He has very little family left; in fact, one could say his congregation is his family. Details concerning is health and the effects of the stroke were sketchy, but he was not in intensive care or other form of critical care unit, so I assumed he was well on his way to recovery. I told my friend that it was my pleasure to help in this way, so off to the hospital I went.
The absence of cards, flowers or any other evidence of a visitor was obvious. Jerry was lying alone in a darkened room, tethered to the bed rail by wrist restraints. He seemed to be sleeping, but as soon as I entered his eyes met mine. His puzzled look told me that he wasn’t expecting a pastor to stop by, but soon a smile of approval came, so I introduced myself and sat down.
One of the spiritual gifts God blessed me with is the ability to carry on a conversation with a total stranger as if I have known this person all my life (for this reason, my wife really discourages my accompanying her to the grocery store). As a sat next to Jerry, I began talking about the people we have in common, and the friends who asked me to visit him. As soon as I asked Jerry how long he had known a particular person, the affects of the stroke became evident. Jerry can use all of his limbs; there seems to be no paralysis at all. His mind seems sharp and his facial expressions tell me that he can follow conversation quite well. The problem is that Jerry can’t talk. He makes noise, changes inflection and all, but all that comes out is gibberish. Yet, given my gift for gab we were able to communicate.
I spoke with Jerry for a good while, mostly asking him yes or no questions. He knew where he was, why he was there, and understood the need for the wrist restraints. Jerry was not bitter at all about his situation, he was simply glad that he made it through his stroke and that his friends from church found a pastor who would come visit him.
Soon, I was telling Jerry stories about Jesus and how he healed many people. He seemed to enjoy the stories, and he even tried to make a point or two along the way. He did grow a little frustrated when we were talking about Jesus healing the ten from leprosy, and how only one came back to offer thanks. He wanted to say something but couldn’t. I know in my heart that Jerry was telling me that he too was grateful for God’s healing touch in his life. The noises he made were unintelligible, yet he was still able to communicate his thanks for God’s action in his life.
When Jerry finally took a moment to pause, I asked him if he felt the same joy as the man healed from leprosy must have felt. I asked him if he felt as though God had healed him in such a way that he would have abundant life in his remaining years, if he could envision the day when he would return to his church and see all of his friends. Jerry looked at me a moment, nodded, and then began to ramble on. Again, I could not understand his words, but his smile and other facial expressions spoke volumes. He continued talking as best he could, making gestures with his hands even though they were tethered to the bed rail. Finally, with one last sentence, Jerry looked up at me, said a few happy remarks and pointed straight at me. As he pointed came the two words that Jerry said, plain as day. Smiling ear to ear, making the sign of the cross over his chest, Jerry pointed at me and said, “Imagine that!”
There we were, two strangers brought together by unforeseen circumstances; a pastor and a patient. One might think that I came to give Jerry words of comfort, words of faith, words of God’s love. Yet, as I think about it, perhaps Jerry spoke to me the words of faith and the words of God’s love. Hmmmm. “Imagine that!”