It never fails to surprise me that when I'm ready to quit, our visit shoots a bolt of inspirational lightning through me.
Like most Wednesday afternoons these past several months, I swing by Oak Hollow for a visit with Jim. I was asked to spend a little time with him through Stephen Ministry (SM) and to be honest the visits have been quite puzzling at times. Jim’s situation seems impossible. He lives in a dementia and memory care facility, yet does not have any true memory problems. He is there because his wife lives there. A wife of over 60 years who sadly has little idea who he is 99% of the time. They don’t share a room so I seldom see her, but Jim knows that’s why I there. There to help him deal with a wife who sees him as a complete stranger.
Jim’s faith is as strong as anyone I’ve ever met. This was intimidating at first. I just wasn’t sure what help I could be to this man who loves and trusts God. Often times when people are going through one of life’s cruel twists, they get angry with God. Before knowing Jim all that well, I assumed he must have some of that going on inside. It would only be natural. Yet, when I asked him, he said “NO” with conviction.
That was it. I knew he was being honest and I also realized I had no idea what I would do next. During the training to be a SM, I don’t recall them telling me how helpless we might feel. It was clear that I was completely unprepared for this type of assignment. Someone who trusted God more than me?
The situation became frustrating. Jim didn’t want to talk about his wife or how his situation was making him feel. He wanted to talk about me. How did I become a SM? When did I find the Lord? Jim was the one doing the counseling. The only one using properly formatted open ended questions was Jim.
Just before Christmas, I was there for a visit and as we reached the end of my time I asked him if we could pray before I left. He said “sure”, took my hand, and before I could get started Jim began praying for me, my family, and our friendship. I had never had anyone pray so intensely for me…directly to me in the presence of God. It was as if Jim knew I needed encouragement and wanted me to know that he was benefiting from our visits even when I thought I was blowing it.
With this new enthusiasm, I returned the following week ready to dig deeper. We just had a breakthrough and now we were going to do some healing! Let’s just say we had our most generic “how was your week?” visits ever. It was as if the previous visit never happened. Maybe Jim had dementia after all and thought I was someone else.
So, the weeks crawled along with little more than nice discussions about our faith or something we learned while studying the God’s word. I began dropping hints that maybe it was time for me to move along to someone in greater need of my time. This was selfish. I was quitting. Throwing in the towel. I was not going to see Jim have a breakthrough and he didn’t need me.
Then, somehow, this past week we nailed it again. This time it wasn’t just the closing prayer, but the visit itself. I asked some of the harder questions. He answered them in that same way he always does. We talked about stuff. Then, at some point i became inspired. I prayed before our visit that God would take over and He did. Jim enjoys hearing about how I live out my faith. How friends or co-workers approach me about what they should believe. At one point he said “you are on fire young man.” And maybe I was.
When I finished praying at the end of the visit, Jim held tight and said “thank you.” He continued, “I am so thankful for you coming into my life. You are a good man Brian, a good man.”
Now Jim doesn’t know my endless list of flaws. But he knows enough of them to know that I struggle. I think what he knows best is when someone needs encouragement. At 84, he can still sense the needs of others. I needed that on so many levels I can’t begin to explain it.
And so, I am not sure I’m helping Jim or how long we’ll be doing these formal visits. I do know that when our formal visits are over, I’ll head over to Oak Hollow every so often for some encouragement. Encouragement from a man who I was sent to encourage. God works wonderful ways.
Run in Peace, Rest in Grace