“Before you go, will you hold my hands while we pray?”
I had spent the previous hour at a home visit with a sweet elderly lady now housebound by lack of mobility and outside support. We’d spoken of many personal things, shed some tears and shared some laughter, but I had maintained social distance out of respect for this unique season in which we are all ministering. Now I moved to the side of her armchair and gently cradled both of her frail, misshapen hands in mine. We prayed as one, bringing added strength to our prayers as well as added comfort to her spirit. We’d connected in our conversation, but it was the simple act of touch that connected us as no words could ever do.
I serve as a chaplain and director of a ministry that reaches out to a sometimes-overlooked segment of our faith family, those who are housebound through mobility, medical or support issues. Some are in their homes, or the home of a loved one; some are in assisted living settings or nursing homes.
Wherever they call home, I meet with them there and provide resources, spiritual encouragement, intercessory prayer, and even communion --- elements of the Christian life they are no longer able to access through their home churches. I rarely preach and seldom minister to more than a handful of people at once, but my mission is the same as a lead pastor or missionary or evangelist: to connect a soul with the Savior who longs to meet their need.
Chaplaincy is often referred to as “the ministry of presence” and from the first time I heard that phrase I pictured simply sitting side-by-side with the person in need, close enough to hear even a whispered plea, to be a supportive shoulder to cry on or an arm supporting like a comforting blanket of warmth and protection from the trauma they have experienced. It’s from that unique ministry position I have learned how our attempts to connect with hurting souls, regardless of our ministry title or position, need to be rooted in three areas.
Next, we need to be rooted and grounded in respect for the person in front of me. It can be so easy to let feelings of impatience, superiority, even disgust or horror creep into our mind and soul as someone pours out the darkness of their life, but we need to be constantly aware that God loves them just as much as He loves us, and the only thing we might have that they don’t is a relationship with the Savior.
I minister in my county jail and hear over and over from inmates how thankful they are that I treat them like human beings. That respect is conveyed through eye contact, respectful listening, and through my attentiveness to them. Ask God to show you the person as He sees them!
Honest, courageous empathy builds bridges and allows individuals to face their truths with a little more courage.
The dear elderly lady that wanted to hold hands in prayer had just finished telling me one of her greatest sorrows in life was a stillborn baby son. One of her greatest fears now as she contemplated Heaven, was that she would not recognize that child or meet him when she arrives there. It was not the time to remind her how long ago it had happened. It was not the time to retreat behind a doctrinal discourse on the souls of newborns. It was time to hold her hands and pray with her. Pray that her dear baby son would be waiting at heaven’s gates for the hug they were not able to share on earth. It was time to be honest about her fear and sadness and about the hope Heaven holds as she gets close to the end of her earthly time.
True connection will take you places in another person’s life you could not have predicted and certainly would not have asked to enter. You will share pain and fear you might not have ever imagined. You will practice honesty when a little skirting of hard truths would be easier. You will hold a hand that might be dirty, smelly, and unpleasant to all your senses.
Connecting will bring you unexpected relationships, priceless insights, and opportunities to experience the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit in new and deeper ways even as you see Him at work in others. Connect with your senses, respect and honesty --- and you will watch your relationships and your ministry become richer and deeper as the Holy Spirit multiplies your passion to connect.
The date, June 13, 2021, will forever be branded in my memory.
I was at church getting ready to teach our littles when a Messenger Video began ringing on my phone. Within seconds I was looking into the eyes of my brother, Tony, for the first time. It was surreal. The realization of what had been transpiring over the last few months began to sink in. It was like a movie rolling out in real life.
Worship was taking place in the sanctuary, and all my life You have been faithful was the background music for the scene playing out before me. Through this video, I was looking into the eyes of our aunt, uncle and cousins all living in Germany. Tears ran down our faces. We knew our lives were forever changed.
Earlier in 2021, my other brother, Kelly, had completed a DNA test. He encouraged me to do the same. From an early age, Kelly and I were raised by our grandparents. Our father, who passed away six years ago, was a career soldier and our parents separated when I was eight-years-old; Kelly was five. And even though Kelly and I live in different states now we have remained close. We knew our mother had remarried and we had a half-brother, Tony, but we had never met him or had contact with him. Our mother was from Germany. Kelly and I were born there, and Kelly wanted to find relatives on his next trip to Germany.
The surprise came when Kelly had a hit on his DNA results. Tony, our half-brother, had also completed a DNA test looking for relatives on his father's side. He wasn't expecting anything on his mother's side. To say he was shocked is an understatement. Here he had stumbled upon a family secret that went back to post WWII. Within two days, he talked with my brother, Kelly. And Kelly revealed he had a sister --- ME.
For days, conversations went back and forth as Tony grappled with the fact, he had two siblings. And we marveled that something we thought would never happen, happened!
Over the next few months, we connected and shared our lives and life stories. Sometimes after hanging up the phone, I would stare at the screen with jumbled and intertwined feelings of awe, anxiety, joy, grief, sadness, and excitement. There were tears of joy, pain, and loss. And even more tears, as we each worked through processing this major event in our lives. The realization sunk in even deeper when we experienced rippling effects from these connections, as our families learned the news.
Kelly and I discovered our mom, whom we hadn’t connect with for years, was living only two miles from Tony. Deep personal conversations took place between my brother, Kelly, and I as we grappled with wounds of childhood and discussed some things for the very first time. Jesus' presence was so sweet and tender as He gently led us through this time. We came to realize we each had "worked" through pain, in our own way, over the years. We laughed at our young stubborn pride to prove ourselves and readily embraced the wonderful grace our newfound brother, Tony, extended to us, along with God's timing in the unfolding of our entwined stories.
Phone calls, texts and video chats were good but now we were ready to meet face-to-face. We chose Baltimore, Maryland in August of 2021.
Throughout the summer, the Holy Spirit kept whispering to me, "I am the God who sees you. You may have thought your past was forgotten but I am the God who redeems even those things you lost hope in or thought impossible. I am the God who sees you". (El Roi – Genesis 16:13)
This truth opened my heart to see that:
· It’s okay to acknowledge the mixed emotions coming and going. I can talk with God about them.
· There are areas in my life I now feel I can explore and confront because I know God has orchestrated this whole thing.
· I have a desire for genuine connection with God: a deep revelation that He's here and won't leave me.
· I am able to talk with someone I trust to navigate this vulnerability.
· I can ask the hard questions that come out of nowhere.
Through this whole time, my husband and family have been wonderful and so supportive. God gently showed me how He saw me as a child, as a young mom, and through every chapter of my life. He beckoned me to see Him in these seasons as well.
I left for Baltimore that weekend with hope and more importantly peace. As we gathered with our spouses in the hotel lobby, the tears and joy were incredible. The ease and comfort we had with each other was huge. We spent a wonderful weekend discovering things we had in common, sharing histories, pictures, meals, laughs, and dreams. We bonded in such powerful ways. We learned more about Tony's life and our mom, who is in the early stages of dementia.
I came home with fresh perspectives.
· Kelly and I weren't the only ones with childhood wounds.
· We wanted to love and respect each other over just seeing our own painful perspective.
· Although we knew about Tony, we didn't KNOW Tony.
· Tony, who had just found us, was now working through the whys, how's and what ifs. He was getting to KNOW us.
· Tony was an only child who never knew his grandparents.
· Kelly & I had the security and love of grandparents but absent parents.
· I can't fix the past or how we evolve through this connection with our separate experiences and relationships, but I can pray for us as the Lord leads and directs.
Recently our mom suffered a stroke. This March, we are planning a trip to meet her for the first time in 52 years! This blows my mind.
As the God who sees me: I am now seeing Him in our stories. There is no question he is writing this and using it for His glory.