Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Blessing of Cross-Dressers, Cross-Eyed Preachers...and Cookies

Yesterday, we distributed cookies at a nursing home. It was a children's ministry event, meant to expose our kids to a little bit of outreach, hoping to bless some other folks while we were at it.

Please do not be offended by my brutally honest recollection of the event. The entire thing has ended up being a quite meaningful spiritual experience to me, and to share it in a way that you might even begin to understand, I have to lay it out the way it really happened...

With the triple-digit heat we've been having, I've been doing my best to not turn the oven on during the day. It gives the a/c a little too much to keep up with. Soooo...it was ten o-clock Thurday night when I started baking cookies...and then nearly midnight by the time I got around to wrapping them individually.

As I sat there wrapping and taping, enjoying a quiet house and the opportunity to hear myself think, I couldn't help but think that those Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies looked really good -- but they still needed something. I then remembered some ribbon that I had leftover from a bridal shower a few months ago, and decided that it would be awfully cute to tie a little bow around each cookie.

But then as I got it out, being ever-frugal, always looking for a way to save a few more pennies, I gave it a second thought. These were homemade Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies, for crying out loud. Did they really need a ribbon?

And then I thought of my sweet MeeMaw. She spent awhile in a rehab center several months ago, and I knew that it would make her day even that much more to receive a cookie with a cute little ribbon tied around it. So I tied the bows. And I trimmed them, and I fluffed them. I made sure that each one looked good enough to give to my MeeMaw. Even though we wouldn't actually be delivering cookies to her the next day, for me this had somehow turned into a gift for her, a ministry in her name.

On Friday morning, I told Micah and Conner what we would be doing that afternoon, showed them the cookies, and did my best to prepare them for a visit to a nursing home. They have had the blessing of being in relationship with some older family members, including MeeMaw, so I wasn't that worried about this freaking them out too much. (If you haven't ever taken a child to visit the elderly in this type of setting, you may not know that taking a child to a nursing home can really be pretty scary for them.) I found that my boys though, were actually pretty excited about this, and honestly, that made me very proud.
We were some of the first people to there, so we went ahead and walked up to the shaded porch to wait for the rest of our friends. There we were greated by a man named Andy. Andy was missing at least four of his front teeth, and had apparently had a stroke or something of that nature, the combination of which made him extremely hard to understand. But he was very friendly, loved my boys, and seemed to want nothing more than for someone to take the time to talk to him, for someone to listen to him, to be understood.

So I employed my dusty and crusty speech pathology skills, mustered up a lot of patience -- and between that, Andy's broken speech, his sign language, and the grace of God, I was able to give Andy the gift that he seemed to be longing for. Andy had been there for five years, went to a church in Forth Worth that had a wonderful steeple, and really liked my shirt with a little hummingbird on it. He wanted to know if I would bring him a shirt with a hummingbird on it, too. (I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was actually a maternity shirt that I'm still hanging onto! ;) Instead I promised to think of him the next time I saw a shirt with a hummingbird on it.) Then Conner and Micah gave him a cookie.

By then, the rest of our friends had arrived and we proceeded into the building. As we waited for a few minutes to receive some last minute instructions, I showed my boys off to some of the sweet little ladies just inside. Then we were greeted by another man. I wasn't able to catch his name though. He was too busy telling me to watch out for the resident cross-dresser. Apparently there was a person who lived there who had his hair cut like a man, combed it over like a man...but painted his fingernails. My new friend thought this was extremely funny, and I was given instructions to watch for this cross-dresser, and then give him a report on my way out.

Then we were off down the halls, giving cookies to anyone and everyone that we saw. Conner was excitedly handing them out, Micah was dutifully following his big brother around, and Joey was securely strapped into the stroller.

It wasn't long before we found ourselves in the dining room. There we found some very friendly folks sitting around a table. Conner even got a few hugs as he presented his cookies. We stopped to talk to them for a few minutes, and then as the group was on our way out of the room, I ended up at the end of our little line, bringing up the rear. Everyone watched as all the kids paraded out the door, and then they asked me if we were a daycare group. I explained that no, we were not a daycare group. We were a church. They began asking questions, and I was able to tell them a little bit about Christ Journey.

Then a man in a wheelchair, with very thick glasses that magnified his crossed eyes wanted to know if we were Protestant or Catholic, did we believe in Jesus Christ as our Eternal Savior? Then before I could even asnwer, he launched into a mini-sermon of sorts, quoting scripture, insisting that once we receive our salvation, there is nothing we can do to ever lose it. He began to get excited, raising his voice, waving his arms, his already-magnified-eyes becoming even larger.

I stood and listened nicely, worried about my kids who had gone on with the group, and waiting for a break in the sermon to politely excuse myself.
Eventually the other residents and therapists in the room were began to get visibly nervous. They wanted this man stop talking so that I could catch up with my group. There were several times that they tried to help me out and break in and interrupt, but this man wasn't stopping for anything!

In the middle of this emotionally heavy and increasingly uncomfortable sermon, a woman came up behind me. I am still unsure as to whether she was a resident or a therapist. But either way, she whispered to me how proud she was of us, and told me that she would rub my shoulders while I listened.

As the sermon went on, the arms waved more, the eyes got bigger, the rubbing became more intense, and I began to get more and more uncomfortable. I finally interrupted the man, and even though he never did completely stop talking I thanked him for sharing, and told him that it was obvious that he had done a lot of studying. (Very careful not to agree or disagree, or say anything else that would launch another sermon!)

I then hurried out of the room, anxious to see if Conner and Micah were still with the group and doing okay. The woman who was rubbing my shoulders, however, followed me. She told me that she was just so proud of us, she would just rub my shoulders while I walked. Sweet...but a little weird for me! About that time I ran into Becca, who had sweetly noticed that I was gone and had come looking for me. She was obviously confused by the "attachment" on my shoulders, and not knowing what else to do, led me to the rest of our group.

At that point, my new friend finally excused herself. I thanked heard and then I heard Micah looking for me, obviously getting increasingly worried and anxious. I grabbed his hand, gave him a hug, and he immediately relaxed. Conner was busily looking for someone else to give cookies to and hadn't even missed me. But sadly, everyone had gotten a cookie (or three!) and it was time for us to go.
I learned on the way out that while I was being preached to and rubbed upon, apparently there was some other excitement going on. A woman had heard the kids, come out into the hall, and dropped her drawers. That's right. Pants down to the floor, nothing on underneath. Thankfully, our kids were all too busy handing out cookies to notice, and it was just a couple of the other moms who got an eyeful. And thankfully, the nursing staff knew her well enough to know that this was something that she does sometimes and jumped right in to take her back into her room. I think I'm glad that I was getting preached to...

I looked for my new friend-of-the-cross-dresser, ready to tell him thanks for the warning, but that I had missed the show. But I didn't see him. I looked for Andy to make sure and tell him bye. But I didn't see him either. I left with all kinds of mixed emotions about the visit, but among the strongest was a need for closure. It was a little weird, and I wasn't real sure what it meant or what to do about it.

Then we went to a retreat this weekend. City on a Hill is a retreat "rooted in equipping and sending participants to live out the mission of God. As ambassadors of Jesus empowered and led by the Holy Spirit, we shine the light of God. We are a city on a hill, and we cannot be hidden." There was all kinds of good stuff going on, but I just couldn't shake this nursing home experience.

Then we spent some time in Mark 14:3-9. It's the story of Jesus' anointing in Bethany -- about the time that Mary poured an alabaster jar of perfume on Jesus feet, and then proceeded to wash them with her tears and her hair. If you're not familiar with it, (or even if you are) take a moment to read it.

The phrase that stood out to me, that I couldn't shake, was after the woman was rebuked by the chief preists for being foolish and wasteful. Jesus declared that "she did what she could." And then it all clicked. I received the closure that I needed for my nursing home experience. As is often the case, we went out to bless someone, and we were blessed immeasureably more than we could have ever blessed them...

So often, I feel like there's nothing I can do. Everywhere I go, I have three small children with me. Having a conversation with somone, even just over the phone, is often difficult. Running into town to drop something off for someone takes me about three times longer than it would a "normal person" without kids. At Christ Journey, we're often encouraged to meet people, to be in relationship with them, to show them Christ, to live life with them. I want to do this. But it feels like everytime a try, I end up chasing and disciplining my own children rather than talking to anyone else.

I've now been reminded that I am the woman who anointed Jesus -- only I usually don't even have an alabaster jar of perfume. Often the only thing I have to offer my Lord is salty tears and dirty hair. But my Almighty God sees even that as "a beautiful thing (v. 6)."

I may not have been able to give Andy a hummingbird shirt, or listen to as much of the sermon as my new preacher-friend would have liked. I may not be able to give as much money to as many good causes as I would like, cook as many meals for my sick and hurting friends as I would like, meet and talk to as many people or touch as many souls as I would like. But I can tie pretty ribbons around cookies, take the time to listen to and understand a lonely man, endure funny stories and crazy sermons and uncomfortable massages. My new friends at the nursing home saw these things as a beautiful gift. And so did my Jesus.

5 comments:

Smockity Frocks said...

This was just wonderful! It IS easy to feel like "I am too busy rearin' young 'uns to do anything important!" Thanks for the reminder!

(Going to the nursing home always makes me cry! I posted about it here: http://www.smockityfrocks.com/2008/12/singing-at-nursing-home.html)

BooBoo said...

lovely...

Amanda Brooke Kilgore said...

Now see, that ALWAYS happens to me when I visit an old folk's home: Somebody somewhere ends up naked around me. I really shouldn't say much more about it though. I am soooo totally going to be the crazy old lady that moons visitors in the nursing home where I will surely one day take residence. Lord, be with those visitors then! (And please let it NOT be one of my family members!)

Amy said...

This caught me off guard-- by the end, it brought tears to my eyes. What a powerful realization. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

good story - I can see why Crystals article struck a chord with you. A bit of a tease though - I kept thinking you were going to figure out that the woman rubbing your shoulders was the crossdressing man.:)

- IS