Lenten Meditation: Suffering produces perserverance

Romans 5:2b-3

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

At seventeen years old, I thought I had things figured out.  I had graduated at the top of my class, was heading off to a “big name” college, and felt confident about who I was becoming.  I had attended church all my life but my commitment to my faith was actually waning rather than strengthening.

In anticipation of college tuition bills, I took a summer job at a local nursing home for $1.25 an hour as a nurses’ aide.  My training was two days following a more experienced aide on her rounds of feeding, pottying, dressing and undressing, and bathing her elderly patients.  Then I was assigned patients of my own and during a typical shift I carried a load of 13 patients.  It didn’t take long for me to learn the rhythm of caretaking, and I enjoyed the work and my patients.

One woman in particular remains vivid in my memory 38 years later.  Betty was in her 80’s, bedridden with a painful bone disease that had crippled her for a decade or more.  She was unable to do any of her own self care but her mind remained sharp and her eyes bright.  Her hearty greeting cheered me when I’d come in her room several times a shift to turn her in her bed to prevent pressure sores on her hips and shoulders.  The simple act of turning her in her bed was an ordeal beyond imagining.  I would prepare her for the turn by cushioning her little body with pads and pillows, but no matter how careful I was, her bones would crackle and crunch like Rice Crispies cereal with every movement.  Tears would flow from her eyes and she’d always call out “Oh Oh Oh Oh” during the process but then once settled in her new position, she’d look up at me and say “thank you, dear, for making that so much easier for me.”  I would nearly weep in gratitude at her graciousness in her suffering.

Before I’d leave the room, Betty would grab my hand and ask when I would be returning.  Then she’d  say “I rejoice in the hope of the glory of the Lord” and she would murmur a prayer to herself.

As difficult as each “turning” was for both of us, I started to look forward to it.  I knew she prayed not only for herself, but I knew she prayed for me as well.  I felt her blessing each time I walked into her room knowing she was waiting for me.

One evening I came to work and was told Betty was running a high fever, and struggling to breathe.  She was being given oxygen and was having difficulty taking fluids.  The nurse I worked under thought she was likely to pass away on my shift and asked that I check her more frequently than my usual routine.

As I approached her bed, Betty reached out and held my hand.  She was still alert but very weak.  She looked me in the eye and said “Do you know our Lord?  He is coming for me today.”   I could think of nothing more to say than “I know He is coming.  You have waited for Him a long time.”   I returned to her room as often as I could and found her becoming less responsive, yet still breathing, sometimes short shallow breaths and sometimes long and deep.  Near the end of my shift, as morning was dawning, when I entered the room, I knew He had come.

She lay silent and relaxed for the first time since I had met her.  Her little body, so tight with pain only hours before, seemed at ease.  It was my job to prepare her for the mortuary workers who would come for her shortly.  Her body still warm to touch, I washed and dried her skin and brushed her hair and wrapped her in a fresh sheet, wondering at how I could now turn her with no pain and no tears.  I could see a trace of a smile at the corners of her mouth.  I knew then the Lord had lifted her soul from her imprisonment and He had rewarded her perseverance.

I rejoice in the hope of the glory of the Lord, thanks to Betty.  She showed me what it means to watch for the morning when He will come.  Immobile in bed, crippled and wracked with pain, her perseverance led to loving a young teenager uncertain in her faith.  Betty had brought the Lord home to me and she went home to Him.

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