by Kate Kitchen
Article printed in The Tie That Binds (Summer 2015)
Click here to see Summer 2015 issue

Throughout our lives, as Christians, we pray. When we’re little, we might pray for a new bike or doll house. Later on, we pray for boyfriends or girlfriends or to pass a math test. As we become older, we pray for health. We pray for jobs. We pray for family members who seem lost to Christ. We pray for everything under the sun (under the Son)–because we’ve been taught to pray, to ask, to be sincere in our belief and His promise that He will hear us and answer us (although many times, not in the way we wish).

But there are those who ARE believers, who WERE productive citizens–those who were highly instrumental in building our churches, preparing our meals for fellowship, those who volunteered for any of a number of our ministries, who HAD families and friends surrounding them and now are left alone, perhaps unable to walk or talk or think or speak clearly…and who are now left devastated and despondent from oup offerings on Sunday mornings.

These are our homebound. Some live in their homes and shouldn’t, still, but they are trying desperately to hold onto the last vestige of familiarity and security they can find. They no longer may be rational enough to move that throw rug; you know, the rug they tripped and fell over twice already, right in front of the door. It’s there because “It’s always been there.” Many times, critical thinking has left them, at least somewhat, because the aging process has sapped them of the clarity they used to have to help them make good decisions to keep them safe.

Some are in nursing homes or continuum-of-care facilities, just waiting – alone—for the next step of life. Will it be the assisted living apartment, that’s smaller still–or skilled care? Will they have to move again? Will they feel more out of control, more alone, more forgotten? Will they be told when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat? Will they need someone to take them to the bathroom or to clean them when they become soiled? So they put off making those painful decisions.

I speak for the Homebound. I speak for many of them because too often, they can no longer speak for themselves. And yet many are still quite aware of their surroundings, but cannot voice their thoughts. And that’s when you try to communicate with a smile and a prayer, with a touch, or a cool hand on a forehead. And that’s when your heart breaks as you see one lone tear slide from their eye, and down their cheek.

As a frequent visitor of the homebound, with approximately 50 visits a month, I have found myself hesitating to visit one such woman. And I didn’t know why or what to do about it. She has been bedridden for over a decade. Day after day after week after month after year. Bedridden. Her only method of communication is an occasional half-smile and a tear. Sometimes, she will try to speak and what comes out is a sweet, nearly inaudible and incomprehensible syllable or two. A nurse comverwhelming feelings of loss and isolation. These are the ones who no longer have the ability to drive–such a simple pleasure we take for granted. They no longer take Meals on Wheels to other needy people; they no longer serve up beverages in our kitchen on Wednesday nights or chair search committees for our next pastor, or serve as Deacons, offering communion and taking es in to help translate and at this moment, even she cannot do so.

But then, when I was questioning my level of compassion, Jesus gave me a wake-up call. One day at church, one of my volunteers said to me sweetly, sincerely, “I’d really like to visit Miss X, but it’s just too hard! She can’t communicate and I don’t know how to talk to her!”

Yes, Lord, through my volunteer’s words, I heard You loud and clear! I had kept myself so busy visiting others because I didn’t know how to visit her! I was feeling the same way. My five years as a hospital chaplain didn’t prepare me for this. My lay ministry commissions in chaplaincy, Stephen Ministry, had not given me the answer to this. Why wasn’t I seeing her more often? So I became aware of my heart and the consequences of my inaction, probably leaving her feeling even more alone, more abandoned. And so I hit my knees and buried my face in my hands.

I cried. I prayed. I asked for help. And then I grabbed my Bible and determined, took it to visit. And I sat down beside her bed, and knowing she couldn’t speak, but could understand, I asked for her forgiveness. I told her why I hadn’t come. I had finally identified the culprit! It was because I felt inadequate! Completely inadequate. And it was only because I heard the words come out of someone else’s mouth, “It’s just too hard,” – that I went to the Lord with this plea. “HELP ME FIND A WAY TO COMMUMNICATE SO SHE KNOWS SHE’S NOT FORGOTTEN, SO SHE KNOWS THAT YOU STILL LOVE HER!”

I explained all that, quietly, touching her. With the Bible perched on the bed between us, I asked her to forgive me. And I saw in her eyes that she did. And I prayed with her and for her. And I told her that I knew she couldn’t express herself to me, but that I’d like to read Scripture to her and I knew somehow that was fine. And I read the Beatitudes. And I read the 23rd Psalm.

Isabel McNally

Isabel McNally and her faithful mom, Isabel Rollins

And then I told her, “Isabel,” (you see, Isabel is Miss X)– “We never know the reasons God allows us to be slowed down, why he allows powers to slip away from us: to walk, to talk, to drive, to do –but maybe, just maybe, He wants us to be very, very still and quiet so we’re forced to listen to Him. To see what He needs for us to do while we’re still here on this earth. And sometimes, when you’re unable to do busy things, you can become the greatest minister of all, because that is when you can teach others compassion, mercy, kindness, patience, love. And help others grow as ministers of Christ. And Isabel, what you have taught me is the best Sunday school lesson you could ever have taught when you were able-bodied. Because today, you brought ME closer to Christ, and you truly are a minister.”

She wept. I saw that. I know that. So you see? The disabled still have a productive place in our Christian society, our continuing ministry. They just need to be reminded. And so do we!

So when we fall short and need to be reminded, let’s remember—it’s not about us, it’s about them, their needs. If they cannot speak, they can listen. If they’re blind, they can feel a warm hand holding theirs. If they’re deaf, they can warm to a smile.

May God bless Isabel and all those who are better ministers, though physically or mentally challenged– finer, more effective and compassionate ministers than I will ever hope to become.