We walked to the entrance of the nursing home, three generations of us: Grandma, mom and me. We were on our way to see my great-grandmother, or “Grandma Annie” as we called her. She was actually my grandma’s mother-in-law. Mom carried a plant for her…something to add a little beauty to the otherwise drab room. We probably had a can of Pringles and some other snacks with us. This must’ve been in the early 1980’s, which put me around ten-years-old or so. I even remember what I was wearing: Tan colored terry cloth shorts sewn by my mom and a multi-colored halter top (so stylish!).
The nursing homes of the 1970’s and 80’s were very different than they are today. I was a little bit scared when we approached the entrance and even more so when we stepped inside. The scene is forever etched in my mind as one of many such experiences that would shape me in the years to come. It would have huge ramifications for my life, my heart, passion, and vocation. It would become my “holy discontent,” to borrow a phrase from Pastor/Author Bill Hybels.
Just inside the doors I was stopped in my tracks by so many gray-haired, wrinkle -skinned senior citizens in wheelchairs I could go no further. With hands outstretched toward me, many of them tried grabbing onto me, seeming desperate for human touch. “Hi honey! Come here child,” some of them called out. Some appeared gaunt, most were disheveled with messy, wild hair and food stains on their faces and clothes. A feeling of sadness touched my soul, deep inside. Yet my mom and grandma without hesitation touched many of them, and with a warmth that was palpable, smiled and greeted these folks with so much tenderness it was beautiful. Since I knew now it was all right, I reached out my hand. I said “hello” to many of them and instantly saw the faces light up all around me as we made our way further into the center. As we made our way down the hall, I was overcome with a sense of deep compassion. My mom whispered to me, “They must think you’re their little daughter.” It didn’t matter to me. They needed affection and companionship, and I felt it no burden at all for me to help meet those needs, whatever small way I could.
And on that day I felt that first whisper in my ear of who I was created to be, and what I was on this earth to do.