Room for Evelyn

 Evelyn VanTassel and her poodle Sara Lee

Evelyn VanTassel and her poodle Sara Lee

While I think of myself a loner, the gospel nudges me toward to others.  Sometimes I even obey.

Last week, I was moved by a study I’m doing about hospitality to “make room” for Evelyn.  Mother of our friend, Marilyn, Evelyn was admitted to a nearby hospital several days earlier.  I could have visited during her first couple days there but I resisted the urge to do so.

Why?  Well you see, I am involved in a house project and you know hospitals make me uncomfortable.  Besides, Evelyn is 98 and has difficulty speaking. How would we converse and what could I say or do to make her feel any better?

Excuses that sound as lame as they are, especially since I had no difficulty spending an entire day in a car with Evelyn five years earlier.  That was 2012 when Marilyn asked if I would drive Evelyn back to her home in Marquette after wintering in Marilyn’s Farmington Hills home.

Evelyn was 93 then and I was in-between jobs, so available to help. Marilyn insisted I take her car so she could pack it with all Evelyn’s stuff before I arrived.

Conversation was not a problem during the eight or so hour trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula although I only recall tidbits of what we talked about.  We arrived late-afternoon at her house a block south of the Northern Michigan University campus where her deceased husband and Marilyn’s dad, Leo was former Vice President of Business and Finance.

 View from a Marquette park, 2012

View from a Marquette park, 2012

I unpacked the car and heeded all her specific instructions for putting everything back in its place among the many treasures lining every room of her house.  Later, she suggested we drive around town so she could show me the sights. Before dropping her back home, she treated me to dinner in a little restaurant in town where many greeted her by name, staff and patrons alike. After staying the night in a local motel, I headed home the next morning.

Although I did that drive only the one time, the cycle of Evelyn spending winters in Farmington Hills with Marilyn continued. Connected by that drive, I made a point to spend a little time with Evelyn whenever she came with Marilyn to church, and our small group meetings.

Last winter Evelyn was weaker, mostly wheelchair bound and virtually unable to speak.  Then news came on the church prayer list that Evelyn was admitted to a local hospital.   

One of my study’s scriptures was Romans 12:3-8 that includes something about using our gifts for our fellow Christians.  What gifts do I have for Evelyn?

I could almost hear God whispering “you” into my brain. As in me, being present and doing my best to let Evelyn know that I cared about her, as did God - to be God’s hands and feet and voice.

Turns out she “spoke” quite well without uttering any words - with nods and squeezing my hand that I offered her when I arrived.  Her breathing was labored and her body really warm. Despite that our clasped hands got sweaty, she did not want me to let go.

That evening, “Our Daily Bread” reading was Matthew 8:1-4 about Jesus healing a leper.  I keyed on the story part when the man pleaded with Jesus,

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Then) Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
— Matthew 8: 2-3 (NIV)

Picking up on Jesus’ unhesitant response to touch this man everyone else gave a wide berth, the devotion shared a story about Kiley who jumped at a chance to join a medical mission in East Africa despite having no medical experience.

Despite being repulsed by the distorted leg of a woman there with a horrible but treatable disease, “Kiley knew she had to do something. As she cleaned and bandaged the leg, her patient began crying. Concerned, Kiley asked if she was hurting her. “No,” she replied. “It’s the first time anyone has touched me in nine years.”’

Me holding Evelyn’s hand was the part of my visit that I think she liked the most.

Evelyn died the morning after I visited her, finally heading to her “real” up north home in heaven with our Lord after 98 venerable years walking among us.  When I heard news of her passing, I whispered a little “Thanks!” to the Lord for nudging me to make room one last time for Evelyn.

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Notes:

1. Evelyn's picture: from Marilyn VanTassel
2. Our Daily Bread, May 2, 2017: Just a Touch
3. Hospitality Study by "He Reads Truth:" Making Room