I have a deep respect and admiration for the elderly. Although life is short no matter what age you are blessed to reach, people at this stage of life have lived through so much: heartache, joy, love, loss, blessing, need… Understanding this, I have always felt drawn toward nursing home ministry. For almost two years we have occasionally joined our church’s nursing home ministry to spend time with the residents of a local nursing home.
These people need love. They need to see smiling faces and to know that somebody cares to take time out of his or her own life to spend some time loving on them.
Recently the women of our church gathered together for a service night. We packed bags of food for hungry children, helped sew together crocheted blankets, packed gift baskets for new moms, put together freezer meals for hot meal ministries, and created gift bags for the residents of this particular nursing home. Oh how I love the women of Frisco Bible! This evening was such a blessing. Having the opportunity to enjoy fellowship with dear sisters in Christ while working to minister to those in need was absolutely wonderful. There is not much I’d rather do with an evening.
Our visit to the nursing home last month was especially heart-touching and an enormous reminder that our presence there does matter! This was when we were able to distribute the gift bags that were prepared at our women’s service night. Other times I have been to the nursing home I have stayed out in the common area visiting, painting nails, putting together a puzzle, playing card games, and encouraging my kids to hand out the little cards they love to make for the residents. But this time we got more personal. That visit was the first where I ventured back to the residents’ rooms. We knocked on doors, gave them gift bags, then stayed to visit. And during each of these visits I made a point to ask the man or woman if we could pray with them and what they would like us to pray for. I have rarely seen such hunger for prayer. Every single one of these beautiful people eagerly accepted our offer to pray with them. Many of the prayers ended in tears, hugs, and those soft, sweet hands grasped mine with squeezes of gratitude.
I made deep connections that week that will last a lifetime. Sam from Iran suffers from Parkinson’s. He was so grateful that we had come to see him and desperately desires for us to return. While we were visiting, Sam so joyfully filled my kids’ pockets with pistachios. When he offered I politely declined, but he was so insistent, so I didn’t want to deprive him of the blessing of giving. As he filled their pockets with those nuts, his joy was unmistakable. That was one of the most precious gifts I have ever seen.
We talked with Evangeline in the hallway. She asked who we had come to visit. I told her, “No one in particular; we just came to visit.” She excitedly responded, “Oh! You came to visit me!!” I said, “That’s right! We came to visit you!” After praying with her, she gazed intently into my eyes, with tears streaming out of hers and said, “Thank you so much. You have no idea what this means to me. Thank you so much.”
At the end of the hallway we met Bill and Helen. They spent a lifetime travelling the country singing Southern Gospel music. That’s exactly what my parents did before I was born. Southern Gospel was a major part of my childhood. We had plenty to talk about. Helen and Bill adore children (as do everyone I meet at the nursing home). So my kids’ presence really blessed them. Bill experienced two strokes and is no longer able to communicate much. He was quiet most of the time I was there. But he couldn’t take his eyes off my children. I encouraged them to go give him a hug. They did, and you would have thought we had given that sweet old man a million dollars. The first hug was encouraged by me, but after that, the boys kept going over to hug him while Helen and I chatted. Solomon, who is not typically huggy with people outside of our immediate family offered the most hugs and stayed the longest in Bill’s arms.
At one point I heard Bill whisper to Solomon, “Thank you for loving me.” It’s amazing I was able to keep my own waterworks in when I heard that.
Before we go into the nursing home I remind the kids why we are going: to show love. I have explained to the kids that the people in this building are struggling with health issues that prevent them from being able to take care of themselves, and many don’t have family that is able to take care of them or love on them. So when I saw Solomon acting out of character for the sake of showing love by being so huggy with this sweet man, I was touched. But when I heard how much it meant to Bill, I was certain that this is where we are supposed to be. Helen told our kids they can call him Grandpa Bill, so now we are eager to regularly visit Grandpa Bill.
Now that I know these people and am aware of how much our visits mean to them, I simply can’t stay away. Joel works on Saturdays when a group from Frisco Bible Church visits the nursing home, so the kids and I have been flying solo. This past Sunday Joel happily joined us for a visit to the nursing home after church. When we left the nursing home Shylah was downcast, so I asked her what was bothering her. She burst into tears and said, “I just wanted to stay longer at the nursing home.” I love that my children have developed a sensitive heart to these beautiful people who need love.
Joel suggested that we make a habit of spending a little time at the nursing home on Sundays after church. I love it and am so excited to connect more deeply with the people I know. I am also eager to meet more people to visit and pray with and learn how to best minister to them.
If you have never considered ministering at a nursing home, consider it! If you have considered it but just haven’t taken the first step, do it! It is so worth it. Blessing the residents doesn’t take any skill, just a heart willing to spend a little time talking to these people. Imagine how you would feel if you were in their shoes (or wheelchairs). And love them how you would hope to be loved.
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. – James 1:27