At the beginning of last summer, I took a shopping trip with my mom to Old Navy. I had to go there to get some “fancy pants” because I just got a new job, and the usual leggings and a t-shirt wasn’t gonna fly. I had to up my fashion game a little bit because I was going to spend the rest of my Monday-Fridays in the memory care unit at the nursing home. I had many mixed emotions about this at first. I had never had a summer job before, and I was used to a clear calendar for the months of May, June, July, and August. I was beyond excited to meet the residents, but I knew that this summer was going to be different than the ones before──filled with a little more responsibility and a little more faith, and as I would eventually find out, so much more love.
Just a couple months before, it had been made official that my boyfriend, Cooper, would be moving to Illinois to serve as an interim pastor at Forsyth Baptist Church for the summer. This calling had been placed on his heart for many months. After a lot of prayer, discussion, and preparation, it was very clear that it was a God thing, and there was just absolutely no way to say no. Not too much longer after this decision had been made, I was told that I got the job at the nursing home. So, although my former plans of overcoming my fear of “big roads” and driving 2 ½ hours to visit Cooper would be postponed, this redirected my focus. Most importantly, this allowed me to witness and experience God’s perfect timing which I know now is undeniable.
It was the first day on the job, I’m in my new flowery Old Navy pants, and little did I know, I was being introduced to about 16 of my new favorite people in the whole entire world. They were all really cool in their own way. I found that out pretty quickly. One of them could sing every word to any gospel song that I played from Spotify. Another could crochet with her eyes closed. One beat me in cornhole every time. Another had a way of talking to you like you had known each other for years. And there was one of them that could yell (really loudly), and she became my best friend.
We called her “Weezy”. Although her speech couldn’t be understood and was a mix of seemingly random mumbles and sounds, her passion for life was far from incomprehensible. Day in and day out she managed to keep everyone in the memory care unit in order. I watched her tirelessly walk laps around the hallways, fearlessly never take no for an answer, and ever so lovingly care for her favorite baby doll. We instantly clicked, and from then on, we were pretty much inseparable. We “chatted” as we walked back and forth through the hall and as I helped feed her at meal times. Although I couldn’t understand what she was telling me, I responded, and every once in a while, she would look at me and smile so big that she couldn’t help but let out a cackle. That made my heart explode every time. She was like the perfect little mix of fragile, yet strong──sweet, yet feisty.
One day, as we were making our usual rounds, I noticed she was bending over to one side as she walked, as if she was extremely dizzy. She was having to lean on me completely, and I was having to hold her up to keep her from falling. I was able to get her to a recliner, where she peacefully sat to my side with her head on my shoulder. As clear as day, she looked me in the eyes and said “I love you.” I will never forget that for as long as I live.
I think about that moment often now. I think about how different my summer would have been if I had spent it the way I originally planned. I think about all I would’ve missed out on if God hadn’t set up a few roadblocks and signposts to make sure I was headed in the right direction. I think He was smiling while He was charting my course. Even though I thought so from my limited perspective; looking back, there were never any detours or wrong turns. I was right where I was supposed to be all along. God knew exactly who I was going to “bump into” along the way.
The summer came to an end, and I hugged each one of them goodbye. I made sure to let them know I would come visit on any break that I had. I hoped with every part of me that when I returned everything would be just as it was when I had left, each in their own “unassigned, but assigned” recliner, under blankets on top of blankets, sitting at the same tables for lunch and supper, receiving their own favorite combinations of water, tea, and/or juice, and even their same cute little hairstyles. Oh, and of course with Louise still “leading the pack.” I wondered if they would remember the summer that we had, had together. I didn’t know if their precious brains would hold our memories, but I knew that I would carry them with me day in and day out.
I did visit when I could, and I always left with a smile. On one trip back to see my best friends, I was given a shower curtain from one of the ladies. She told me that she had won it for me during that week’s game of BINGO because I would need it in college. Each time before leaving and heading back to school, I made sure to walk a couple laps around the hall with Weeze for old times’ sake.
In October I received news that Louise hadn’t been feeling well for the past few days. I heard that she was very tired and still. “Tired” and “still” weren’t ever words that I associated with that woman. I began to feel sick at my stomach. Although I knew that she was receiving the upmost care from the gentlest of people, I couldn’t help but worry if she was hungry and she just couldn’t find the power to eat, and if I would never get to feel her squeeze my hand again. Louise passed away towards the end of that very week. I didn’t make it home soon enough to tell her bye, but then God placed something special on my heart.
We had never even said “hi.”
Our relationship wasn’t built on words. I only knew Louise for about 6 months. I never knew her when she could speak clearly, but we didn’t need words to tell each other how much we cared. She didn’t need to hear any words from me that day. Just as I didn’t need any words from her all summer. God knew we needed half a year of friendship and discipleship, and that would be sufficient for his plan for our time together in each of our lives.
I was however, able to make it home for her viewing and funeral. At the services, her daughter lovingly displayed a shadow box we had worked on together one special day at the nursing home. As I looked at every picture and trinket in that box, I remembered each story that I heard that summer day about Weezy, and I thought about how for 92 years God had lead her through each and every circumstance and moment of her life to make her who she was; to make her the wife, mother, friend, that she was called to be, to make her the woman that He knew I needed to meet. God knew that somehow this sweet lady and I needed each other. He knew that all 16 of those beautiful souls would draw me closer to His presence and guide me toward his plan for the rest of my life.
This past summer, I grew leaps and bounds in my faith. I can look back on events and what led to them, and know I didn’t get there by accident, or by my own doing. I now have confidence (even though I’m still a little unsure of what my future schooling and career may look like), that if I allow Him to, God will continue to lead me toward the most abundant life possible──one beyond anything I could plan myself or ever expect. I’m sure Louise never expected to totally change the perspective of a 20-year-old girl in a matter of months. But, I am so glad that the Lord establishes our steps along the way, and that we get to watch amazed as all the details unfold.
I recently was able to hear Cooper preach one Sunday morning. As he was drawing his sermon to a close, he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “everyone has a ministry, whether you’re 2 or 90.” Louise had a ministry, even after she took her very last breath.
Her ministry was me.