The above words of Jesus, spoken soon before his crucifixion, aren’t easy to heed. They mean getting away from people we’d prefer to befriend and spending time with those who may not have much going for them. Happily, my wife Lorraine listened to those words and did the right thing for six years for somebody who was pretty much alone in this world. Veronica’s husband and son had long since died, and her surviving relatives lived 50 miles away, making it hard to stop by for a visit. There was almost no one around she could call a friend.
Back in 2009, Lorraine started serving Veronica as a home health client. After about six months, she had to go into the hospital and then the nursing home.
It would have been easy to forget somebody like Veronica. But Lorraine didn’t. She started visiting her regularly in the nursing home. Too regularly, if you asked this husband, who often had to wait for his supper because Lorraine was with Veronica. Sometimes Lorraine read her the Bible, sometimes she brought her that St. Louis delicacy called a Steak ‘n Shake steakburger meal. Over the years, Lorraine bought a lot of small items for Veronica using her nursing home account. From time to time, she took off from work to assist so the van driver could bring her to the hair dresser. Sometimes Lorraine spoke up for Veronica’s needs to the nursing home management. All of these little things, done by a friend, made Veronica’s life more livable. She still had a hard time adjusting to nursing home life, but Lorraine made it possible.
Not long ago, Veronica told Lorraine she was the best friend she’d ever had. And it was clear Veronica was listening to what Lorraine was reading to her from the Bible. No, Veronica didn’t become Miss Nice. But it was clear Veronica had changed.
A few days back, it became obvious that Veronica was dying. Lorraine stayed by her side as the pain filled her body, bringing her requests to the staff. Sometimes, Lorraine read her scripture. Once she gave her a milkshake to ease the pain. “I can’t stand this,” Veronica said. Lorraine told Veronica she loved her and Jesus loved her. Veronica told Lorraine she loved her. On Sunday night, Lorraine held Veronica’s hand until she fell asleep.
Early the next evening, on November 2, 2015, we got a call from the nursing home. Veronica had died an hour earlier. She was at rest. Her pain was over. Jesus was wiping away every tear Veronica ever had, because my wife looked past what someone had on the outside and saw what Jesus saw.
Jesus promised he’d welcome us into glory if we ministered to the least of his brothers and sisters. Lorraine listened to that call, when she became the best friend Veronica ever had. But how many Veronicas are out there who don’t have a Lorraine to ease their burdens?
I’m bragging about Lorraine because she’s my wife. But all of us can do what she did just by looking around. How many of us encounter people, neighbors, coworkers, in need, the ones Jesus called “the least of us?” How many want to walk by because they aren’t like us, because they’re of a different race or a different political party or attended the wrong high school? Maybe it’s time to look past our differences and grab the opportunity. There are people out there that only we can help. Do we want to encounter Jesus? Let’s befriend the “least among us” and do what we can to make their lives more livable. How can we refuse this call?