Lord, you are the maker of my heart! Which has been stitched together with yards of you, pieces of others, and a pinch more scraps of you! And although I know my heart is already full there is still yet more scraps to be added until my heart has been made complete. Continue to make my heart, stitch by stitch, like unto yours; so that I may one day be a “Keeper” in Heaven. Amen!
Spring is finally wrapping up in my home town! It’s been a rainy one this year, so I am not surprised to find myself again listening to the rain falling outside against the metal porch roof as I prepare to leave the house. I can smell the creek that runs near our home immediately as I step outside; which reminds me the streams must be running high. It is days like today that thoughts of him leap out to me and my heart becomes instantly full of how grateful I am to have met *Paul. And because of this I decide the perfect place for Helen and I to take our walk today will be along the banks of this small nearby stream with a piece of *Paul in my heart.
For several years I have had the blessing of being a Hospice Volunteer. Frequently, when people discover this about me their response(s) can be to say something like the following:
“I don’t know how you do that.”
“I just don’t have the heart to do that sort of thing.”
“It takes a very special person to do what you do.”
This is always an awkward moment for me, but I have learned the best response is a short one that goes directly at the truth!
“I don’t know how I do it either.” (It truly comes from God’s intercession & guidance.)
“My heart has been changed by the people I have met.” (I have learned far more from them than the little I have given.)
“And I am very far from being special.” (The people I serve and their families have earned them that label.)
When I think of what led me to become a hospice volunteer I see the grace-filled Heart of Jesus reaching toward me. I had no expectations on what I was being called to do when I first walked through the doors of the Hospice Care Organization I volunteer at; so when the woman at the front desk asked, “What are you here for today?” The only response I could think to give was, “To help.” This was all I knew God was calling me to do…I pray I have provided that.
The roles of volunteers are actually quite diverse but volunteers are commonly divided into two major categories: (1) those who are directly involved with the care of the dying person and their family, and (2) those who indirectly support the dying by providing services directly to the hospice. After a few evaluations it was determined by the administration that I was to be put in this first category of care.
I can honestly say, some of the dearest and most intimate friendships I have experienced in my life have only lasted a few beautiful weeks. No matter the duration they all leave a piece of themselves in my heart, sometimes which changes me forever. So it was with *Paul.
My love-affair with *Paul began one particular spring, on a day much like today. In our first “meet and greet” together I was assigned to spend the entire evening with *Paul, so that his wife *Dorothy could get some much needed rest. Because of *Paul’s immense discomfort and struggle to sleep, I heard a lot in that first evening together about his life. He shared proudly with me some of his greatest achievements like his time spent in the Army, the things he was most proud of, such as his expansion of the local fish-hatchery program; as well as some of his deepest sorrows.
It is not uncommon I have found, at this stage of hospice, that a patient wastes little time to share the final things they would most like to accomplish before they are called away from this earth. *Paul’s request came in that very first time spent together. Although *Paul had lived a full life and had accomplished many great things, earning him the respect and admiration of a multitude of people within our hometown community; his relationship(s) with his immediate family were somewhat, as *Paul would explain, “broken.” He desired more than anything to arrange for a reconciliation wherever he felt necessary. And so he asked for my help. I have assisted in letter writing, video taping, arranging for delayed gifts to be given (an upcoming birthday, anniversary, or simply a personal farewell memento to be given,) all as a final act of love to leave with those whom are designated. These are the very moments where I witness God’s intercession and guidance because as I mentioned earlier: I do not knowhow I do this because it always happens magically, beautifully, and with great grace! I am truly on auto-pilot, with God at the wheel, in these occasions’ of service! Our God is an awesome God, (who deserves all glory!)
Exactly fourteen days from the time *Paul made his wishes known, God had orchestrated one by one the members of his extended family, from various parts of the country, to be with him. I was blessed to witness conversations occur that were difficult to begin, to watch God minister to their hearts as healing occurred, and marvel as love was ultimately restored. The healing power of love is truly the most immeasurable thing to behold! And love is the most powerful gift we possess, (both given and received.) *Paul gave this most perfect gift to those whom he loved in his final days. And it was of no surprise when, after his final reconciliation, God called him home…with great peace restored to his soul.
His family gave me the great honor of delivering the eulogy at his funeral and on this particular Spring day, as it all swells up in my heart; may a small piece of *Paul be implanted in your own heart too…
We are all united today, not only in our obligation to pay our respects to *Paul; but also our heartfelt desire to do so. And while this is an occasion of deep sorrow may it also be one of dedication: a dedication to live out a life as full of love as *Paul desired for each of us. May we all have the determination to “unite” and carry on this same SPIRIT of love & generosity, as he showed us how to do.
In the short time I was given to spend with *Paul he became and was my friend. Our shared respect and admiration for the Apostle, St. Paul, united us and gave us a great source for dialogue regarding one’s individual attempt at living a life centered on Christ’s teachings…and our struggles to sometimes live out that life in the Modern World. *Paul was enormously grateful for the life God had blessed him with; but he knew and admitted that he had, at times, struggled to live out a life Christ would be pleased with. He recognized in those final weeks that even where he had failed, the same mercy and grace from Christ, (which St. Paul spoke so passionately of in his epistles;) was still being offered to him, even as he prepared for his journey home to God.
During several of our visits together we spoke often about: “Pressing toward the Goal.” “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. … forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14) I know in my heart *Paul has achieved his goal and rests now in the arms of his Lord and Savior.
Whenever we meet someone and they become a part of our lives we begin to take pieces of them with us. What impressed me the most was how many pieces of each of you, whom *Paul felt so blessed to have been a part of his life, he had collected. He spoke often and with great admiration about MANY of you, always with a glint in his eye and the greatest attention to detail(s)! His softball girls and his many athletic comrades, his co-workers and career affiliates, his army and fishing buddies; but none more so than his family. He held so much pride for each one of you and even though he knew he failed to tell you properly or enough, he valued and was so appreciative of the love and support you showered upon him throughout the years. He struggled, at times, to understand how he could be so deserving of your love and I know it was his greatest hope that each of you know how blessed he felt to have been given a life spent with EACH of you. Especially his beloved *Dorothy, who he told me was the biggest prize he ever won! It is my prayer, that just as *Paul collected pieces of each of us to store up in his heart, that we all remember and treasure the pieces of *Paul that we have collected. That we look back on these pieces with fondness and love and on a life, although not perfect, well lived.
The final conversation *Paul and I were to have he asked me if I thought he was ready to go? Was he perfected enough to Press toward that Goal of Heaven we’d spoken often of? In that moment I reminded him of the story he told me once, about the record number of fish that were released in the streams one particular spring. You could see his great pride in being a part of fostering such growth in the local hatchery-program even then, as I recalled the story to him; yet he still remained frustrated over the countless fish that would no doubt be caught a little too early, still not quite to optimum size and would not be released back into the stream. (Catch & Release.) They were legal length, but Paul felt they just weren’t mature enough to keep. “If you give them just a little more time and they develop a little longer, those are the fish you want! Those are the keepers, the trophies!” he’d say. I shared with Bob…how in his own way perhaps, over these past several weeks, he has been like that fish who needed just a little more time to grow; to develop in to the trophy God desired him to be. And that only God would know if he was ready yet.
*Paul liked this comparison a lot, (as only a true fisherman would.) And after a while, as I said my final good-bye to him, he looked at me with that flirty-Paul-smile and said, “I think I’m finally a keeper.”
And I just know that *Paul is hoping we all remain patient, while we take that important time to continue in our own growth; so that we too may be a trophy catch for the Lord! I am sure if we do we will each be ready as we Press toward the Goal, when we will undoubtedly find *Paul somewhere along the streams in God’s Kingdom.
(*Paul – Not his real name, although I nick-named him that because of our in-depth conversations about St. Paul the Apostle.)