“Miss Emma,” Angel said, “Pastor Bernie is on the phone for you; she wants to know if it is still okay if she comes at 3 o’clock today.”
Eighty-one year-old Emma was sitting at the dining room table. She had finished the outer edges of a 1,000-piece puzzle that would eventually depict dogs playing poker. Glancing up at the wall clock, she saw it was 2 pm. She nodded her assent without looking up.
“Do you want to get changed out of your housecoat before she comes?” Angel asked.
Then without waiting for an answer she said, “Let’s get you changed into your comfy black knit slacks and maybe your green cashmere sweater. How does that sound?”
Emma nodded again, resignedly, raised herself slowly out of the dining table chair, grabbed her cane, and started shuffling toward the bedroom. Angel had truly been her guardian angel these past few months. Emma suspected that she would have spiraled into a catatonic depression without Angel’s helpful and cheerful spirit.
Emma Ricker had been disabled for almost a year and wasn’t wearing it well. She had always been an active person. She was an inveterate walker. She had walked at least two miles a day for almost twenty years after being diagnosed in her early 60’s with osteoporosis. The walking strengthened her bones. But 11 months ago, she tripped on the uneven sidewalk near her home, and fell hard on her hip, sustaining a femoral neck fracture. A neighbor passing by in her car stopped when she saw Emma fall, and rushed to her aid. The neighbor called 911 for an ambulance, when she realized that Emma was in excruciating pain and couldn’t move.
The neighbor and her young son stayed with Emma until the ambulance arrived. She was rushed to the hospital, but even with a first-rate orthopedic surgeon operating in a state-of-the-art hospital, the surgery was tricky and the recovery had been long and arduous. The surgeon placed three screws to hold the bones together, and said that it could take up to 12 months for her to heal. It had now been 11 months, and she was still unable to walk without a cane.
The convalescent facility had refused to release her to go home until she had a full-time caregiver at home. The social worker found Angel for her. Angel lived with her and took care of her from 8 am to 5 pm weekdays, and Angel’s cousin stayed with her on the week-ends.
Emma had been active her whole life, and being an invalid did not suit her. After teaching high school math for a year after college, Emma studied for her real estate license, passed the exam, and started with a small real estate firm part-time while still teaching.
She soon realized that she had found her niche selling residential real estate. There was a huge demand for homes on the Westside of Los Angeles, and older homeowners were cashing in their homes to retire to less expensive areas of California, and to Arizona and Nevada. Two years later, she was doing well enough with her real estate sales to quit her teaching job. She slowly built up her clientele, and became a top producer. Emma had never married and had no close relatives, but she enjoyed traveling and did quite a bit of it until the fall.
The fall, she thought. She had fallen literally and figuratively.
Angel answered the door and brought Pastor Bernie into the living room, where Emma was seated. Bernie had brought her a mixed bouquet of flowers, cards from friends in the congregation, and a handmade card decorated by the Sunday School children.
She handed the flowers to Angel to put in a vase, and set the cards on the end table next to where Emma was seated.
“Would you like me to give you communion, Emma?” Bernie asked, after Emma had opened and read the cards. She gestured to the communion kit she brought with her.
“Honestly, Pastor, what’s the use?” She threw up her hand in frustration.
“I feel that God has abandoned me. I’m totally useless. The minute I hit the pavement that day I cried out to God to help me. I’ve been praying for months for God to heal me and I haven’t made any progress. My muscles have atrophied—and at this point, I doubt that I will ever fully recover my strength, even if my bones heal—which at this point, is a big if.”
“I’m on a downward trajectory,” she continued. “I don’t even know why God is keeping me alive!”
Emma had said her piece, and Bernie saw the flash of anger in her eyes.
Bernie met her gaze with a kind countenance.
“You have been so active your whole life, Emma. I can understand your frustration.” Bernie patted Emma’s hand.
“Still, I know that you’ve made progress. You had a very nasty fall. And from what I hear, that femoral neck fracture was very serious. You had internal bleeding. Now your bones are on the mend, and you’re starting to use a cane instead of the walker. It has been a long road, I know, but you are doing well.”
“That’s not how I see it,” she said dully.
“Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to see the progress. The progress has been incremental—I’ll grant you that.”
“I just don’t see God anywhere in this,” Emma said.
“God isn’t in the events, Emma. He is in the responses to the events. He shores us up so that we can carry on during difficult times.
“God was there when a neighbor ‘happened’ to be passing by when you fell and called 911 for you immediately after the accident. He was in the hospital when a top-notch orthopedic surgeon ‘happened’ to be there to operate on you. He is here with you now in the care that you receive from Angel.”
Gesturing to the cards and flowers, she said, “He is here in the love that others have shown you since your accident.”
Angel came into the room. “Would you like something to drink, Pastor Bernie, maybe a cup of tea, or water?”
Bernie smiled at Angel. “Not now, Angel, I’m fine.”
Turning to Emma, Bernie asked, “Are you familiar with John Donne?”
“You mean the English poet? Yeah, I read some of his poetry in college.” She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “So?”
“Well, he was quite an interesting fellow. He is known for his poetry, which he began writing as a teenager, but he was also a soldier who served with Sir Walter Raleigh, a lawyer, and finally an Anglican priest. I won’t go into the details, but he had a very tough life. In one of his sermons, he answered his congregants’ complaints that God hadn’t heard their prayers and didn’t care about them.”
Emma looked up at her, curious.
“His answer in a nutshell, was that God had heard their prayers and even if he hadn’t delivered them from the calamities they were experiencing, it might be because he was saving them from far greater troubles.
Donne went on to say, if you want God to hear you, hear him. Hear what he has to say to you in his Word. Listen to him in prayer. Donne encouraged his flock to persevere. God will deliver you in his time and in his way. In the meantime, he will give you the strength to fight the good fight.”
Pastor Bernie paused, letting John Donne’s words sink in.
“You know, Emma, we may never know the calamities that would have befallen us without God’s intervention. In my own life, I have often felt God’s hand protecting me from danger. And I have seen it in my ministry numerous times over the years.
“In your case, think about the passerby who stopped immediately to help you when you fell. I understand that the ambulance was there within 5 minutes. I don’t know much about your injury, but from what the doctor told me in the hospital after your surgery, you were very lucky to get to the hospital and into surgery as soon as you did so they could stop the internal bleeding. Your convalescence may take a while, but your physical therapist is seeing you twice a week, and God sent your own personal Angel to take care of you these past months.
“St. Paul said that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I know that you love God, Emma. You are going through a rough patch now, but you are a faithful servant in his kingdom.
“Take it a day at a time, Emma. God will give you what you need to get through each day. Don’t worry about two or three months from now. Just try to concentrate on each day. God gave the Israelites just enough manna for one day. He promises to “give us this day our daily bread.”
“Ask God for patience during this trying time. Patience in trying times is a fruit of the Spirit. We believers have hope in our future with God.
“And, by the way, you still have many strengths that you can share with others. You were on the Caring Committee at church for years. How about dropping a note or calling some of your friends at Hope Chapel and around town? You have a lot of people who care about you.”
“Do you think anyone would be interested in hearing from me?” Emma asked doubtfully. “Wouldn’t they think I was just fishing for sympathy?”
“I know they would like to hear from you. Folks ask about you all the time.
“Shall we pray?”
“Heavenly Father, we praise and thank you for your faithful servant, Emma. We thank you for sending your angels to care for her after her fall and for the surgeon who was in the hospital to operate on her so quickly. God of Hope, give her patience, courage, and strength to fight the good fight against the adversary who constantly seeks to destroy our hope. In your precious name we pray. Amen”
Bernie opened the communion kit and prepared to give Emma the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
She was putting the communion kit away, when she asked Emma if she had heard about the pastor who played hooky from church so he could play a round of golf on Sunday morning.
Emma shook her head.
“Well, St. Peter and God watched the pastor walk up to the first tee, and turning to God, St. Peter said, angrily, “Are you going to let him get away with this?” he asked.
God just shook his head.
The pastor hit his tee shot. The ball soared over 400 yards through the air and landed in the cup for a hole in one!
“This is your idea of punishing him?” St. Peter asked in frustration.
God shrugged. “Who’s he going to tell?”
A slight smile emerged on Emma’s lips. Bernie was happy to leave her hurting parishioner with a smile, be it ever so slight.