Monday, October 19, 2009

Ruthie’s Lime-Green Polka Dot Socks

(Hi all... I originally posted this blog last October, but decided to revisit it today. Hope it blesses you! Enjoy!!!)
It was only about 36 degrees when I pulled out of the driveway to head to Overland Park, Kansas for church Sunday morning. I serve as pastor for an assisted living/Alzheimer care facility where those who, for whatever reason, are no longer able to attend their own churches. The beautiful sunlit thirty minute drive was just a foretaste of the joyous time I was to experience with the folks yesterday during our little one-hour service that day.

After I arrived, fifteen of my beloved senior friends made their way into the multi-purpose room of the facility, each one finding a place to sit in the circle and I was thrilled to see them all. Everywhere I looked, there were wheelchairs, walkers or canes. More importantly, though, there were human beings. God's children.

I have many stories to tell about them all, for they are all very dear to my heart. But today I want to tell you about one in particular. Her name is Ruthie. (Her name has been changed in this article to protect her identity.)

I was especially pleased to see our dear Ruthie show up for church, as she is not always able to be there. Ruthie suffers with Parkinson's disease, so a staff member has to bring her because she lives on the 'locked' side of the facility, where the residents with memory care and other debilitating issues reside. Ruthie loves church and really hates to miss it. She doesn't talk much, but when she does, she is very clear.

The very first conversation we had pretty much consisted of a single sentence from her. She walked right up to me and said, in a very matter-of-fact tone, "You have pretty hair." End of conversation. She turned and went to find a place to sit. Wow. I didn't know enough about her to know if she COULD talk back then. In that moment, I learned not to underestimate or prejudge the abilities or awareness of an elderly person for any reason.

One of the things I love about Ruthie is the way she dresses. She is very particular about her appearance, always making sure that everything she is wearing is color coordinated. Two weeks ago, her color of choice was green. From head to toe, Ruthie was covered in green. Clothes, shoes, jewelry - everything was green - clear down to her lime green polka-dot socks. Brilliantly green. Ruthie was beautiful and she was wearing the sermon on her feet. Yes, the lime green polka-dot socks spoke to everyone in the room and became the lesson of love from Jesus' heart that day.

Just looking at the socks made us all smile. We selected a hymn and I danced with Ruthie while we all sang. Ruthie loves to dance. I wondered what else she loves to do. I challenged everyone to remember those socks whenever they felt discouraged. We all wondered if Ruthie would be able to attend the next service, too. I was very curious to see what she would have on her feet if she did!

Once again, Ruthie blessed us with her fashion sense yesterday. Her color of choice was pink. Head to toe. Glancing down at her feet, I was so pleased to see the pretty pink socks with the rainbows and clouds on them. Two of the women decided they are definitely going shopping to find some outrageously colorful socks to wear. Ruthie's bold taste was an inspiration to them. Everyone loved the socks. And I loved the opportunity to be able to encourage them once again in a way that they may be able to remember. By the end of the service, everyone was more cheerful and encouraged. It's amazing what God can do with a pair of socks!

We talked about Jesus and how much He loves us. We talked about how our bodies begin to betray us as we grow older and oftentimes our minds do, too. We talked about how we learn something new every day, even if it's just how to take a new medicine or an interesting fact about the life of a friend. We talked about how we might forget the things we've learned because of things like dementia or Alzheimer's, but Jesus never forgets that we learned them and He takes care of us when we are not able to take care of ourselves.

Many times, we have talked about how we're all just a bunch of kids inside of wrinkly old bodies that don't work like they used to work and how we're always shocked when we look in the mirror and see an old person staring back at us! We laughed, knowing that sometimes younger people just don't get it, just like we didn't get it when we were their ages, either, and we were sobered by the awareness that one day they will be the 'crazy old people' that the next generation will not understand.

We talked about remembering that the Lord still has purpose for their lives on this earth, or He would have taken them home by now. We talked about the importance of becoming like little children again and we read the verses about Jesus and the children that the disciples wanted Him to send away. Our services are simple. And the Lord is always present with us.

I have been going to this particular facility for the last five years, holding Sunday services with them and occasionally officiating or performing at a funeral for one who has 'graduated' to heaven. Only three of the seniors from our original little 'congregation' remain. Ruthie is one of them. Many have come and gone, for one reason or another. Some have moved to other facilities or into the homes of family members. I wonder about them all.

I've sat with some of them as they cried, feeling totally abandoned and unloved by their own families. My heart breaks for those who don't understand why they are there and why they can't go home. Who are these people and what were their lives like before they became 'old'? How does it feel to find yourself in a place where you're not related to anyone, including the people who are taking care of you?

I wonder about the wisdom that our generations are missing because we have chosen to forget about the elderly because of their ages. That seems insane to me now, although it probably didn't seem insane when I was young and full of my own ‘wisdom’ and myself. I was like so many others - I didn't have time for them!

I've seen and learned many things. I know that my knowledge is still so limited where these folks and their lives are concerned. And as I watch the decline in the physical and/or mental health of some of them - changes that sometimes seem to occur almost over the course of a few days - I am encouraged and humbled by their quiet strength, their seemingly limitless determination to face head-on the trials of old age that are a constant assault against their minds and bodies - many times without the comfort of even one family member to turn to nearby. And I stand in wonder at the God who, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to let them live. They have purpose. They have great worth in His eyes. Those are the eyes that matter.

We have tremendous opportunities before us; opportunities to allow change within us to propel us forward into greater blessings...blessings of the joys that come as we honor those who have lived much longer than we have lived. Blessings that come as we embrace those who may just know a lot more about life than we do - as we watch and learn from their lives, their hopes and dreams and the lessons they learned along the way. Blessings that come as we step outside of ourselves and our very busy and hurrying world and fall into step with our parents, grandparents, elderly neighbors and friends for this season in their lives. Blessings that come to them and to us as we listen to their stories, loving each soul with our undivided attention.

Many of our senior citizens are very lonely. Extremely lonely. Many of them want someone to talk to, someone to listen to, someone to give them a hug and a kind word. I wrote this article to give the readers a tiny glimpse into the world of the elderly. It is truly a very tiny glimpse, I know. But if it inspires you to consider this season of the year as a reflection of what your own life may be like in the not-too-distant future, then perhaps it will also inspire you to do something about those who already find themselves there.

I truly believe that one of the greatest blessings we will ever find in life comes from being a servant to others. It's an honor to be able to serve our elderly human family members, whether we are related to them physically or not. So whether you choose to get involved through a nursing home, an assisted living facility or with the senior citizens in your family or neighborhood, please just get involved. Be a friend and be a student.

Do it for them and for you. You'll be amazed by the changes that you experience as you give more of yourself away for the life of someone else. Will you please join those of us who have connected our lives with theirs? Right now, there's a 'Ruthie' for you out there, somewhere. She’s probably sitting in her little room wearing her lime-green polka dot socks, just waiting.



  1. Vicky,
    I love this. Thanks for sharing. It was incredible.

    Pam Billings

  2. Thanks, Pam. I appreciate that! V.



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