The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Sacred gifts from a nursing home

When Audrey was a few months old, I pushed or carried her around the neighborhood. In time we became familiar with many of our neighbors and their pets.

I most enjoyed running into Louie, one of those old men who routinely and carefully feeds birds and squirrels. Louie was tall and thin, still robust and a bit rough around the edges. But his kindness toward animals won Audrey over. And his sharp wit betrayed a personality accustomed to responsibility and authority. I learned that he'd seen Europe from the air during World War II and subsequently had been a jet pilot and flight instructor. So the love of flying, the outdoors and squirrels became our common ground. Occasionally I saw Margaret, his wife, from a distance. She seemed as full of life and humor as he.

But one day they disappeared. In walks and drives by their house, I never again saw Louie carefully placing nuts in particular spots under the bushes, tossing birdseed in his side yard or simply observing the animals.

Quite out of the blue — after a school year without seeing Louie and Margaret — another neighbor told me they were at the Woodbine Nursing Home. My first visit was too late to see Margaret, who had recently died. But I began visiting Louie once or twice a week.

Years later I realized my approach to nursing home residents was self-centered. I was the "good guy" who visited people who weren't even relatives. I was avoiding what was most difficult but what my friends at the nursing home probably needed more than a visit: They needed some expression of appreciation for what they were doing for someone else.

I learned so much from Louie, about the war and life in and around Chicago afterward. He occasionally took me back to the 1930s. I couldn't get enough of his stories. But I said nothing about what I got out of our visits. I never expressed to Louie what he contributed to my life.

For example, I was reading Seabiscuit at the time. When Louie told me he remembered when people would exclaim to strangers on the street, "How 'bout that Biscuit?" I felt as if I were witnessing history firsthand. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Yet once again I was silent, somehow refusing to afford Louie the pleasure of knowing how much he was affecting me. I did thank him for his service each time I saw him, referring to what he'd done for our country as a member of the "Greatest Generation."

One day I found Louie in his bed turned away from the door, which was unusual. I heard his labored breathing, noticed the transparency of his skin and sensed that this was our last moment together. Before I left, I checked the clock. It was a little after 1 p.m.

Sure enough, I received a call three hours later that Louie had died. I asked the time and the nurse said a little after 1 p.m. Apparently Louie had died within a minute or two after I had placed my hand on his head in prayer.

I share this not so you know what I did. Rather, I want to surface what happened to me because of Louie, things I never got around to telling him. For starters, he's the reason I go back every week to visit Ivy, Mary and Herb. It's dawned on me that the word "sacred" perfectly describes my feelings about what I've witnessed in the nursing home. These residents are sacred. Their stories and lives are sacred. Our time shared is sacred.

Thanks be to God, who used the process of writing Louie's story to help me finally realize the importance of graciously accepting what those nursing-home residents are giving me.

Check out this week's articles:

cover4A crisis & faith: (right) Unemployment ... investment loss ... home foreclosures ... bailouts ... recession.

Facing hard times: Be confident, careful, grateful and generous.

Congregations in tough economic times: The economic climate pushes the church to be clear about mission.

Stewardship during an economic crisis: What a recession means for congregational giving.

Also: Tips for tough times.

Also: California seniors help the homeless.

Also: Witnessing in troubled times.

Read these articles at our front page ...


Discuss the faith implications of a faltering economyEd Kruse

March 17-24: Join Ed Kruse (right), ELCA director for stewardship, to discuss the faith implications of a faltering economy.

In "Tips for tough times," Kruse suggests these tips for congregations “to grow a culture of generosity”: 1. Don't panic. 2. Transform spending habits. 3. Save. 4. Continue to give.

Consider reading "A crisis & faith" and related articles before joining in.

Join the discussion ...

This week on our blog:Sonia

Sonia Solomonson (right) asks: "What do we want?"

Amber Leberman asks: "What's in a (domain) name?"

Tell us! Pastor goofs

For some of you it was just last Sunday, for others it was years ago. Pastors, please share with us your funniest — yes, likely embarrassing — ministry stories.

Send your 100-word stories to Julie Sevig at julie.sevig@thelutheran.org or respond online.


The March issue of The Little Lutheran has arrived!TLL

Don't let them miss another issue.

The Little Lutheran helps children 6 and younger learn about God's love for them and the world in which they live. It teaches them about Jesus, their friend and savior.

Adults, you will want this for the children in your life. Pastors and congregations, you will want this for education and evangelism. See how you can subscribe for nearly half the price.


Subscribe today ...


TLCIntroducing The Little Christian

For grandparents, godparents and others whose little ones age 6 and younger aren't Lutheran, give a subscription to The Little Christian. Launched in January 2009, this has the same great content as The Little Lutheran and is available at the same price: $24.95 for a one-year subscription, $45 for two and $59 for three. Or the low rate of $12.95 per subscription if you join with friends to order six or more (one billing but multiple mailing addresses). Tell your friends in our full-communion and ecumenical partner churches too. Visit www.thelittlechristian.org or call 800-328-4648.



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February issue


Embracing diversity