Recently my 82 year-old mom lost her driving privileges, which meant my sisters and I would be responsible for taking her shopping, to church, and to her church-related activities. Because my oldest sister, Dot, is retired, she was given the Tuesday task of taking my mom to several convalescent homes where she and her fellow congregants sing hymns, pray, and share words of encouragement with the residents.
My sister, who has never met a stranger, quickly befriended a lady named Patricia. Patricia could not speak, instead communicating through grunts and simple eye contact. As my sister got to know Patricia, it became evident that in addition to the speech limitation, she was also developmentally delayed. Having grown up with an uncle and aunt with the same limitations, Dot was able to assess Patricia’s capacity to be comparable to an 8 year-old.
Dot later learned that Patricia was 56 years-old, and had no family – at least none that had ever communicated with her during her lengthy stay at the convalescent home. Needless to say, Tuesdays and Dot quickly became a highlight of Patricia’s week. She would anxiously watch as the church group strolled through the doors of the recreation room, and once she spotted Dot, her eyes would light up and she’d begin grunting to make sure Dot knew she was there waiting for her. Dot would always greet her with a hug, and often Patricia’s eyes would fill with tears at the gesture of kindness. And there the two would sit for the next hour – church buddies and friends.
But on one Tuesday when Dot entered the recreation room, Patricia was not there, nor was she among the late arrivals being escorted in by the staff. Dot quickly followed one of the nurses into the hallway to ask where Patricia was, but following their protocol, the nurse explained she could give no information because Dot was not family.
There’s one thing about Dot – in addition to never meeting a stranger, she is fiercely devoted to her friends. So she proceeded to ask every nurse she passed until one finally whispered, “Mercy Hospital”.
After the services were completed for the day, Dot drove to the hospital in search of Patricia. Finally she found her in a dimly lit room on the second floor looking lost and alone. When Patricia saw Dot, her face lit up and she began to cry. Dot cried too. Because of the oxygen mask, Patricia could not express herself with grunts, so Dot simply asked questions, with Patricia squeezing her hand, or blinking twice for yes and once for no. The visit ended after about an hour with Dot promising Patricia that she’d be back tomorrow. Patricia blinked twice, confirming the date.
The next day Dot took a bouquet of colorful balloons and a stuffed gray rabbit to Patricia. Her elation was undeniable as her smile extended from ear to ear while rubbing the soft bunny fur across her cheek. Dot told her that if she ever felt alone or scared, to just hold the rabbit close and it would be like she was there with her. They named the rabbit “Dot”.
Having seen Dot’s generosity toward Patricia, and Patricia’s response toward Dot, the hospital nursing staff began to ask if she was family. They explained that no one else had been there to see her, nor had anyone else expressed interest in her condition or care. Dot explained their short but strong connection, and offered her phone number as a contact. Staff gladly accepted, adding that Dot’s presence seemed to bring great joy to Patricia’s otherwise lonely and quiet days.
As she talked with the nurse, Dot learned that Patricia’s condition was serious – they described her as “fragile” with heart and kidney concerns. Dot instructed them to call her anytime day or night, especially if things took a grave turn, expressing her wish that Patricia not die alone. The hospital staff agreed to keep her informed.
On Palm Sunday while I was sitting in church, I began thinking about the unlikely and amazing friendship between Dot and Patricia, and I began to wonder if her child’s mind understood the gravity of the situation. I also wondered if the aloneness and her inability to connect with people was creating apprehension or fear that she wasn’t able to express.
So as the church service was winding down, I wrote a short and simple expression that I hoped would give Patricia comfort in the midst of her aloneness. After church I called Dot and asked if she would read it to Patricia the next day when she went to visit. She agreed, so I took the message to her along with a gift for Patricia.
That Monday when Dot walked into her hospital room, Patricia’s face lit up and her eyes filled with tears. They embraced, and after their cryptic exchange of pleasantries, Dot asked if she could tell her a story. Patricia smiled big and blinked twice. Dot read the following:
The Bible says that God is the King over all the earth. And He has this amazing kingdom called Heaven. Heaven is beautiful – it has streets made of gold and palaces made out of diamonds, and the sky is always bright blue. It has beautiful flowers and trees, and all sorts of animals that we can play with. Heaven is filled with singing and laughter, and everybody is friendly and caring and loving. And God decided since it was such a special place, that He wanted everyone He loved to come live with Him there. So God decided to adopt everyone who loved Him.
At this point Dot paused and asked, “And you love God, don’t you?” Patricia squeezed her hand tightly. Dot continued. So you know what that makes you, Patricia? It makes you a daughter of God. And since God is a King, and you’re His daughter, that makes you a princess.
With that declaration Dot pulled out a Disney Princess Barbie doll and presented it to Patricia. Dot said her face beamed as she held the doll in a tight embrace. And with the story told, Dot now referred to her friend as “Princess Patricia”.
Having noticed during the visit that Patricia had declined over a matter of days, Dot visited her a second time that day. Their visit ending with a promise to come back on Wednesday. Patricia blinked twice, her princess doll laying on the pillow beside her head.
On Wednesday morning Dot received a call that Patricia had been minimally responsive through the night, and that the smiles she usually had for the nurses when they came into her room had been replaced by quietness. When Dot arrived there was little communication between them, just a brief opening of her eyes to acknowledge her presences. When Dot left that night, she placed a kiss on Princess Patricia’s forehead, whispered “I love you” close to her ear, and wished her “sweet dreams”.
On Friday, Good Friday, Dot received a call that Patricia was nearing the end of life, and she immediately rushed to her side. Dot held her hand and whispered to a now unresponsive Patricia how exciting it would be when she could talk and laugh and sing. And just after midnight, Princess Patricia experienced her last breath on this earth, and her first moment of wholeness in Heaven.
There’s an amazing story in the Bible about Esther, a Jewish girl who was brought into a palace and bestowed the role and distinction of queen. At that time her people were being oppressed – their future set for certain annihilation. As Esther contemplated the significance of all that was unfolding, she failed to recognize God’s preparation and orchestration. That is until her uncle challenged her to consider – perhaps you are in this place of influence “for such a time as this.”
I thought about that story as I reflected on the friendship between Dot and Patricia. I realized that God had been busy orchestrating a true friend for Patricia for the most vulnerable time in her life.
The unfortunate circumstance that cancelled my mom’s driving privileges was setting the stage for Dot to be at that convalescent home, where a friendship that would have never been was meant to be. It was part of God’s amazing grace to bring Dot into a place of influence “for such a time as this.” She was the right person, in the right place, at the right time. She fulfilled God’s call in that situation, and in doing so, Patricia left this life loved by her very good friend.
When opportunities, sometimes disguised as inconveniences or unfortunate circumstances, come our way, may we always remember that God is an amazing planner – the ultimate architect, the premier orchestrator – and that He may be leading us to a specific purpose, a deliberate encounter, a designed moment – for such a time as this.