Psalm 117:1 (NIV)
“Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.”
We know from scripture, from stories that we’ve heard or read and from our own experiences, that God shows up in some of the most unlikely places and shows Himself to be real, giving us glimpses of heaven here on earth even amidst suffering, even in unseen places. My recent experience at a nursing home is one of those stories.
I visit some local nursing facilities to provide therapeutic music to patients, especially those who are bed-bound and ventilator-dependent. A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting “Ellen,” an African-American woman who has an end-stage disease and now requires a ventilator in order to breathe. She can no longer speak and must blink to indicate a “yes” to a question, but when I first began visiting her several years ago, she was able to talk. I learned that she is a faithful Christian, a praying woman, and her deep faith is what sustains her and gives her days meaning and purpose even amidst a devastating and progressive illness that has rendered her powerless in every way – accept in her ability to pray, worship, and touch the lives of others.
Ellen’s music of choice has always been worship music, especially contemporary worship songs. Her radio is always tuned to Christian stations and she has many Christian music CDs in her room. Ellen's family and her nursing staff are very supportive of her and her desire to have a constant stream of encouragement through her music.
When Ellen could still speak, she would always ask me if there was anything I needed prayer for, which was both touching and astounding, considering her own many needs – she was still outwardly focused and intent on serving the Lord by praying for others. She kept a journal of people to pray for, including her fellow patients, and would ask visitors to write down prayer requests in her journal. Once, she loaned me a CD that contained a song “I Can Pray.” It was a very moving song about how when we have nothing else, when there’s nothing else we can do to serve the Lord or to help others, we can still pray! Ellen has lived by the words of that song. She is such an example to me and has truly become a sister.
On this particular day recently, I stood with my guitar at the foot of Ellen’s bed so that she could see me, as she is unable to turn her head or reposition herself in any way. Her current roommate is a woman named “Arja,” also a committed Christian as is Arja's daughter who spends most of every day with her. When I visit Ellen, I also sing to Arja, who is unable to speak and only sometimes able to respond slightly, and her daughter will sing along with me. Arja was in her church choir for years and both she and her daughter know many of the worship songs that I sing. I began to sing a worship song and Arja’s daughter joined in, and as we were singing, a nursing assistant came into the room – “Ernest” from Ghana. He began singing the worship song with us, too, and smiling broadly.
My heart was immediately filled with joy and awe at the realization that here we all were – people of several different colors from several different nations and tongues – all worshiping together! It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t intentional, it was just something that happened naturally and SUPERnaturally because God showed up and had brought us all together to glorify His name and to prove Himself real and present in dark and forgotten places where suffering is an everyday occurrence.
After I sang the first verse, I stopped suddenly and said, “I’m sorry, but I just have to stop and say something! Here I am, a white girl, worshiping with my African American sister and her Indian roommate and her daughter along with a nursing assistant from Ghana in a nursing home where somehow, God has brought us together! What a picture of heaven right in this room! This is what it’s going to be like! God doesn’t see color and he understands all languages! Isn’t this amazing?! But in heaven, we won’t have illnesses or suffering, and we’ll ALL be able to sing together and I believe we will remember this moment!” It was very emotionally and spiritually stirring.
The nursing assistant, whom I didn’t know but had seen often at the facility, seemed so surprised at what I said. His eyes widened, and he nodded and smiled. I believe we were all greatly touched and that God was absolutely present and was delighted at the absence of any barriers to our worship together. We experienced a few moments of heaven in a nursing home that day.
Where will you experience or even create a little glimpse of heaven today? Look for it, wait expectantly for it, long for it, find joy in it – both here and in eternity!
Some verses for personal reflection:
Revelation 7:9-10 (NIV)
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
Colossians 3:9-13 (NIV)
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
By Jeannie Finnegan