My first week working as activities director in a nursing home was, to put it mildly, a challenge. My predecessor had allowed the more demanding patients to dictate her energies. I was not so inclined. Strike one.
Some of the volunteers were accepting monetary "tips" from patients who wanted special favors, and I put a quick end to that. Strike two.
People who came on a weekly basis to conduct a church service used that activity to inform other church members about the ups and downs of certain patients. Sorry. Confidentiality was a priority for me. Strike three.
But at least I could establish some order and a standard of ethics as my contribution to the position. I shared my office with the holding area for laundry, outside the nurse's station not very glamorous, but a perfect place for me to tuck away and pray. The words "Thy will be done," not "my will be done," seemed the best place to start.
My prayer went on, "God, You are in command of this ship, and I am ready to act on Your guidance. It may not have many outward awards, but I am not here for that. Because You are Love, I am able to express love. Because You are Principle, I am able to express actions that are based on what is fair. I know who I work for You, dear Father-Mother God. Thank you for every opportunity for me to help another."
I came to love most of the patients. My previous employment as a social worker had been with runaway teens, court-referred girls, and a long stint with women who had been abused by their spouse. But most of the people in the nursing facility were elderly, and this was a new experience for me. After I posted the activities of the month, I was taken aback at the gratitude expressed for every little touch.
But there was the issue of the "crabby" patients. We just didn't get along. It became apparent I would not dance to their tune. More than not dance to it, I got some pleasure in saying "no" because it irked me to be treated as a servant.
But God helps us reach beyond the borders of what is easily achieved to tackle even the unpopular, unattractive parts of our day with confidence so that they, too, will become blessings.
The woman who founded this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote something that encouraged me: "Be of good cheer; the warfare with one's self is grand; it gives one plenty of employment, and the divine Principle worketh with you, and obedience crowns persistent effort with everlasting victory" ("Miscellaneous Writings, 18831896," pg. 118). Not the warfare with cranky people but the warfare with one's self. So I knew I needed to correct my ability to see each patient with more love.
One at a time, I was won over. I saw beyond my concept of a cranky person to appreciate them as courageous fighters. Even if I had to deny personal demands, I wanted to be a helper and encourage the right fight. It wasn't about "my way or the highway." It was about mutual respect and understanding the true nature of every person in that nursing home. We were all guests of God and we all would be as gracious to each other as our host, our Father-Mother, is to us.
One patient was a great challenge to the nursing staff. She wasn't allowed to eat in the dining room, because she'd say rude things about the food or other people, so I was elected to dine with her in her room. We discovered a mutual love of books, and we were off and running. Bath/shower time was something she particularly disliked, so the staff would take her in a wheelchair as quickly as they could from her room to the shower area and back again.
One day during this commotion, I stopped the procession to hug my friend, towel and all, and asked her to remember a poem we had learned recently. The poem begins, "I love you, I love you, I love you divine." I paused, and the patient looked up from her sea of towels and blankets and continued, "Please give me your chewing gum, you're sitting on mine." We all laughed, even the astonished nurse, and my new friend was on her way back to the room, chuckling over the joke.
The Bible has many accounts of wondrous things water is changed to wine, seas part, sickness, sin, and death are healed. My healing, which turned resentment of crankiness into respect for a courageous fighter, may seem small by comparison, but I will always cherish those years working at the nursing home.