Ever since I spent 4 months in Israel, I’ve attempted to be more like the people I met there and define words not merely with more words, but with experiences and with stories. Words do not find their full meanings until we attach them to our lives. I experienced this 3 years ago when I had coffee from Intelligentsia. It was as if up until that moment, I had never drank coffee before and so the word finally found its attachment in my life. I had another experience similar to the former with the word “sacrifice.”
For the past 3 months, I have been working at an Assisted Living as a Caregiver. I take care of 13 residents, getting them to the bathroom, sometimes spending 30 minutes with them choosing an outfit for the day, reading the paper with them, getting them from wheelchair to chair, from chair to wheelchair, from wheelchair to chair… Between all these tasks, the residents tend to weasel their way into your heart. I love them all, even the one who hates every outfit I have ever picked out for her. She always says, “This is terrible!” They have all lived amazing lives filled with the same things my life is slowly filling with: joys, heartaches, mistakes, friends, family, successes, failures, etc.
One resident in particular made a home for herself in my heart. She is a 99-year-old petite woman with a morning routine longer and more detailed than Leviticus. For some, this is where their knowledge of her would stop, but look closer. She was a pianist for most of her life and still plays. She always plays the same songs, “O Danny Boy,” “America the Beautiful,” “What a Wonderful World,” and her last song is always “Jesus Loves Me.” I just love that. She has a plaque on her wall for being the longest active member of a nearby church. She has daughters who spend almost every day with her. In the last month, I actually started looking forward to her morning routine because it was time that I got to spend with her.
A couple of weeks ago, she had a stroke while I was with her. I immediately called for the nurse who immediately called 911. For a few minutes, it was just me and her and I sat with her and we waited. She was afraid and so was I. I fought my tears as her face sunk and her eyes lost sight. I told her not to be afraid. She told me not to leave her. I assured her I was staying right there with her and she held my hand. Then I thought of only one thing to say that might give her comfort, the words of the Lord: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). I asked her if she knew that this was true. She nodded and that was the last response I received from her. The paramedics came and within a couple of minutes she was on her way to the hospital and I had to get the next resident out of bed and ready for the day.
After she was in the hospital for 4 days, they brought her back to our Health Center where I went to visit her after work one day. I sat down next to her and told her who I was, but she didn’t remember me. In a moment, the word “sacrifice” had attached itself to my life. I knew what this was. I had to make a choice. Was it worth it to continue to spend my time, emotions, energy on someone who could not remember me let alone give anything in return? I immediately thought of Jesus as he prayed in the garden before he would die, thinking of the sacrifices he had made and would make for a people who would forget him and be unable to pay him back. How in the world was it worth it? Why would he still make this sacrifice that was worlds greater than mine? And then I read Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” This is why I will make the sacrifice too, not because I will be remembered or because I will be praised, but because I look to Jesus as I run this race. It was all for the joy set before him, the completion of his redemptive plan that would reach to the ends of the earth and would even be intimately realized in a 99-year-old woman’s room as she endured a stroke.
And in this story is the definition of sacrifice.