The other day I went to see Esta in the hospital. She told me I could tell you.
She fell last Saturday and broke her hip. She had surgery on Sunday afternoon and as I write this she is scheduled to leave the hospital on tomorrow to begin her rehab. But I wanted to tell you about this visit.
The other times I went, there were family and friends and not much time for conversation (not to mention the sedatives and pain medication). But on Monday, after the nurse who checked her blood pressure left, it was just she and I. The first words out of her mouth when she saw me come through the door were not “Hello, preacher” or “Hi, Tom,” but —and I am not making this up—“You don’t know how much I miss coming to church! I miss it! I miss it so much!” When I took my leave a little while later, she didn’t say “Bye, Tom” or “Thanks for coming,” but “I miss it, oh, I miss it so.”
In between we talked a little about her situation, her fall and surgery. She frowned to tell me that she was in “right much” pain. When the physical therapist interrupted us to tell her he was coming back in a little while to get her up again and make her walk some more, she frowned more deeply still. When he left she laid her head back on the pillow, looked straight at the ceiling and, after a moment, into the past. “I used to teach Sunday School,” she said. “I taught so many lessons.” A wide grin closed her eyes. “It made such a difference in those little ones’ lives,” she smiled.
“And in yours, too,” I replied. She did not look at me but nodded. She said something about Easter Egg hunts and mumbled a word or two about her own Sunday School class. A tear fell from my eye as she said, once more but still smiling, “I miss it so much.”
“I know you do,” I said; “I would too. Church is the only thing I know anything about,” I said truthfully. She looked back at me and nodded. I said, “But what a great thing that you and I have so many good memories of church. Isn’t it wonderful to love and enjoy something so much that it hurts to be away from it?” She nodded again. A few minutes later I got up to leave and she said… well, you know what she said. Nor will I forget it.
My prayer that day and every day since is this: if I outlive my body, when what has held me up has given way and I am prone, I hope I can look up and remember as much as Esta does. I hope that memories of faith, hope and love—memories of Jesus and the church—will bring a smile back to my frowning face, and keep on doing so, till there are frowns and tears and pain no more.