Her name was Marge.
I never saw her face.
But I knew that she had blacked out behind the wheel and hit a tree which prompted the visit to the hospital which revealed that she was full of cancer. She didn’t have long to live.
Marge had never married, as far as I could tell, but she lived a rich life filled with loved ones. She had two sisters who rushed to her bedside and doted on her night and day. And a male friend named Jim who was a priest. One particular niece loved her very much and visited her often.
Others came to visit her too, parading past my bed. Staring at me. Wondering what kind I had. Wondering how long I had.
At first, their sympathetic stares confused me until I figured out that I was not just lying in a bed on any old floor of the hospital. This was Medical/Oncology, and the sounds emanating from down the hall proved it. Especially the middle-of-the-night sounds.
Traumatizing doesn’t even begin to describe my experience in that bed in that room on that wing of the hospital back in 2007.
For the first three days I shared a room with Marge, the faceless woman who was dearly loved and oh-so-scared. The only thing between us was a curtain and three feet of space.
I never saw her face.
I mentioned yesterday that my friend who worked at the hospital encouraged me to ask for a private room. And believe me, after three days of smelling the closeness of death in that room, I needed to get out. I needed a place where I could focus on getting well. A place where I wouldn’t have to explain that, no, I didn’t have cancer. I just needed to get well enough to have surgery.
It’s funny, though, that I felt guilty about leaving Marge. A woman I never really met. A woman I never really knew. A woman I never saw face-to-face.
I felt guilty. Because I knew I would get better. And I knew she would not.
I also knew that I had peace. I wasn’t sure she did. So for those three days I prayed for Marge. I prayed that she would know peace. That her last few days on earth would be joyful. That she would know Jesus in a very real way.
I woke up early on the morning I was to be moved—probably the anticipation, but more probably the nurses. We ate our breakfasts silently, Marge and I, and then I started reading my Bible, looking for any words that would bring me some comfort, some relief.
“Read to her, Shelly.” That nudge from God.
Oh no. Not me. First of all, I was not the kind of person who usually “heard” God’s voice and second, if I did sense God telling me to do something, I usually ran the other way.
“Read to her.”
I think I sat there with my Bible in my hand, dumbfounded. Dry mouthed. Incredulous because, really, God? I’m trying to focus on getting better here and you want me to minister to this woman?
Well, yeah, there’s that. And I’m getting out of here, so she’ll never see me again. (You see how much I had to learn?)
“Just read to her.”
And so I said, through the curtain, “Marge? Are you O.K.?”
“I’m really scared.” I could tell she was crying.
“Do you mind if I read something to you, Marge?”
“No, I don’t mind. That would be nice,” she responded.
And so I read to her the words that I had opened to that morning. Psalm 34.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
I went back and re-read the portions I have highlighted here, hoping that Marge would find some comfort in these words. She thanked me and told me that hearing that had helped.
I told her I would be praying for her.
That was it. No big revelation from God. No thunderbolts from Heaven. Just listening and obeying. And going way out of my comfort zone to bring comfort to someone else.
And right there, in that hospital room, as I ministered to a dying woman, God ministered to me.