When a clergy friend, who lives hours away, asks if I would visit one of her parishioners in a hospital twenty minutes from me, I say "sure" and add this to my rather lengthy "to do" list. Planning to squeeze in this visit, I arrive at the hospital making a mental note that I will need to leave in thirty minutes to be on time for my next meeting.
Walking into intensive care I find the young man. His mom, Barbara, is in the cafeteria buying him a cheeseburger and milkshake so he doesn't have to eat the unappetizing meat loaf. Robert is twenty-six and is very sick. He is their only child. The prognosis is questionable at this point. They are hopeful. Because of the aneurism and infection in his brain Robert is unable to move much and his verbal communication is limited. But he can smile.
When Barbara returns we leave the nursing assistant to feed Robert and because the Family Waiting Room is so crowded we wander around looking for a place to talk. Two chairs positioned in front of bright windows, away from patient rooms, seem to have been placed there for us so we take them.
I don't know Barbara and she doesn't know me but the ease with which we talk is grace filled. She loves her church and is a faithful Christian. She is a social worker and knows a lot about emotional and mental health. But this is hard, really hard. Both she and her husband are doing their best to stay positive. As we talk she tells me about Robert's girlfriend, a childhood friend he's known for years. They've been dating for six months and are very much in love. Katie, who happens to be a nurse, comes every day to see Robert.
When the time feels right for both Barbara and me, I say a prayer and we walk back to Robert's room for me to pray for him. I say to Robert that I've enjoyed getting to know his mom and that she has told me about Katie. Instantly Robert's face lights up and a huge smile fills it. This is what love does and we all need it.
As I write the re-telling of this story, my heart breaks for this family. I am humbled and grateful to walk this way with them. Being an hour late for my next meeting didn't matter at all. Grace and hope in the midst of suffering is what matters.