Threads of Life
As the patient lay dying it was my responsibility to adjust the IVAC machine and hang another bag of IV solution. I was a 48 year old nursing student entering the next chapter of my life. And then it happened — an “Ah-ha” moment.
Walking out of that room it became clear to me that I was not meant to spend the rest of my life pushing buttons on machines and addressing just physical needs. My heart’s desire was to spend time with that dying patient, to let him talk while I listen, to respond appropriately and pray with him. I wanted to be able to spend time with his family, to explain in terms they could understand what was happening to their loved one, and to walk with them through this painful process.
The transformational thinking that happened just outside that room was, “Yes, Jesus healed the physical body. Yes, I live in the Western world where resources to keep the body alive and even healthy for a very long time are available. Nevertheless, the body will still die. Only the soul will confront eternity.” The Gospels I read and reread clearly portray a Jesus who ministered to the whole being. If my purpose in this life was to be like Christ, and if he created me to play a part in the healing process, then that meant treating people wholistically — seeking true Shalom for people. The call to my life’s next season had begun.
My life as middle-class, mid-life, suburban wife, and soon-to-be empty nest mom was ending, though I had no idea. On top of that, I was struggling through an unwanted divorce, which emptied me of the identity in which I had taken security for so long. It was in that dark night of the soul that the Lord said, “It is you and me. Are you ready to go?” As grief subsided, an inward journey began. Being the pragmatic soul that I am, my questioning mind took over. I asked: “Ready to go where, Lord? To what, Lord? How, Lord?”
I view my life’s story as having chapters, each building on the next. I began to look for answers to these questions through time in the Word, journaling, reading, and long chats with those who knew me best. Over time, I began to recognize the gifts God had given me, and more importantly my long-unexpressed desire to reach out and touch the poor. Ravi Zacharias in his book The Grand Weaver puts it this way, “A calling is simply God’s shaping of your burden and beckoning you to your service to him in the place and pursuit of his choosing. Finding your home in your service to Christ is the key to noticing the threads designed just for you.” 1 By reflecting on these life chapters I discovered those God-placed threads in my life.
Our world seems jammed with issues from which we try to isolate ourselves. We often define the inner conflict we feel in terms of “us verses them”. Dealing with the poor among us seems to be one of those issues. Yet hundreds of Bible verses reveal God’s heart and our responsibility in this area. God sums it all up in the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength” which we are to manifest in the second part of that commandment; “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 2 To me loving wholistically now meant learning about and going to the poor.
Lots of little threads that only God could weave led to my first leg of the journey: Vicksburg, MS, to work with welfare moms and their kids. Dr. Peter Boelens, past president of Luke Society and founder of Cary Christian Center in the Delta, and his wife Eleanor were praying for a registered nurse to work with them among the needy. Despite growing up in the 1940s, my school life was always integrated with African Americans, people that I loved being around and with whom I shared many friendships. My reflective inward journey reminded me of that long held kinship, and now I had the privilege of living it out in a world I had never really touched. While in Vicksburg I met Geneva, a 34 year old mother of twelve. She was the town project! Churches and schools with good intentions all tried to help Geneva. Now I joined the crowd, calling myself a “protestant nun”. I became her advocate with her doctor when she was pregnant — again. I worked with social services, helped her when she went through labor, worked it out for her kids to go to a Christian camp. We all provided relief but not transformation.
Geneva and women like her became my passion. God used the wholistic, hands-on involvement in their lives to help me to learn how He desperately loves us all and wants us to know Him. My role was to walk beside them in the whole of their lives.
Several years later God led me to join a large Christian organization that worked with the urban poor in Washington D.C. My mission was to network with other inner city ministries, which gave me an opportunity to see the face of the working poor in our country. This is where I met Rachel. Rachel had been in prison for three years and then court mandated rehabilitation for an additional year. Now in mid-life, she was able to look back and make good choices that moved toward change and the acceptance of responsibility. God became her keystone. Our friendship was not one of enablement on my part, but empowerment to be all God created her to be. By God’s gracious work in her life, she was choosing transformation.
What a contrast to my previous work!
As the years slip by, social security checks have started arriving in my mailbox. I once more ask about the how, what, and where. Early in my journey God impressed this verse on me in a special way: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him...” 3 We do have choices in life, one of those being to whom we will hold fast. I want to choose well.
In this season of my life I am a part of an NGO that goes to unreached people groups globally, bringing help and hope to the hurting. At present, I am serving through health education and sustainable projects in a town in Ethiopia and a village in Kenya. Their needs are great, but looking into their eyes makes me know that their creator, and mine, would have me touch physically and love them with His love, showing and speaking the words that save eternally.
1 Ravi Zacharis, The Grand Weaver (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 59.
2 Deut. 6:5 NKJV (New King James Version)
3 Deut. 30:19, 20 NIV (New International Version), emphasis mine
Naomi Plate, BS, RN, is presently working with Global Hope Network International and resides in Washington D.C.