Ruth was in one of her edgy moods this morning. She felt helpless and was mad at herself for feeling that way. Her emotions were raw as she saw herself losing the battle to remain self-reliant. It frightened her. Today's crisis was a hearing aide that wasn't working.
Disease had taken its toll on Ruth's eyesight. She refused to indulge in self-pity. With great fortitude she taught herself how to navigate through her daily routines without embarrassment or fatal accident. It was the kind of dogged determination in which Ruth always prided herself. This fierce independent nature characterized her personality.
Replacing the battery in her hearing device was something Ruth had done countless times. The fact that she couldn't see it didn't matter. Her fingers easily recognized the familiar shape of the tiny door in the device that gave access to the battery. With ease she found the location and proceeded to install a new one.
And that is where the trouble began. Instead of the tiny battery going in smoothly, it refused to fit. She couldn't tell that she was trying to put it in backwards so she forced it into the opening. By jamming it in place the door would not close. Ruth realized her mistake and panic took over. That very same hearing aide had just been repaired at a cost of $150.00 and had been in the shop for three weeks. Cursing her blindness, Ruth's anxiety got the better of her.
My visits with Ruth where normally pleasant experiences. We would sit together on the couch chatting about current events or sharing stories about our lives. And at the grand age of 105 Ruth had lots of stories to tell. I marveled at her ability to recall with vivid detail her trips to Mexico, Paris or Spain. Her words were always filled with excitement as she described her adventures. She was fascinated with the politics of today and we would exchange opinions on whatever was currently happening in the world. Since Ruth could not see to read or watch television her source of news came from a portable radio that would be turned up full volume. I'm forty-five years her junior but our relationship had always transcended the age gap.
My experience has been that God draws people together for reasons that are not always easy to understand. It has been four years since we first met but our lives have become so entwined that I feel that I have known her much longer. In the early days of our friendship I listened and prayed for ways to inject the topic of faith into our talks since Ruth's religious views differed in many ways from mine. In a non-combative way she would usually question how any person could really be intimate with God. The whole concept of anyone trusting God for anything was difficult for her to wrap her mind around. Ruth had rarely felt the need to ask for divine help or guidance because she had always been able to solve her own problems. Now at the age of 105 she felt that she had done pretty well for herself.
I was discovering that this amazing centenarian whom I had admired for her strong will was no different than anyone else. God was orchestrating the events in her life and dear Ruth would have to learn how to trust Him.
Its now 9:30 and Ruth had just finished breakfast. I told her a few days ago that I would be coming so she was expecting me. But when I entered her apartment there she was, sitting on the couch with her head in her hands. There wasn't going to be any cheery greeting of "Good Morning" today. Ironically on the way over I had thought of the Scripture; "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it." It had rained during the night but the morning sun was bright and the sky was clear. Unfortunately, Ruth was not "rejoicing in the Lord" when I said hello. Her window blinds had been drawn, the lights were out and the apartment was as dark as her mood. Tiny batteries were scattered all over the top of the coffee table and in the midst of the clutter sat the lifeless hearing aide.
"I can't hear you it's broke no one cares it's not fair and I will not spend any more money on this thing!"
The barrage of complaint, self-pity and anger that unfolded was something I had not expected. It was disheartening to see my friend in such utter despair. The feeling of sadness was overwhelming so I silently prayed for God's grace. The physical darkness in the room mirrored the darkness she was experiencing because of her blindness and the futility of failing to fix a problem. It really did seem unfair that at her age she would have to experience this type of anxiety. As difficult as this was to witness I knew from my own experience that God would graciously reveal Himself to her.
"I will not leave you nor forsake you, says the Lord."
My dilemma was that I was a person who always tried to fix not only my own problems, but others as well. Although I wasn't at the same stage of life as Ruth, seeing her in such stress brought back memories of some of the hard lessons the Lord had taught me. The Spirit was speaking very clearly to my inner person, warning me not to intervene in His work. God was clearly telling me, "hands-off!"
It was now an hour later. Ruth had come to the end of her rants. We both sat in silence welcoming the relief it brought to our shattered nerves. Those wonderful feelings of joy at the beginning of my day had been wiped out completely by Ruth's mood. Taking her hand in mine, I moved closer to her so that she could hear, and with confidence I told her that it was going to be all right.
Without hesitation Ruth looked at me and said: "I know what you are going to say we need to have faith in God." With those words the dark spell had been broken and replaced with peace.
"All things work together for the good for those who love the Lord."
Its now noon and I'm at the hearing aide clinic in town. The technician has Ruth's device in her hand as she explains the possibility that the little door holding the battery in place might break off if she attempts to fix it. Her reluctance was understandable but I knew a decision had to be made. After a moment of hesitation I told her to give it a try. With the deftness of touch that comes after years of handling these tiny mechanisms she went to work. When I saw the big smile on her face I knew before she even announced it that the operation had been successful. The jammed battery had been removed and a new one installed without any breakage.
The look on Ruth's face was one I will not soon forget. Anger has a way of stealing away a person's energy. As I placed the repaired device in her hand we both understood that this was a moment of victory.
I stood in the hallway of the apartment complex for a few minutes. My eyes followed the progress of the two elderly men walking back from the lobby. They were cautious as they navigated around a pair of cushioned chairs. A dog barked from behind the closed door of someone else's apartment. Both hardly noticed as they continued the journey down the hall. From the exit doors to the courtyard I heard the sound of children laughing. Looking out, I saw two very excited girls watching a squirrel, hurriedly racing across the yard. When it found the nearby tree it seemed to defy gravity by climbing straight up to the top. In unison each little girl began to clap and cheer at the athletic grace of the critter.
Leaving the building I waved at the two girls. They must have been a resident's granddaughters, I thought. By now they were jumping up and down as they circled around the tree. Curious, I looked up to see where the squirrel was hiding. Suddenly it jumped from its perch, sailed through the air and landed safely on the roof. His little cheerleaders on the ground spontaneously shrieked with delight.
As I walked away it occurred to me; Ruth had been a little girl once.
And heading toward my car I began to hum"This is the day the Lord has made."
Bob is currently the pastor of a Chapel in Northern California. His ministry is to seniors living in an independent retirement community. His writing draws from his expeience as a minister of the Gospel for the past 25 years.