What a Number Can Tell us About God
It was five years ago that my grandmother took her last breath while lying in a bed at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon. She had been admitted only weeks earlier, however her health had severely declined and it wasn't long before her body would surrender to the illness. During those weeks our family made numerous trips to Bobcaygeon to sit by her bedside, pray with her, share memories of her life together and even sing as she quietly slipped away and eventually took her final breath.
This has caused me to think of the many families in the last month that have had loved ones take their final breath in the same place as my grandmother, yet without the opportunity to sit by their bedside, pray with them or even just hold their hand. My heart aches for those children, grandchildren and spouses who have had to remain physically distant during the final moments of life and who did not get a chance to say goodbye.
As the numbers of deaths increased this past month, whether at Pinecrest or around the world due to complications from COVID-19, we have all been confronted with numbers and statistics that have captured our attention. Yet for every number counted and every death toll reported, it represents a person and people who were made in the image of their creator, who like you and I have a story, along with a network of people around them who are now mourning their absence.
In this sense, 1 is much greater than itself. It is the number representing the smallest amount, yet represents the tears, heartache and loss of so much more.
In the Story of God found in the Bible the value of 1 holds so much more weight and significance. When telling his audience about what God is like and pointing to his mission of love and reconciliation, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to go after the 1 lost sheep because that 1 matters far more than it could ever dream.
That 1 nurse who is exhausted and overwhelmed with the demands and risk of her job.
That 1 resident who is fearful of what might happen.
That 1 business owner who now faces the uncertainty of tomorrow.
That 1 daughter who never had a chance to say goodbye.
That 1 matters. You are that 1, and yes you matter to the one who created you more than you could ever dream.
And that 1 lost sheep was brought back into community to experience belonging and acceptance. Similarly, when a woman was caught in the act of adultery and cast before Jesus, she was met with grace and told to go in peace. How about the woman who was ill in a pressing crowd of people (not practicing social distancing) who experienced healing when she reached out and touched just the hem of Jesus' garment. All of these stories and so many more remind me, remind us, that right there in the hospital room, nursing home or even your home right now, Jesus sees you and cares for you. This sounds so freaking trite as I type it, and teeters on the edge of a plastic platitude, however we only know the truth of this, not through intellectual assent, but through genuine experience of being that 1 and experiencing the radical love of a God who leaves 99 to find the 1.
I had the opportunity to sit with my Grandmother in her final moments, something for which I know was a gift. My Grandmother was someone who understood herself to be the 1 who was in need of rescue and lived her life with a deep sense of gratitude and thankfulness for what she had experienced in Jesus. She lived with a genuine all in trust in a God who would pursue the 1 even at the expense of his own life. And my grandmother not only trusted in what God had done for her, she prayed that others would experience the awesome wonder of being found, seen, loved, forgiven and brought back to a family, a table where they had always belonged.
A couple of weeks ago I was once again at Pinecrest Nursing Home delivering pharmaceutical medication (still very much an essential service) and it was a sobering moment for me as I considered the amount of loss and the grief that has been felt from family, the isolation of residents and the courageous care that has been given by all the staff of Pinecrest. As I drove into this place of hurt and pain, I was gifted with a moment of pause and reflection looking at the memorial on the front lawn, the notes of gratitude expressed by the public for all the front line staff at Pinecrest. I thought of all these acts of kindness, expressions of good-will and the care that has been poured out in so many ways. Yes, it caused me to think of the amazing people that exist in our world, my grandmother who spent her final days in that place, but even more, it welled up within me gratitude for the One who loves the 1 perfectly and completely. It caused me to look back at the many ways that I have seen the faithfulness of Jesus in my own life, in sadness and sorrow, trial and triumph - no doubt due in part to the faithfulness of 1 praying grandmother for her grandson.
To all those pouring their lives out in service to others at Pinecrest Nursing home and the many other long term care residences across Canada, thank you for caring for the 1 even at the risk of your own life - you are acting a whole lot like Jesus!
May you encounter that reckless love of God that abandoned heaven in pursuit of your heart so that you may find the freedom and family you were created for.
This post is written in dedication to the staff of Pinecrest Nursing Home and the families of those who have lost loved ones in recent days. Also written in honour of Margarette Garrett remembered fondly as Nan and Loll by her grandchildren and great grandchildren.