By Rebecca Judge, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry
The following reflection is a notable entry to our annual Volunteer Story & Photo Contest. Each year, we ask our member programs to submit stories and photos of their daily life to celebrate the experiences of faith-based service.
“Everyone in my neighborhood knows which house is mine. I keep the blinds open to let God’s light in.” These words, spoken by a woman whose face now reflected the light of Christ as she lay in her hospital bed, brought me much comfort.
When I first entered the room for a spiritual care visit, Ms. Smith had been reserved both emotionally and physically, with eyes swollen shut from the tears she had shed in the night. The visible exhaustion of her limp body was overpowering, bringing a dark atmosphere to the room. The lights were off, and she was curled awkwardly on the bed, clearly in pain but afraid to move. After I introduced myself, she was slow to open up to me. She explained that she hadn’t been sleeping well for the past couple months, but she assured me that she would be okay.
Right as I was about to leave, my eyes caught sight of the delicate cross necklace she wore around her neck. This quickly ignited a deeper conversation between us. When I asked how her faith had helped her through her time in the hospital, something changed in her spirit. She began to sit up, slowly opened her eyes, and shared the more intimate details of her story with me. I was humbled as she recounted the recent death of her only son who had been murdered by two boys in her neighborhood, the emptiness she felt since his death, and the uncertainty and fragility that accompanied living alone with a chronic illness. As she continued to relate the painful details of her life, I saw Christ working in her heart, leading her to share herself authentically with me. In spite of the traumatic details that unfolded, I found our time together to be beautifully life-giving as she shared so honestly, inviting me to view her experience through a lens of compassion.
After sharing her sacred story, Ms. Smith explained her “open blind” policy at home. The welcoming environment of her open blinds has led to a culture of generosity. With this distinguishing feature, Ms. Smith maintains a loving presence in the community, interacting with children on the street, chatting with neighbors, and inviting those in need into her home. But on the rare occasion when her blinds are closed, her neighbors know something is wrong and that she needs to be checked on.
I was struck by the way Ms. Smith has allowed herself to be known and cared for, not only by me, but also by the members of her community. Ms. Smith has welcomed the light of Christ to enter her home just as the sun shines through her blinds, and has allowed Christ to illuminate her heart. Despite the grief, loneliness, and desperation she has felt, Ms. Smith continues to invite Christ in to heal her wounds and use her brokenness to reach out to others in love.
As a Bon Secours Volunteer, I received so many stories from patients each day. Whether that story was filled with devastating loss or profound joy, I was always humbled by the patient’s vulnerability, each one courageously sharing his or her heart with me. When patients fearlessly share of themselves, they remind me to remain open to God – to make my heart a home for Jesus in the way that Ms. Smith makes her home and heart a place for love to dwell.
When I first met Ms. Smith, it was clear that she was not interested in having a visitor. She told me later that when I entered the room, she didn’t want to talk, despite her desire to be comforted. At the beginning of my year of service, I was in a similar place. I, too, did not want to let others get close to me even though I craved connection and friendship. I didn’t know how to let my new community love me, and I longed to experience God’s love as I cried out to him in prayer, expecting to encounter his love in a profound way.
Through my service experience this year, I slowly learned to reveal my heart and allow myself to be known. It took time for me to realize that God never stops loving me. I haven’t always invited him in, and when I have, I wasn’t always ready to fully surrender my heart. I learned to love from patients like Ms. Smith, reserved at first, but who then took a courageous leap and opened up to me.
In a similar spirit, I now challenge myself each day to “open the blinds” of my own heart to my family, friends, community, and most importantly, to Christ. God desires to enter into my brokenness and offer healing. As I’ve made my heart a home for Jesus, he has transformed my spirit, and I have become more joyful and peaceful, with fewer expectations and more trust despite the unknown path that lies ahead.
The Shared Visions newsletter is made possible through the partnership of Catholic Volunteer Network and Catholic Apostolate Center.
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