About a year before my Mom graduated from sojourning on earth to being with Christ in His “paradeiso” (see Luke 23:43), I asked whether she minded my writing a blog about what we called “the State Hospital Story”.  We enjoyed recollecting the true account before she smiled and said. “I would like that. It’s about God’s grace!” She then added wryly, “Just wait until after I’m gone.”

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Please allow me to thank my sister, Jean, for her assistance in putting together this special ETL release.

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As a young mother, Ruthie (as most people knew Mom) became a Good News Club teacher. These are weekly after school programs which meet in homes, churches, and/or schools. The good news after which clubs are named is all about the good news of God’s willingness to exchange the earned penalty of our sins with the perfect righteousness of His only Son, Jesus Christ—through His sinless life, sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. The gift of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ really is good news!

Ruthie’s clubs were well organized and usually packed wall to wall with kids. There were games, singing, prizes, hugs and encouragement, and Bible stories. The latter were told straight from the Bible using large flannelgraph boards and cut-outs of people and animals which accompanied a given series. These would be used on colorful “Bible land” backgrounds as the stories were underway.

Our Dad (aka “Doc”), was all in. He approved of the financial skimping necessary for Ruthie to purchase club supplies and was generous in sharing his wife with countless people. Soon mothers of the children in our neighborhood asked for “Mom sessions” the day prior to club so they could hear the Bible stories being shared at club. Their stated reason was their children were excited about the stories, memorizing verses every week, and getting to the point where they were learning more about the Bible than they had.

Before their children’s watching eyes, God used the refreshingly ordinary Doc and Ruthie to transform an ethnically diverse neighborhood into one where the “good news” was changing lives of all ages!

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The day came when Ruthie learned the State Hospital in the community was looking for volunteers to share a faith-based activity with some of the residents on Saturday mornings. Her name came up and prayer began about the unexpected opportunity. There were some downsides to consider, however:

  • Ruthie would not be able to share portions of Bible stories which included anything which could be considered “negative”; such as death or the consequences of sin. How would she be able to communicate the wonderful truths of what Jesus had done and why, she wondered?
  • Her and Doc’s family wasn’t one in which members were trying to find ways to be apart from each other. A commitment requiring Ruthie’s absence one and sometimes two Saturday mornings a month would be quite a sacrifice.

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Doc and Ruth nevertheless determined to give the State Hospital invitation a “go” for awhile. Sometimes Ruthie would have a friend from church who helped her. My sister, Jean, found herself frequently tasked with playing the piano to accompany the discordant singing of hymns and Jesus Loves Me. I was there on a number of occasions as a grade-schooler, taking on a “friendly puppy” type of role for residents who rarely saw children.

As a believer of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, Ruthie wasn’t helping at the State Hospital because she believed it necessary or possible to “earn” her way to heaven. She genuinely cared about people and wanted everyone to know the joy of what it meant to have a personal relationship with God.

Nor was she pulling into the parking lot at the State Hospital because it was glamorous or her friends thought it the coolest thing ever to do.

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Ruthie taught at the hospital, Bible in hand, selectively using her Good News Club materials. Along with singing and the story, there was often some kind of snack or dessert. After a while, it seemed more and more staff were finding excuses to be there.

Patients at the State Hospital were not in good shape. They were cared for, but it was a somewhat dismal place with a distinctive “old building” smell which blended unfavorably with that of disinfectant cleaners. It wasn’t an environment where people were expected to get better, either. A number of them could speak, some could sing, but others would be wheeled into the room who were immobile and unable to communicate or smile. Even a child couldn’t help but wonder how the latter individuals’ time with the group could be of benefit.

One patient who was in her late thirties or early forties came under this last category. Ruthie learned her story: “Helen” had been married with children and in excellent health. She suddenly suffered a brain aneurysm and that was it. No longer did she have the ability to care for her household, family, or herself. She couldn’t speak or communicate in any form.

Helen was regularly in attendance on the Saturdays when Ruthie was visiting. She sat in her wheelchair, expressionless.

Months went by and Ruthie kept loving, serving, and teaching at the State Hospital. There were no measurable results, but everyone mattered to the Lord and Ruthie believed what God recorded about His Word never coming back to Him empty.

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One Saturday morning Ruthie came to the hospital’s entrance where she was met by a wall of staff. They were wide-eyed and excitedly talking over each other. One thing she kept hearing was that Helen had died the day before and, “You’ll never believe what happened!”

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Helen had fallen ill and several workers were in her room, realizing death was imminent. All present saw her suddenly sit up in bed with a look of astonished joy on her face as she raised her arms. She cried out to them:

“Oh! I see Jesus! Tell the Bible Teacher—I see Jesus!”

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Ruthie was right, of course. She gave permission to share this little piece of history from her life because it had everything to do with God’s grace—His merciful reach.

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And now, a question for your consideration…

Are you displaying and communicating the saving love and truth of Christ with others, yet find yourself wondering whether it’s having any meaningful impact?

An entire State Hospital was abuzz with the wondrous knowledge that God’s mercy and saving power can reach anyone, anywhere. Even when we can’t see it.

My friend, God continues to use ordinary people who simply know Him, immerse themselves in His Word, and—through His grace—live it out.

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Mercy’s reach. Never underestimate it, and rejoice to know it gives voice to

“I see Jesus!”

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“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

(Galatians 6:9)

June

June

People Lover. Author. Blogger. Speaker. Forgiven Much & Wild About God. Learn about June's latest book on her website.

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