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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Lessons in Hospice #3: One thin dime

Some of you may remember the Hospice patient I wrote about recently. A 92 year old retired pastor in the Assemblies of God Church, he is wise and spirit filled and committed to teaching what he considers this "young pup" so she will learn more about how to be a good pastor.

I am such a grateful student.

I went to see him on Christmas Eve. His family says he is sleeping more and more and eating less and less. He is fragile and pale and looking increasingly gaunt. He has a catheter in his bladder now because it's hard for him to get out of bed and sometimes too weak to use the urinal. He's off almost all his meds, all except the one for pain. He's gone from taking morphine every 4-6 hours to every 3-4 hours during the day. That and a sleeping pill at night hold him mostly until morning.

He said to me, "I just can't wait to be with Jesus. I love him so much. With all my heart and soul and mind and strength. Yes, yes, child, I love Jesus. And, I know you do, too. Your love is strong. I can see that. So is mine. I keep lifting my arms up for him to take me home. He just hasn't yet. He will, but not yet. I guess he's got more for me to do here. So, why don't we pray and you give me communion, we'll pray some more and I'll bless you and then I have a story to tell you."

And, that's exactly what we did. I know what's good for me.

I have to tell you again that it is quite an amazing thing to witness this man have an ecstatic experience during and immediately after communion.

In the midst of it, he stretched out his hands and blessed me. I didn't understand half of what he was saying but there was no doubt in my mind that I was being mightily blessed from the very depths of this man's heart and soul.

Have I mentioned before how much I love my job?

Anyway, after he had some sips of water and rested a bit, he took a deep sigh and then said, "And now, I want to tell you about the importance of little things. Little insignificant things. Things that don't seem to have much value but they can repair a relationship and save a life. I want to tell you about one thin dime."

He talked about his oldest son, his first born, the one named after him, the one he now lives with.

He talked about the time that his son's wife left him. After a year of marriage, right after high school. For no apparent reason. Just packed her bags, waited at the kitchen table with a casserole in the oven, the house clean and the laundry done until he came home from work.

Said she didn't want to be married anymore. Said there was no one else, there just wasn't anything left of her. Said she had lost herself in everything everyone expected of her which she couldn't do. Especially not have babies. Lord, no, she said. She didn't want any babies. Not now. Maybe not ever.

And, she needed to find herself. Nothing personal on him. Just very personal for her.

And, just like that, she was gone.

His son was brokenhearted. His heart just flat out broke, is what. He cried for what his father said must have been two weeks. Straight. Day and night. Night and day. Didn't eat. Didn't drink. Just cried his heart out from his bed or sofa.

And then, his father said, his son lost his mind.

He picked himself up of the couch and said to his father, "I have to leave. I don't know where I'm going or when I'll be back. I just got to go."

So his father said, "What could I do? The boy had to go. He had to put himself back together. He had to heal himself. I couldn't do it. That was more medicine than I had in me. He had to go out into the wilderness, battle his demons and pray for the angels to find him and rescue him."

Which, apparently, he did.

One particularly fierce battle with those demons happened on the train tracks just outside of Los Angeles, California.

His son, his first born son, decided that the only way to end his pain was to stand in front of an oncoming train. He figured it would be fast and he'd be dead before he knew what hit him.

It would be, he thought, a mercy.

At this point in the story, my patient asked that the head of his bed be raised so he could see me better. After I adjusted his pillows and gave him a sip of water, he cleared his throat and continued.

He said that, as he was waiting for the train, he heard a voice say, clear as a bell, "Look inside your wallet." He thought it might be the voice of God, telling him to get out his wallet so his body could be identified after his death.

And then, his son told his father that he swore he heard the voice say, "Remember the one thin dime."

And that's when he remembered that, at his graduation from high school, his father gave him one thin dime and said,
"Put this in your wallet and keep it there. It's not much but it will give you one phone call to make if you are ever in any trouble. It will remind you that, if you ever question who you are, you can always call the one who gave you your life and your name, that you are always mine and I am always yours. It will remind you that you can always call me and, no matter where you are or what you've done, I will come and get you.  It may not be worth much, but what it represents is worth everything in the whole world. It represents unconditional love."
And, in that moment, his son picked himself up from the tracks and walked the short distance to the train station. He picked up the pay phone, put in the dime, and made a collect call to his father.

"Daddy," he said, "this is your son. Your prodigal son. I just used the one thin dime you gave me. And so I'm calling you, just like you said to do. Daddy, I want to come home. Can I come home now? I think I'm going to be okay if I can just come home."

"And so, he came home," he said, "My son came home to his prodigal father. I called an old pastor friend of mine who lived right outside of LA. He came right to the train station and picked up my boy. He and his wife fed him. Said he ate like he hadn't seen a good plate of food in years. He'd been gone a little over a year, so who knows what he had or hadn't eaten in that time."

He sighed, cleared his throat and continued,  "He stayed with them about a week and then we got some money for a bus ticket home. He was pretty wore out when he got home - looked very thin and his mother liked to have a heart attack when she saw him - but by the next week he had a job and the next year he met the woman he's now married to and they've been happy together ever since."

"One thin dime," he said, shaking his head in continued amazement. "Just one thin dime."

Then, he reached into the pocket of his pajama shirt and pulled out a thin dime, breathed on it, polished it a bit on his blanket, and gave it to me. "Here," he said, "put this in your wallet. I know you can't make a phone call with it. Ain't no phone booths in too many places these days, anyhow."

"But, I want you to keep it and if you're ever feeling poorly, like your ministry don't matter to none but Jesus and you wonder why you keep at it when you could be making more money doing something else and none of it seems worth it any how or any way, at that time, you just take out this dime and hold it in your hand. And know that once there was an old, dying man who loved Jesus very much and saw the love of Jesus in your heart, too."

"Know that you ministered to this poor old raggedy, full of cancer minister and let him minister to you and you helped him to feel worthwhile and useful and purposeful again."

So, of course I  got all girly-burbly and when I opened my mouth nothing came out but "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

At least, that's what I thought I was saying.

I'm not sure, but I just might have had an ecstatic moment there myself.

One thin dime.  That's all. Just one thin dime.

It's not so much about the dime, you see. It's about the importance of little things. Little insignificant things. Things that don't seem to have much value but they can repair a relationship and save a life. It may not be worth much, but what it represents is worth everything in the whole world. It represents unconditional love.

I haven't looked at a dime in a long time, have you? Used to when I was a kid. Saved them up like silver treasure. Loved the sound of them as they "plunked" into my piggy bank. I don't have much use for dimes - or pennies or nickles or quarters - anymore.

Mostly, I use my debit card. And now, sometimes, my iPhone.

When I got into my car, I looked at that dime more closely. Guess what I rediscovered?

On the back of the dime it says, "E Pluribus Unum" - "Out of many, one."

On the front of the dime it says, "In God We Trust."

I'll remember all those things every time I look into my wallet and see that one thin dime.  Mostly, it will remind me that there is One who gave me life and knows my name and that I am a beloved if not prodigal daughter of One who loves me unconditionally and lavishly and wastefully.

It will remind me that I can always call on In-God-I-Trust and, no matter where I am or what I've done, God will send someone to rescue me from myself.  Probably Jesus in the guise of the Christ who lives in each one of us. But it will be no less than one of God's angels, as we all are for each other from time to time.

Sometimes, especially when we don't think we need it, the Spirit has already heard the sighs of our heart which are too deep for human understanding and sends an angel of mercy.

Like this 92 year old man was for me.

E pluribus unum.

It may not be worth much, but what it represents is worth everything in the whole world.

It represents unconditional love.

Just one thin dime.


Clark Hendley said...

Thanks. I will look differently at a dime from now on.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a holy moment and story. It reminds me that even the smallest gift can change one's life. Who knew the Holy Spirit lived on (or in) a simple dime? Thank you for the story.
Best sermon of the day!

Unknown said...

Wow, just wow! Thank you

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for visiting and your kind words, Clark

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Anonymous. Please, next time you visit, leave your name.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are most welcome, Susan. It's hard to write these in such a way that no one can guess the identity of my Hospice patients - except, perhaps his case manager, sw and CNAs - but I think their stories are important ones to share.

Kay & Sarah said...

This is such a powerful story and they are very important to share. Thanks!!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hospice stories are very powerful stories. I wish I could share more.

Melody said...

Beautiful. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you. I just tells 'em as they are told to me.

Wife,seminarian,socialworker said...


Thank you for this beautiful post! I've recently become a hospice chaplain, and I am constantly amazed at how much I learn from my patients.

Wish you would write a book!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Welcome to the amazing world of Hospice chaplaincy. It's really such an incredible privilege, isn't it?

About that book . . . . . Hmm . ..