by Heidi Palladino
My hero is of a different breed. She does not possess any talents, gifts, or outward appearances that one might be duly impressed with. If an idol is defined as anything that takes the place of our worship and reverence of the One true God, then my hero is definitely not that. Instead, my hero inspires me to be alive in God’s image, which looks a lot different than how His image is alive in her.
A decade ago my hero had been a seasoned missionary in Asia and spoke four languages fluently. Now, because of a debilitating disease, my hero can barely speak a word. Loss of lucid communication is a bitter pill to swallow for an animated extrovert.
My hero cannot accomplish mundane tasks necessary for daily survival. She cannot walk, dress, read, feed herself, nor put herself to bed. She can’t brush a stray strand of hair away from her face, nor can she scratch an itch, nor… What was the last thing you just did? She is unlikely able to do it. My hero is dependent on others.
Ironically, it wasn’t until my hero’s life evolved to a place of inability that she became my hero. She speaks deep truths into my life, even though communication, as we typically define it, with clearly spoken words and written language (and in her case, multiple languages), is no longer a gift she possesses. My hero is my sister Sue.
Recently, Sue and her husband Dana spent a Saturday night at my house. The following morning, they were getting ready to attend a church that has supported them throughout the years. Dana left Sue alone in the bathroom for a brief moment, closing the door behind him. In those few seconds, Sue had passed out and fallen. She was trapped, as her limp body lay sprawled out directly in front of the closed door.
With no other options, Dana forced the door slowly into the bathroom, shoving her body across the floor. I cringed, as I imagined Sue’s skin pinching within the bottom recesses of the door. With the door slightly open, Dana reached in with his arm and pushed Sue’s head farther into the room, creating just enough of an opening for me to squeeze in. I found Sue unclothed on the cold, tiled floor. She became conscious and our eyes met. Without much thought I blurted out, “Nice to see you, but we really have to stop meeting like this!” She flashed a twinkle in her eye and we both chuckled. What once may have felt uncomfortable and awkward is now commonplace. We are getting past the point where human dignity requires a culturally acceptable, well-kempt appearance. With this transition comes the priceless capacity to behold the integrity and value of a person created in God’s image, no matter what they look like on the outside.
Eventually, with Dana pushing Sue from outside the room and me pulling her from inside, we got her upright. We discovered that she had gotten a bump and abrasion on her head from the fall, but it did not require stitches this time.
Dana continued to attend to Sue and I left them to their privacy. In time, Dana switched his focus to his own preparations and I was called upon to finish getting Sue ready. I proceeded to put on her socks, shoes, blouse, earrings, and scarf, placing it gently over her tracheal tube. I brushed her hair and fed her yogurt.
Due to the fainting episode, we were scrambling to make up time. Dana had been asked to participate in the service and needed to arrive early. A few days prior, Dana and I had discussed the possibility of Sue staying home with me while he went to church alone, if she were to have a rough morning. As we revisited this conversation, we heard Sue mumble. She hadn’t yet attempted to speak that morning. We both strained to hear and understand. Dana pressed in close. Sometimes he can understand the nuances of her slurred pronunciation. Dana interpreted aloud five simple, yet profound words.
Those five words immediately became buried treasure in my heart—none I will soon forget. Sue clearly had a rough morning. She had passed out, trapped herself in a bathroom with her own body, had gotten an abrasion to the head, was shuffled about and hastily prepared by others. Getting to church took a tremendous effort for all involved, including a humble and patient spirit on her part. And then she “spoke”, with all the energy she could muster, “I will choose to worship.”
The effort to go to church was huge for Sue, yet the choice to go was effortless. It was a literal battle of her flesh with her spirit. Her spirit won hands down. The final preparations were made and Sue and Dana were out the door.
If my hero can choose to participate in corporate worship, in spite of the tremendous effort it entails, the least I can do is make choices that draw me closer to the Father we both love. Those choices may require exerting some effort on my part and possibly asking the help of others, being a bit uncomfortable, or stretching myself in some way.
Sue’s five simple words have played like a broken record in my mind, but I’ve replaced the word “worship” with other words or phrases appropriate to my given circumstances. For example: When I fear what the future holds, I will choose to trust. When I’m faced with a difficult person, I will choose to love. When I’m tempted to stay in bed, I will choose to arise and spend precious time with my Savior.
If my story ends here, then it’s not worth the telling. The prayer of my hero, when she first became ill, was that others would learn lessons from her suffering, without having to share the afflictions of her illness themselves. My dear reader, how does her story apply to yours? How can you be more fully alive and live in God’s image through your effort and choices? I challenge you to finish this sentence for yourself: I will choose to _____________________.