Approaching the hospital chapel, I heard sobbing and coughing when I walked by. Opening the door, I saw a large woman kneeling, her body draped over the burgundy seat of the chair.
"Hi, my name is Jacquie. May I help you?"
She looked up gasping for air, revealing a tear-stained face, unable to answer my question. Sitting on the floor so we could have eye-contact, I put my hand on her shoulder.
"Is that walker yours?" I asked noting a walker with a black seat to the left of her chair.
She nodded her head affirmatively.
I noticed she had bandages wrapped around her elbows indicating possible blood draws for lab work. Her pale, blue top was worn and her coat wrapped around her feet like a cushion.
"How can I help you?" I asked.
Slowly she connected air support and vocal cord vibration to reply weakly.
"I came from a woman's shelter. People gave me money so I could buy groceries. I put my food in the refrigerator on the second floor last night, and when I got up this morning to eat, everything was gone. I can't go back there. People steal my food. I eat a special diet and no one understands my food."
Handing her a box of Kleenex, she dried her tears and collected her thoughts. She described men taking advantage of her, no place to go and no money. "I came in here because I needed quiet and I can pray."
Encouraging her connection to God, I asked if I could pray.
"Yes, " she replied eagerly.
"Do you have a Bible?" I asked.
"No," she said.
I went to the closet and got one of the Gideon Bibles kept to give patients and families. I also grabbed one of the small white shells used for infant baptism, wanting to offer a tangible reminder of God's presence for her to touch.
Her favorite scripture was the twenty-third psalm. We read these words together from her new Bible.
"Before I pray, I want to give you this shell. You can see the different colors, feel the ridges, sharp places, and identify shapes. Keep this in your pocket. You can touch the shell as a reminder God is with you."
"I like that." She smiled, reaching for her coat, finding a pocket.
Much more composed that when I first found her, I said, "I'll bless the Bible and then pray."
Asking God to add insight and meaning when she read, I felt her hands cover mine holding the Bible. She continued in close contact while I prayed for her to be aware of the great love God had for her. I prayed for peace in her circumstances and for guidance to help find a safe place to live.
When I finished, she asked me to write something in her Bible. "In my family, we always write in books we give."
I put her name in the back where there were blank pages and added a few words to direct her reading. Signing my name, "Love your friend, Jacquie", reminded me we are all God's children living in the kingdom.
Slowly she had strength to stand. She grabbed the walker and told me she hadn't eaten for two days. I mentioned the cafeteria down the hall, and together we left the chapel, restored and renewed to break bread.
We ate lunch and talked until the hospital social worker, summoned by one of the chaplains, appeared to assist with names and information of agencies to help with housing, financial and medical needs.
I left the cafeteria filled with God's presence, grateful for a serendipitous encounter in a hospital chapel, on Tuesday, the day I volunteer in the chaplain department at IU North Hospital.