D. P. writes: I am a retired from law enforcement, writer, international traveler, and involved in foreign missions."
The Assumption of Rose
Rose had been a part of Blossom County Community Church since 1945 and through all those years had faithfully worked in the nursery, a job always lacking helpers. In recent years, Rose’s contribution had been limited to sitting in a rocking chair, holding and singing softly to one of the many babies. Jill, the director of the children’s ministry, thought it only right to recognize Rose for her many years of service and they should have it coincide with Rose’s upcoming 90th birthday. Jill ran the idea by the pastor who immediately gave his support.
A few weeks before Rose’s birthday, three moms sat at a local coffee shop discussing how to properly show their respect and admiration for a woman who had devoted so much of her life to her church. “Jill, you’ve known Rose longer than any of us, right?” asked Terry, a regular helper in the nursery and a great admirer of Rose. “I suppose I have,” replied Jill. “I was raised in this town and church. My mama, daddy, and Rose have been going to Blossom as long as I can remember. Can you imagine how many diapers Rose has changed?” Marty blurted out, “My gosh, I can barely handle the nursery once a month! How has she done it all these years?”
Marty had known Rose for nearly 10 years and cherished the woman. “I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone like her. She has an incredible amount of patience.” Jill replied, “You know, she had a baby, but he died very young. Mama told me what little she knew, which wasn’t much. It sounded like a crib death. I’m sure Rose wanted more children, but it just never happened. I suppose that’s where she gets her dedication to caring for babies.”
“What about Rose’s husband? I’ve never heard a thing about him,” inquired Marty. Jill said, “His name was Tony. Daddy said Tony was a quiet guy and kept to himself. He and Rose were married right before the war began in 1941. When Tony came back home after the war, it wasn’t long before Rose had the baby. Mama said she never really knew her and Tony until after the baby died. Years ago, Mama asked Rose about her son. She said so many people had suffered personal losses during the war that she and Tony just didn’t think it right to talk much about it. That was about the time Rose came to church and started working in the nursery. Tony died about 25 years ago, heart attack, I think. Rose has been alone since, no other family, just years of caring for church babies.”
The ladies had worked non-stop preparing the surprise birthday/thank you celebration to be held during the next Sunday morning service. The plan was to have Marty go to the nursery and tell Rose there was a visiting mom with a fussy baby in the sanctuary. The mom was nervous about leaving her in the nursery. If Rose would assure the mom that the baby would be well cared for, perhaps the mother would allow the baby to go to the nursery and the mom could relax and enjoy the service. As soon as Rose entered the room everyone would stand, Rose would be escorted to the front, and the pastor would begin his talk about faithful servants. Quite a few of the babies, now grown, whom Rose had cared for through the years, would be attending. The pastor would use her as a shining example of a life dedicated to serving Christ through her commitment to the children of the church. After the service, the entire church would be invited to celebrate over lunch and cake in her honor.
On Saturday morning, Marty was at the store taking care of some last minute details for the celebration when her cell phone rang. It was Jill. “Marty, I just got a call from the pastor. Rose is in the hospital and it’s serious.” Marty got the few details Jill had and headed to the hospital. The pastor was in the room with Rose when Marty arrived. She appeared to be sleeping. The thought of Rose alone and in pain broke Marty’s heart.
“Pastor, Jill told me that Rose had a heart attack. How bad is it?” “The doctor won’t tell me much, Marty. I’m not a relative and you know how these privacy things are. I told the doctor that I’m her pastor and I want to do as much as possible for her, especially since she has no family. In so many words, the doctor told me that he didn’t expect Rose to leave the hospital. She has not been responsive since I got here.” Marty started crying and asked, “So, Rose is dying?” The pastor slowly nodded, “I believe so.” The pastor excused himself and said he would return shortly.
When Jill and Terry arrived at the hospital, Marty updated them on Rose’s condition. The three women talked about how unfair it seemed that Rose be struck down the day before her birthday and her opportunity to be recognized for her years of service. The three women prayed at her bedside, asking God to allow Rose to recover so that she might know how much she is loved.
As Marty, Terry, and Jill quietly talked at the foot of Rose’s bed, the pastor came back into the room. Rose’s weak voice made everyone turn toward her, “Why are you here?” Feeling guilty for having taken their attention from Rose, they rushed to her side. Marty said, “Oh, Rose, when we heard you were in the hospital, we were so worried. We didn’t want you to be alone.” Rose began crying and said, “I’m so scared. I’m not ready to die!” Everyone was at a loss as to what to say.
They stood in silence at Rose’s bedside and listened to her softly cry and repeat her fear of dying. As Terry left the room to ask a nurse about getting something to help calm her down, the pastor said, “Rose, you of all people know you have nothing to fear. God is with you and He’ll not leave you.” Rose began crying harder, and with a voice that rang with desperation, strained out, “I have no idea what will happen to me when I die! I don’t know anything about God! All I ever cared about was replacing the baby I lost! Don’t you understand? Didn’t anyone ever try to understand? I spent all those years in the nursery because it was the closest I’d ever get to holding my little boy again! The nursery was never about God. It was never about serving. Nobody ever cared what had happened to me. People were just happy to have someone work in the nursery so they wouldn’t have to do it!”
Terry and the nurse walked in the room as Rose sobbed softly, Marty and Jill staring at the floor, unsure how to respond. The pastor seemed stunned. The nurse asked Rose if she was in pain. Rose just closed her eyes and turned her head away. The nurse asked everyone to leave for a few minutes while she took care of Rose’s medical needs. Marty, Jill, and Terry kissed Rose on the cheek and said, “We’ll be just down the hall. You won’t be alone.” Rose gave no indication she had heard a word.
They walked down the corridor to the waiting room and sat down, each one had the same shocked look on their face from witnessing Rose’s outburst. “Pastor, you started at the church shortly after my husband and I moved here. Did you know the story about Rose and her baby?” asked Marty. “I had no idea. This is the first I’ve heard about it. As long as I’ve been pastor, Rose has just been one of those people I knew would take care of her job. If I had 50 more just like her, our church would run like clockwork. At least, that’s what I thought until this happened. Right now, I’m questioning how I could be so ignorant to the needs of someone I saw every week who was hurting so badly.” Marty and her friends watched as their pastor slowly got up and walked back toward Rose’s room and waited for the nurse to leave. As the pastor stepped in, tears began flowing down the faces of each of the women as once again they heard the trembling voice crying, “I’m so afraid!”
Walking into a hospital room to visit with a sick member of his congregation was nothing new to the pastor. He had been in ministry for more than 25 years and hospital visits were just a part of the job. He enjoyed spending personal time with people, although he hated that they were going through difficult times. He enjoyed praying with them and trying to be an encouragement. Often, he found that his hospital visits provided opportunities to get to know the friends and family members, share the message of Christ, and invite them to church.
As the door to Rose’s room closed behind him, the pastor knew this visit would be unlike any other. His world was shaken. The pastor stood at the foot of the bed, closed his eyes and cried out, “Father, if this dear woman has served in the church for almost her entire life, only to acknowledge at the end that she never knew you, that her service has been to meet some private need, forgive me for failing as her pastor. Forgive me, Father, for being more preoccupied with creating workers than making disciples. Forgive me for making assumptions that service in the church equals spiritual health and maturity. Father, send Your Holy Spirit now to enable me to say what needs to be said to Rose. Open her heart now. In the name of Jesus, I pray, amen.”
When the pastor opened his eyes, Rose was staring at him. Her fear had turned to anger. She asked, “Why are you crying?” The pastor’s voice came out like a whisper, “Because I failed you. I never got to really know you. I just let you do what you did best and was grateful that you were willing to do it. I never thought about your spiritual growth. I guess I thought that someone your age who had been in the church as long as you have, who has been a part of the operations of the church, didn’t need spiritual nurturing.” Rose stared at her pastor for a few minutes, the silence making him want to start praying aloud again. At last, Rose softly asked, “Pastor, where do I sit when you’re preaching?”
He closed his eyes briefly, trying to visualize his congregation. Like most churches, people tend to sit in the same seats every week. “Well, where do I sit?” she asked again. “For some reason, I can’t recall,” he said. “I’ll tell you why. It’s because I’ve never sat through a sermon. Amazing, isn’t it, all these years in that church and I’ve never heard one sermon? You just said you were sorry you never got to know me. Let me tell you a little about myself.” Her words came slowly and her breathing became shallower. “After my husband came back from the war, he wasn’t the same man he was before he’d left. When our baby boy died, Tony, my husband, didn’t shed a tear. He offered no comfort. I’ll never forget his words after finding our baby dead in his crib, ‘At least he didn’t die like the Marines I fought with died.’ Those words have burned in me for almost 65 years. How is it that my son’s death meant so little to him that he could dismiss it so easily? I knew then I would never have another child with him. I loved my husband and I knew he suffered things he was never able to share with me, but I would not dare allow him another opportunity to show how indifferent he was to the pain I suffered. It was right after my baby’s death that I went to your church and asked if I could help in the nursery. There were lots of babies in the years following the war and the pastor at the time jumped at the chance to have me help. I found babies to comfort and babies to comfort me. It’s really quite simple.” Several minutes passed without a word being said. The only sounds in the room were the beeps from the cardiac and respiratory monitors.
Rose closed her eyes and asked, “Do you know how it feels to lose a son?” The pastor, feeling foolish, as well as guilty for not knowing Rose better, slowly shook his head no. He closed his eyes, tears running down his cheeks and said, “No. No, I don’t how it feels to lose a child, but God does. God looked on as his son, Jesus, died a horrible and painful death. If anyone can identify with the loss you suffered, He can.” Rose turned toward the pastor, “Why would God do that? He must not have loved Jesus in the same way I loved my baby.” The pastor was slow to respond and allowed silence to fill the room before answering. “Rose, I believe you’re right. The love God showed for Jesus in permitting him to die on that cross is nothing like the love we have for our children. It was a sacrificial love that goes beyond our understanding. The death of Jesus on the cross was an act of mutual love; love allowing a father to sacrifice his only son so that others might be saved. And then the love of a son for his father done out of obedience, so that his father’s plan could be accomplished and others might be saved. How can we comprehend this other than to meditate on the Bible’s most famous verse – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
A doctor entered the room and asked the pastor to leave so that he could talk to Rose privately. Rose looked at the doctor and said, “I don’t want him to leave.” The doctor motioned the pastor back to his seat. “Rose, I’m sorry to have tell you this, but you’ve suffered major damage to your heart, and your kidneys are shutting down.” Rose began to cry and asked, “How long do I have?” The doctor took her hand and said “We’ll know more when I get some test results back, but until then, we will do everything possible to make you comfortable.” When the doctor left the room, Rose asked the pastor if the women were still at the hospital. “They’re just down the hall, Rose.” “Please get them for me.” The pastor walked toward the waiting room and told Marty, Jill, and Terry that Rose was asking for them. When they entered the room, Rose appeared different, not really calm, rather she seemed defeated. She looked at the women and asked, “Did you know God lost a son?” They all nodded. “Do you believe God would allow his son to die for people who don’t even know him?” Again, they nodded. “Which one of you would sacrifice your child for people you didn’t know?” Everyone in the room could only stare at Rose in silence. After several minutes, Marty said, “Rose, I can’t understand the depth of love God has for us to do such a thing. All I can do is appreciate the sacrifice and accept it. The wonderful thing is that death is not the end of the story. Jesus, the only person to have lived a sinless life, was the only acceptable sacrifice for all mankind. He paid the price, God accepted his sacrifice and now all who ask God to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for their sins, will have eternal life in heaven.”
Rose looked at the pastor. “Will God let me into heaven for all those years I helped at the church?” The pastor said, “Rose, I’m going to let the Bible answer your question. One of the greatest theologians of all time, the apostle Paul, wrote about this very issue. Tell me what you think: For it is of grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.” Rose studied the pastor’s face, looked at her friends, and asked, “Girls, when you first entered my room, I heard you praying. Do you remember what you prayed for?” Marty said, “We prayed you would recover.” Rose inquired further, “You prayed for more than that. What was it?” Terry spoke up, “We prayed you would recover so that you could know how much you are loved.” Rose looked over to the pastor, then back at the women. Rose closed her eyes, whispered something that ended with “Thank you Jesus.” She looked at each one of her friends, smiled and said, “Your prayers have been answered.” Rose drew one last labored breath and all sign of fear was gone.
(© 2016 D. P. Walker – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)