Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter at Eastgate.



One of the great things about having children is marking all the milestone moments you have. All the "firsts." As a family, the Sloats have had their first Fourth of July, their first birthdays together, their first Halloween, Christmas, and yesterday, their first Easter. 

Straight ballin', yo.

In this recent post on comfort zones, I talked about a ministry that I'm involved in at Eastgate, an assisted care living facility for elderly folks. In short, a nursing home. Once a month, I go out there and teach Sunday School. Couple of hymns, a lesson, another hymn, a prayer and then they all go to lunch. I've talked about what a struggle it was for me to go in there, and what a struggle it was for me to involve our family as well. 

The second Sunday I went, a virus had swept through the place and it was very contagious. This caused me to rethink the "involving the family" thing. The Missus and I made the decision that it would probably be in the kids' best interest to not be exposed to that sort of thing, whether it was discovered yet or not. So they haven't been back, and I'm okay with that. 

A few weeks ago, I approached the director of the ministry about the fact that my Sunday was going to fall on Easter during the month of April. I asked him how that worked, and if I would still be responsible for my lesson, or if I would be able to come to church with my family. He said he'd get back to me, and I spent the next couple of weeks thinking that surely the Lord wanted my family together on Easter Sunday. 

I've learned a lot of things in twenty-nine years, but the one thing I guess I haven't learned is how to accurately predict the all-divine will of the Lord. 

"Travis, we still do that on Easter Sunday. In fact, the residents actually look forward to it. Are you okay with continuing as planned?" 

To quote George Clooney: "Dang. We're in a tight spot." 

You see, I got selfish. I thought (and rightly so, I'm sure some of you would say) that I should be able to spend my family's first Easter with, you know, my family. It would have been very easy for me to tell him, "No, since it's our first Easter with kids, I'd really like to spend it with them in church." He might even have been expecting that. I certainly expected to say it. 

But I didn't. 

So yesterday, I took some pictures with the kids, explained to them that they better behave, and sent them and The Missus to church with her parents, while I loaded up my stereo, my notes, and my iPad and headed to Eastgate. I had a lot of selfish thoughts on the way. Then, as I was pulling in to the facility, I got a notification on Facebook for a wall post. I assumed it would be a request to play the latest Super Duper Slot Machine Deluxe Ball Drop Extravaganza, and I was going to delete it and go on. 

However, it turned out to be a post about my dad. The gentleman said that he wished nothing more than to hear one of my dad's lessons this morning, and wrapped it up by saying what a great man he was. It's been almost twelve years, and it turns out I'm still not the only person who wants to hear his voice.  

It was the proverbial slap in the face. I started thinking about what my dad would have done in this situation. Then I thought about whether or not he would be proud of the parent I'm becoming, and the man I'm growing into. Then I thought about how it wasn't fair that he hadn't gotten to see the kids, or my niece Briley. Then I thought about how he didn't get to see me graduate, or get married, or see The Groom get married, and how he wasn't going to see The Liar or The Youngest get married or see their kids. 

In about ten seconds, I was angry, crying, and telling myself I was a stupid, selfish, and pity partying crybaby. I was going on and on about how life wasn't fair, and how it wasn't fair that I had to be separated from my family today, and how terrible I had it. To top it off, I had about ten minutes to get myself together before I walked in the nursing home and began telling people how joyous of a day it was supposed to be. 

I don't know how, but I got it together. I walked in the door, and the nurses started wheeling the people in. 

Time for smiles, right? 

About five minutes into the procession of wheelchairs coming through the doors, a lady looked up from her chair, introduced herself, and asked me what time it was. I looked down at my watch and said, "10:30." She then consulted her watch and said, "I have 10:25." 

+1 to that lady. 

Then she asked me what day it was. 

I said, "It's April 8th, ma'am. 2012. It's Easter." 

She threw her hands in the air as a huge smile lit up her face and said,

"PRAISE THE LORD!" 

She went on to introduce herself again, then tell me three times that she was German and Indian, then told me four times that she had only been there two weeks, even though I'd seen her there for three months. She obviously has some sort of dementia. 

But in the span of a second, with her reaction to the fact that it was Easter Sunday, she reminded me why I made the decision I made. She showed me that even though life had taken from her all sense of time, she remembered enough to know that Easter Sunday was special. She instantly validated my reason for being there, my reasons for splitting up our family on our first Easter. She reminded me of the excitement I should have had. 

I stood there, genuinely smiling, and listened to her tell me over and over again about her heritage and how she used to beat up people for messing with her brother, and how her parents loved the razor strap, and how her nickname used to be "Hitler." At one point during her stories, another lady fell asleep and her dentures fell out. 

I stood there, once again unexpectedly blessed by these folks, and finally I started the lesson. I told them how we should never forget Easter. How each day should and could be Easter to someone else who didn't know about The Gift. 

And at some point, during what I thought was a pretty inspired and amazing lesson, that same lady fell asleep and her dentures fell out again. Then I had a lady get mad at me because I couldn't control the thermostat. Then I had a lady wheel up to me afterwards and tell me how much she enjoyed me coming today. 

I got to my in-laws for dinner and hugged my kids.

To end the day, I stopped by and saw dad. I've been thinking about taking the kids to meet him, you know. I reached his headstone without crying for the first time in eleven years. I told him I was trying. Told him how much I wished he could see his three grandkids. I got mad again. I fought with God, yelled at him for a while. Then the tears came, and with it, the self-pity. I Almost fell back into that same spiral. I saw a couple of headstones and was reminded of what some of my friends of mine had lost. The realization came to me that no matter how amazing my Easter Sunday was, my dad had a better one. 

I left smiling. Crying...but smiling.