A first experience in love
by Glen Doss, Major –
After I was saved, I left my self-centered nature behind—more or less. In retrospect, I realize I was still very much into myself. However, at age 40, for the first time in my life, I was consciously looking for ways to help others, seeking nothing in return.
Therefore, when I heard that another corps member, Margaret Foster, was seeking someone to accompany her on League of Mercy visits to the VA hospital in San Diego, I volunteered. The Salvation Army’s program for organized visits to homes or institutions was exactly what I needed at the time.
One particular experience stands out strikingly—my visits with a wheelchair-bound elderly woman whose body was so gnarled and twisted by arthritis that she elicited grimaces from the unprepared. I had visited with Kathy Weston for three Sundays when one day I asked, “Kathy, what can we do for you that would mean the most?”
She looked me boldly in the eye. “I would dearly love to see the Pacific Ocean one more time. I haven’t been outside these walls in over two years.” As she talked, her face lit up. “But with these twisted legs of mine, what can I do?”
The excitement in her voice was palpable, but the frustration was equally pronounced. I asked, “Would you like us to give you a ride to the shore?”
“Oh, I would dearly love it!” she exclaimed. “But how would I get into your car?”
I thought for a minute. “I believe I can lift you…if you trust me to.”
Kathy shook her head doubtfully; it was evident she had reservations, but ultimately her intense desire to get out of the hospital, even for just a little while, won out. When the eventful date rolled around, we found her sitting up in her wheelchair, dressed for the excursion in a beautiful flowery, pink dress, her face aglow. However, as I wheeled her out the door to my Toyota Tercel, I had my own reservations—I realized just how very twisted her limbs were!
Kathy studied my face nervously as slowly, cautiously I lifted her from the wheelchair, then set her sideways on the front passenger seat, her legs dangling in the air. So far, so good. But my greatest challenge loomed: how to get those twisted, gnarled legs inside the car without hurting her.
I had turned her only a few inches when Kathy let loose such a howl of pain that a bolt of regret pierced me to the bone. I hastily apologized, then tried once more—yet again she screamed. What to do? I began to have real doubts whether the plan would succeed. “I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “Do you want to forget the whole thing?”
Tears fell in torrents; she sobbed. Nevertheless, she looked me directly in the eye. “Do it,” she said. “I’m sorry. It hurts so. But please try again.” I did, and again she howled. Finally, on the fourth attempt, I succeeded. By now tears flooded Kathy’s face. Yet, as I slipped into the driver’s seat beside her, she smiled encouragingly, her face now aglow in glad expectation.
Half an hour later I pulled the car off to the side of the highway at a lookout point presenting a wide view of the Pacific Ocean. Kathy was in her glory, a picture of pure joy as she took it all in. For hours we chatted, reminisced, put away some hotdogs and sodas, and watched the ships move in and out of the harbor below. The whole sky was awash with seagulls.
Basking in this moment, Kathy seemed to grow 20 years younger, her face illuminated as she reminisced of more pleasant times when she and her husband had reared two daughters. One of their favorite pastimes, she said, was to sit on their patio both morning and evening looking out to sea and watching the ships, as we were doing now.
As we gazed out to where the sea met the sky, Margaret, Kathy, and I drank in a multihued, flamboyant sunset. The whole sky around us turned a lovely purple and orange. We watched the colors emerge, blend, and change before our eyes. “What a lovely show the Lord has provided for us!” Kathy commented thoughtfully. She turned to me with an expression that spoke volumes, and the full extent of her gratitude hit home—the contented, beaming look upon her face was worth a million dollars. The joy of helping others—such a new experience for me—I found almost overwhelming. I had never dreamed such joy existed!
“Lord, thank you for the lesson of this moment—that we each have it in our power to make such a difference in the life of another—and with so little effort! There is no excuse for us doing nothing…when you have done so very much for us!”