There are certain people that are contagious. They draw out the best in a person. Sarah’s Aunt Teri Jean is one such person. My family had the great pleasure of hosting Sarah’s aunt Teri Jean. Teri spent many years as a professional puppeteer and only recently started a career in nursing. One night after our children were in bed we sat down to have a conversation. One thing to know about Teri, when she is present it’s always lively and usually includes some great storytelling. In this latest installment in the adventures of Teri, I was profoundly moved.
For reasons that I cannot recall, Teri began sharing stories of her time working as a nurse during 3rd shift (over the night shift). She told the true story of a young man who was brought in by ambulance and checked onto her floor. When the drivers brought him in, she could tell that they were fried and she quickly realized why. The man on the stretcher refused to directly answer any questions. He would only speak if the person spoke to a stuffed bear that he was holding. She could tell the ambulance drivers were frustrated and pretty unwilling to speak to the bear. Teri, on the other hand, being a puppeteer felt very comfortable entering into this arrangement of speaking to a stuffed animal! She began to direct her questions to the bear and continued to do it throughout the night. Eventually, after many interactions with the bear, the man calmed down and said to Teri, through the bear, that Teri had been very kind to ‘john’ and now ‘john’ would like to talk to Teri.
Teri recounted another interaction with a young man in great pain who had experienced massive deterioration in his heart. It had made him very sick and he was on a lot of medication for pain. Due to the pain medication he was experiencing drug induced hallucinations. When these hallucinations would happen, Teri would hear the man getting worked up. She soon realized what was happening and she would calmly talk to the man about his hallucinations. She asked him to tell her when he would be having them and then she would laugh with him and let him know that what he was seeing was just a hallucination. Eventually he was released from the hospital. The same gentleman returned to the hospital a while later and he began asking for Teri. Teri was not available but he talked to the nurse about that stay in the hospital with Teri. That particular time had been a very low point in the man’s life and he was contemplating suicide. Teri’s willingness to talk to him about his hallucinations and help decifer the real from the fictitious was the first time he felt ‘normal’ and it helped him work through that low point in his life.
How often do we feel the need to ‘correct’ someone’s wrong behavior or attitude so that we can feel comfortable with them. We experience existential discord when we encounter someone whose view of the world is different than ours and we resolve the discord by either telling them that we disagree with the way they live or we try to force them to come closer to where we are. I’m sure Teri feels this discord but she doesn’t respond in the way I just described.
Teri was self-forgetting and willing to enter into a world that was not her own in order to care for an individual. She was willing to suspend her reality and acquire the reality of the person she was caring for. By doing this, the people Teri cared for felt deeply loved, they felt safe, and they experienced intimacy and trust. But this self-forgetfulness was the beginning step of movement. Teri’s willingness to indulge the ‘craziness’ of the people invited the people to move with Teri to a more healthy place. This is incarnation in it’s full beauty.
Teri modeled incarnation for me and I can only continue to pray that I would be willing to die to myself in order to enter into the world of the other person that I am called to care for. I believe there is a powerful presence of God’s Spirit when we allow this self-denial to happen.
I am so blessed to have Teri in my life and I thank God for her great love and her ability to see the beauty in all things and willingness to ‘empty herself’ in order to enter another’s world.