Juanita’s Joy

Hilda* was my neighbor for 30 years, living on the second floor while I live on the 5th.  She is a Holocaust survivor, in fact the only survivor from her family in Germany.  As a teen she escaped Nazi clutches while her whole family perished.  No one really knows how she made it to France but somehow she later immigrated to NYC, met her husband and moved into our building around 1955.

Hilda frequently invited me for tea and cookies, more often when her husband died.   I promised myself, ‘when I retire I’ll spend more time with Hilda’.   For the past five years, Hilda has lived in Assisted living nursing home – and there we enjoy cookies and tea often.

In recent two years, dementia has set in.  Now 97 years old, Hilda may like more frequent but shorter visits.  From week to week, month to month, Hilda is weaker, more frail, needier and possibly demanding.  She is, however, still the neighbor I love.

Last year Hilda was assigned to a small dining table with Juanita, an elderly African American woman.  I always scheduled my visits to start right after lunch so we would have tea and cookies as soon as she returned to her room.  But I often came to the community dining room first, to greet Hilda and also came to know Juanita.  In fact, although Hilda became less responsive, Juanita had a bright smile,  her eyes lit up when greeting me.  She was gracious and kind to Hilda.  In fact, Juanita was never less than joyful!

Her joy couldn’t possibly come from Hilda’s company, Hilda never spoke to her nor could she remember her name.  When I brought flowers to Hilda, I often brought a bunch to Juanita also – how elated she was!  During a holiday season I brought them plants.  Although Hilda continues to reject God, I asked Juanita,

“Do you believe in God, Juanita?  In Jesus who died for our sins?”

“Oh yes!  I believe!”

Needy for my attention, Hilda didn’t appreciate sharing my company, especially as I was one of the few people she remembers.  But I always thought, ‘someday I will come and find Juanita and have a good visit with her’.

Last month Hilda was not home, I found her in rehab where she would be for several weeks.  I called the residence manager,

“Hello Miss Lang*! I understand that Hilda is now in rehab but I’m calling about her lunch mate, Juanita.  I would love to come visit her, is she at the same table?”

“Juanita?  No, she moved out two weeks ago!”

Moved out – oh no!  Where did she go?”

“Some relatives from Massachusetts picked her up, she’s living with them.  She had no family, she had no one here in New York.  This is really good for her, she was all alone…”

“Oh, I’m happy for her….just so sorry I couldn’t say good-bye….”

At first I felt terrible, having missed some opportunity to fellowship with this elderly woman.  Perhaps indeed a believer, I could have encouraged her…..but the Lord brought me back to the manager’s words….

‘No family….no one here….all alone….’

Juanita spent days, weeks, months alone –  holidays alone – and sat with a meal mate everyday who never spoke to her.  But she had a joy that I confess I do not have.

While I initially felt a pang of guilt for not visiting Juanita earlier, I truly believe that the Lord had a lesson for me from her – Juanita’s life and joy truly ministered to me.  If  “….the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…” Juanita displayed them all – and I do not – although I have all the health, comfort and company Juanita lacked.

I saw the fruits of the Spirit and know I need them.

“In examining the fruits of the Holy Spirit – which express Christian witness – we shall readily see that they are none other than selfless acts.  What is love? Love is loving others without thinking of self.  What is joy?  It is looking at God in spite of self.  Patience is despising one’s own hardship.  Peace is disregarding one’s own loss.  Gentleness is overlooking one’s rights….The fruit of the Holy Spirit is determined by one principle alone:  the losing of self totally.”  (Excerpt from a quote I keep in my Bible, author unknown)

Lord, I continue to pray for Hilda’s soul, bring her heart to a saving faith in her Messiah.  And Lord, thank you for displaying for me the fruits of the Spirit through Juanita, encourage her wherever she is.  Guide us all through this new year, to have less of self and more of You!

*names changed for privacy