Called to Care

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“Love one another . . .” “Whoever is least among you . . .” “The good Samaritan . . .” “Whoever loves the least of these . . .”

The smell is awful even as I step up on the porch. I am greeted by a mangy black lab with open sores and a large—really morbidly obese—boy-man wearing a dirty shirt, belly hanging out. He bellows, “Dad, she’s here!”

I start across the room. My shoes, cushioned by a thin layer of dirt, don’t make the expected clicking sound. A tiny woman is lying on a hospital bed spotted with urine and blood, curled in a fetal position. She’s sucking on the end of a disposable diaper that is strangely askew on her tiny bottom. The smell in the house is a bit more bearable than it has been in previous years.

The woman’s father sits in a wheelchair at her side. A bag of urine hangs over the back of his wheel chair. “I’m so glad you came; we’ve been trying really hard but just can’t seem to get that diaper on,” he says. The voice is tender and concerned. “Neither of the two people who were supposed to help us showed up; we didn’t know what else to do.” As I struggle to straighten the woman’s diaper and get her pajamas on, I try to avoid the saliva running from her mouth. Suddenly I realize that I’m leaning against a blackened pad hanging over the side of the bed.

The father says something to me, but I’m not really listening. My response does not match his statement, and he clarifies. I say, “I’m sorry, I must be deaf.” “No” he says, “You are just concentrating on the job you have to do.” Not really true—I’m concentrating on the filth. He tells me again how much I’m appreciated.

Back home, I head straight for the basement where I strip and put my clothes—shoes included—directly into the washing machine.

I am bothered by my thoughts and actions. It’s obvious that God wants me to be a part of these people’s lives. He calls us to share his love with others by our words and actions. But I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to help out, and yet I know that I should. It would be easier to call protective services, but they’re already involved—things are better than they had been. I’m ashamed that I carry out my task with anger at being placed in this position. I’m ashamed that I do not trust God enough to watch over me and keep me healthy. I am ashamed that my attitude makes me curt and rather hard-hearted. I’m angry that no one else seems to be called to do this kind of thing.

We often speak of God’s calling in terms of profession. What does God call us to do, and how does God call us? In my profession as a nurse’s aide, God calls me to care for people. I’m good at that. But If I succeed in following God’s will in my profession, am I limiting myself? My profession fits into a nice little box in my life. Every day I leave my job and go home to a cozy clean house. Does God expect me to enter a place that makes me physically ill as well? Isn’t what I do at work enough? Must God’s will invade every aspect of my life? Why does he put such difficult things in my path?

I have a lot of growing to do before I become the woman God has created me to be. I need the kind of help that only comes from God.

About the Author

Karen Hengeveld is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She works at the Christian Rest Home and attends West Leonard Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

See comments (1)


Despite her expressed concerns about it, I'm not so sure that Karen hasn't "grown" into exactly the woman God created her to be.  Karen's blunt honesty about her sometimes negative feelings about her work -- which she is yet persuaded she is called to do -- touches me.  I've practiced law for 34 years and can't count the numbers of times I've complained to my wife about how tired I am of solving other peoples' problems, especially when their own stupid decisions created the problems they now want me to fix (but can't afford to pay me for), or when life my own life just gets too busy and I simply run short on time and energy, or when my emotional reserve tank for swimming in problems just has no more capacity.  And then my feeling that way makes me feel guilty, as if that's helpful.

I just have to assume that God is more concerned with the decisions I keep making to keep doing what I know I should do, than with how much I sometime emotionally vomit about the prospect of having to do it.

I can't imagine doing Karen's work.  What she does would make me physically vomit.  I would put my clothes directly into the trash, not the wash machine.  But yet that work needs doing, inglorious as it may be.  And some people, like Karen, step up to do it -- and with a extra measure of care and concern that sometimes makes them hate what they have agreed to do.

I am grateful that God made Karen.  May he give her an extra measure of whatever she needs, especially when she goes those extra miles that seem to put her over the top.