The weekly church announcements included “the flowers on the altar today are given to the Glory of God and in memory of all Sailors and Soldiers lost in war, by Bill and Penny Hunt.” Bill had signed us up for the ministry of flowers weeks before and I had long since forgotten the date designated for our offering. It was only after someone commented on the announcement that I was reminded of our additional responsibility to remove them from the altar and share them with others. Thinking of the flower’s dedication and remembering the many military wives who give birth to children whose fathers are sometimes causalities of war, a thought occurred to me. We should take the flowers to Fort Gordon, GA and ask the hospital Chaplain which military wife on the maternity ward was most in need of a visit and a little TLC.
However, as we made our way to the hospital we passed the base’s Fisher House and my mind was changed. “Honey,” I said. “Let’s take the flowers there. We can place them in the lobby and they will be a bright spot for everyone coming and going.”
Fisher Houses are “comfort homes” built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. Support for these respite centers is provided by a unique private-public partnership that aids America’s military in their time of need. Because members of the military and their families are stationed worldwide and must often travel great distances for specialized medical care, these homes enable family members to be close to a loved one during the hospitalization resulting from an unexpected illness, disease or injury. The Fisher House program recognizes the special sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and the hardships of military service by meeting a humanitarian need beyond that normally provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
We walked to the front door, rang the doorbell and waited. No one answered and, after further unsuccessful attempts to raise someone, we concluded everyone was away for the day. We fell back to our original plan and continued on our journey up the hill to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center and the hospital Chaplain’s office.
Again we encountered a closed door, this time adorned with a posted note explaining the Chaplain was on duty but out of the office visiting patients. A bit discouraged, we decided to return to the lobby and see if someone at the information counter might be able to head us in the right direction. As we turned to leave, a Chaplain’s assistant rounded the corner and, seeing us toting flowers and coming from the direction of the Chaplain’s office, asked if she could be of help.
She smiled kindly as we explained our mission then gently informed us there was no maternity ward at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center. Our good intentions were beginning to wilt along with the tulips…
But, as providence would have it, a nurse walking by overheard our conversation and extended an invitation for us to follow her to the west wing of the hospital to meet one of her patients who she knew could really use a visit.
Moments later we were dressed in gowns and gloves for a visit with the young soldier in room 916. He was only 20 years old, had just completed boot camp and was at Fort Gordon for further training when a mysterious and totally incapacitating weakness overtook him. He was new to Georgia and Fort Gordon and his family and friends were far away in New Jersey. There was also no girlfriend to text or call. His only company was the one-eyed monster perched in the corner of his room synced to the limited channel changer attached to his bed.
At first our presence was a bit awkward. The nurse had unfortunately used Bill’s former rank as a Navy Captain to introduce him to the young E-1. He immediately sat up in the bed as straight as he could and answered every conversational question with a single word or short phrase punctuated at its conclusion with “Sir.” He reminded me of my daughter’s rescue kitten, Baby Boy, on the day he was introduced to the family’s other, full grown fluffy white, green eyed glam-cat, Mademoiselle Bianca. He was so intimidated that even after two days of cowering beneath the living room couch, and only with the aid of an irresistible piece of fried chicken, did he finally dare to venture forth from his hiding place.
Fried chicken… I wondered if this young man had ever tasted Southern Fried Chicken.
When he said, “No, Ma’am,” I sighed hugely, looked over to where Bill had seated himself in an attempt to relax the young man with his own more casual posture, and said in my best imitation of Scarlet O’Hara, “Did you hear that Darlin’? No wonder this boy is feeling poorly. He’s been deprived of the very thing guaranteed to raise the faintest of hearts from their sick beds.” He laughed and melted like butter on a hot biscuit at my terrible imitation. The old adage of laughter being good medicine once again proved itself true, broke the tension and opened the way to a more meaningful conversation. I made him promise he would find a Bojangles, not some New Jersey wannabe KFC, and treat himself to some real southern fried chicken along with a large sweet tea as soon as he was up and at ‘em again – doctor’s orders.
His name was Joseph and when I complimented him on having such a fine Biblical name, it quickly became apparent he had no idea what I was talking about. He listened intently as I told him about the miraculous trust and obedience of Joseph to his pregnant fiancé, the Virgin Mary, how the only place he could find for her to have the baby was in a stable and of his continued faithfulness to fulfill the role of earthly father, protector and provider for the very Son of God.
On the ride home, I picked a blossom from between the seats and chuckled at the thought of the ridiculously large flower arrangement we had left in Joseph’s room. As we passed through the security gates and left the base, I reflected on how, at the beginning of our post-church journey, I never imagined God was directing us to Joseph in room 916… Interestingly room 916 contains the same numbers of Proverbs 16:9 which says, “You may make your plans, but God directs your actions.”