April 2007 - Volume 11, Issue 9
Heaven Is Now – The Day Heaven Came To Telfair Street
"This baby is a gift from God."
The obstetrician's words pierced Eula's heart with truth as the tears rolled down her cheeks. Eula's boyfriend promised to love her no matter what. When she told him about the baby, he demanded a paternity test.
How could the man she loved think that of her?
Her whole body ached from the pain of desertion and condemnation. Somehow, would bring good from this pain. What at first seemed the consequences of a terrible mist would through God's provision transform her entire life.
Outwardly defiant but inwardly hurting, Eula remained suspicious of any gestures kindness, particularly from white friends. Eula and I had worked together for years on a busy cardiac unit. When her daughter Jada was born, I made her a blanket. She seemed appreciative, but it did not open any doors. In order for Eula to receive my compassion, I had to offer her greater gift: my respect. The distinct chasm from white to black would remain for years as I prayed for an opening.
One sleepy afternoon, God answered. As a monitor technician, Eula watched the heart rhythms of up to forty cardiac patients. The job provided no down time. As long as a patient needed a heart monitor, Eula kept watch over every beat. That day, the phones and the call bell were unusually silent. Nurses sat around the front desk and talked. A sudden shift in Eula's demeanor ended the conversations.
Eula scanned the cardiac monitors intensely. She immediately printed a strip of the rhythm of the patient in room 503, to be certain what she saw on the screen. Perhaps the glare of the monitor distorted the rhythm's image. With this double check, Eula confirmed her gloomy diagnosis long before the computer monitoring system wailed out its alarms. She had to be sure before she spoke. If she was wrong, she faced humiliation by her co-workers.
"Check 503!" Eula shouted. The monitors remained silent. No one responded, including me. Is she sure? Why didn't the monitor agree with her assessment? An emergency on such a quiet day? Not happening.
She stood up and looked several of us in the eye.
"I said check 503. Now!"
I leaped from my chair, headed toward room 503, and found the man unresponsive. Eula had correctly diagnosed ventricular fibrillation, a life threatening rhythm abnormality. Two shocks from my defibrillator transformed an otherwise grim outcome to a complete restoration. A pat on my back brought me back to the world outside the emergency.
"Good job, girl" a co-worker said. The nursing supervisor, attending physician, as well as a good many others joined the accolade fest. My gaze caught Eula's large brown eyes. No one said a word to her.
"Thanks Eula," I extended my hand to her.
"Go on," she waved me away. "You got him back, that's what's important."
Eula got him back. Without her quick assessment, I would never have made it to the room in time. To make that fact public, I grabbed an incident report sheet and began writing. Normally an incident report communicated poor performance or a detour from hospital policy. Why not use it to offer words of praise?
The next day our boss asked Eula to join her in the office.
"Am I in trouble?"
"In my office now," our boss repeated, pretending to be stem as she winked at me. Moments later, Eula came out of the office with my incident report, dog-eared and tear-stained. This woman, who had once been an icy figure, wrapped her arms around me.
"You didn't have to do that."
I handed her a tissue with a smile. "Sure I did. We are team!"
What is the difference between compassion and pity? Respect. When I looked at Eula with pity, in pain she brushed me away. When compassion demanded she receive the honor she was due, a friendship blossomed that day. I soon laughed with her, cried with her, and prayed for her. We found additional common ground in our faith, and our mutual concerns as parents. She began to trust me. One day she shared a dream she had for Jada, now a preschooler.
"I want my daughter to get a Christian education."
Eula's modest salary would be stretched to place Jada in a Christian school, but she was determined. With several private schools in the area, it never occurred to her there would not be a place for Jada. The cold shoulder response, however, became another hurdle to overcome. Once again, it wasn't pity Eula needed, it was respect. Eula remembered that search well.
"Nobody returned my calls, so I went by one of the schools and waited, and waited. They were too busy to speak with me. I don't know if it was the black white thing or the socio- economic thing, but one thing I do know, that wasn't where Jada belonged."
A few days later, a friend told Eula about an urban Christian School called Heritage Academy. The following day, Jada and her mom paid their first visit to the school. Heritage Academy had an intentional mission to the children of low-income families. They had requirements for all families to pay and participate to the extent their time and incomes afford them.
"Jada walked into the door and right into a teacher's arms," Eula recalled. "That was it. I knew we were home."
When Eula learned that my church supported Heritage Academy, the bonds between us continued to grow. Eula's involvement in her daughter's school introduced her to many other believers, both black and white. The once well-defined boundaries between her world and mine continued to meld into one. Then I got up the nerve to ask her a touchy question.
"Eula, do you think we could ever worship together? I mean, really worship together? You know, I visit your church, and you visit mine? Girl, could you ever be comfortable sitting in my pew?"
"That's what heaven is like," Eula said after a thoughtful pause. "And heaven is a ways off yet. One day though. One day."
This past July heaven came to Telfair Street. I had moved away from my church, my job, and my town and returned home on vacation to a great many surprises. The relationship Eula forged with the Heritage had led her to First Presbyterian Church, to the very pew on which I used to sit. I took my place beside her.
We stood to sing and my mind raced back to that day I asked Eula about worship. She caught a glance from me.
"Heaven is today!" I choked back the tears.
"Shut up and sing, woman!" Eula said with a grin, her eyes shining.
I looked down at Jada, who smiled back at me. She didn't seem concerned she was singing in a white church. I reached in my pocket for a handful of chocolate kisses I carried with me and offered them to Jada. When her tiny black fingers reached for the candy, her mom caught my other hand and squeezed it.
"Gift from God," I said, nodding in Jada' s direction.
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