On the Road
Chaplain Cathy Rhoads
I envision my work to be like the Gospel story when Jesus walks with two people on the road to Emmaus. It is about journeying together and the revelations that come in the conversation that takes place on the road. At the Juvenile Justice Center one day, I encountered a 13-year-old boy. I'll call Jimmie.
Jimmie is mentally delayed, has speech difficulties, and a number of health and behavioral problems. In visiting with him, I at first thought I would be doing him a favor by letting him go back to his cell. He seemed so uncomfortable. I breathed a prayer asking God to teach me how to "be" with Jimmie and invited Jesus to be with us. I felt prompted to ask Jimmie if he had any losses in his life. After some time, he understood what I was asking and said "My dog died." A tender story of a boy and his dog followed. I noticed that Jimmie's speech was improving as he talked. He seemed calmer as we journeyed down the road of his grief. He was beginning to make eye contact with me. He had pain around not being given the chance to say goodbye to his dog. The book of Jimmie's heart had opened. He continued on and told me about not being able to say goodbye to his brother. Jimmie had loved and cared for his severely handicapped brother. When death was imminent, Jimmie was not allowed to visit and he was not allowed to attend the funeral. We talked about his brother, how he loved him, how he misses him and at the same time is happy for him. "Now, he is in heaven and can do things he couldn't do here," Jimmie explained.
Further down the road, another story followed about the death of a favorite aunt. Again, Jimmie was not allowed to visit her the last weeks of her life. He had to stay at home while his family attended her funeral.
Jimmie wept at times, in telling me about his losses. He also shared moments of joy as he relived the relationships he holds close to his heart. My heart burned with compassion. At Jimmie's request, I prayed that he would get to see his Father one more time. I also prayed God would send people into Jimmie's life who would take the time to listen and be with him.
I wept as I prayed. When I raised my eyes, Jimmie’s face was beaming with a big smile. He said, "You sure spent a lot more time with me this time than you did the last time.” Jimmie was right. I had visited him a year ago. I don't recall the visit. But this one is etched in my heart.