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Counting the cost of carrying

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I don’t know if the two words have the same root, but in my mind, they do.

When I think of the word “care,” I picture a person holding someone in his or her arms. I picture a warm, secure place where actions speak louder than words – indeed, where communication is often non-verbal. I picture Jesus, the Good Shepherd holding his sheep.

Several years ago, my wife and I managed a townhouse community with More Than a Roof Housing. During this time, I was able to see the Good Shepherd care-y a four-year-old boy named Michael.*

When Michael’s family first arrived at Dockside Village in 1993, he wasn’t with them. Having a rare genetic immune deficiency, Michael was in the hospital. He eventually got to live at home, but health struggles frequently landed him back in the hospital.

During Michael’s years at Dockside, you could always tell when he returned from another battle in the hospital: his joyful laughter and loud cries (of NOT wanting to go inside) could be heard all over Dockside Village; the big blue truck he pushed all over the sidewalks would be left outside.
The key to stable health for Michael was a successful bone marrow transplant. After nearly two years’ residence at Dockside, he was scheduled to receive one in October. Unfortunately, something was wrong. He couldn’t get over a cold. His lungs didn’t sound healthy.

Back in the hospital, it turned out the real problem was a tumour. It was too late for a bone marrow transplant. On Jan. 31, Michael passed quietly into the outstretched arms of Jesus.

But it wasn’t the first time that Michael and his family were care-ied by the Good Shepherd. Over the two years Michael was in and out of the hospital, several Dockside families care-ied Michael and his family in very practical ways.

During his last months, Michael and his family were care-ied by the Dockside Village community with meals, house-cleaning, overnight babysitting for Michael’s sister, respite care for Michael’s mom so she could rest, a listening ear and comfort, and prayers.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Yes, in all these actions – providing food, drink, hospitality, clothing, and care – the righteous are care-ying for Jesus’ sake.

I would often go to the hospital to be with Michael. I would care-y him – sometimes around the ward, sometimes to the playroom to play vicariously by watching my children – but the most special times were when he just wanted me to hold him. I would sit in the rocking chair and quietly sing, “Jesus loves me this I know,” or “Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” and as he lay cradled in my arms, a sense of peace often came over him – and me.

On Christmas Eve, Michael was allowed to come home for a few hours. Together with another Dockside family, we celebrated Christmas with Michael and his family. After the meal, I care-ied Michael to see the fishing boats and big construction trucks nearby.

Though often we Dockside folk were the arms of Jesus, I believe there were times when Jesus himself care-ied Michael, comforted him, prepared him for his eternal home.

God’s ultimate demonstration of his love for us came not in the form of a program or a building, but in the form of a relationship – his very own Son. Programs, buildings, and organizations are good tools, but they can never replace the care shown in relationship.

There’s a cost to caring. When you carry something, your hands become pretty useless for anything else. In this practical, cost-conscious, quick-fix, program-based society we live in – of which the church is a part – care-ying doesn’t make much sense. But, called to relationship, we must pay that price. We are called to be care-iers, to embrace and imitate the one who cares and carries – the Good Shepherd who care-ied Michael – Jesus Christ.

Mark Danyluk is pastor at Boundary Community Church in Midway, B.C.

*Name has been changed.

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