Startling Grace on Palm Sunday

April 1, 2012 | 28 comments

I spot her in a wheelchair, and her soft eyes are fixed on something — or maybe nothing at all. I cross the dining room of the nursing home to kneel down at her side.

“We’ve come to say hello,” I tell my old friend, adding a cheery, “Happy Palm Sunday.”

“It’s Palm Sunday?” she asks. “Oh.”

Her question breaks something inside of me. This question comes from a woman who had the liturgical calendar memorized, along with the corresponding colors for the altar.  She always said a child needed to grow up memorizing Scriptures and singing hymns, because babies grow old, and their minds try to trick their hearts into forgetting things. And in those times, she told me, an old woman will need to rely on the investment she put in her long-term memory bank years earlier.

But now, at her side, I feel like my heart has dropped into my stomach. I want to know that she still remembers.

She’s looking at me now, when I blurt out the words: “Hosanna, Hosanna … Blessed is He who …”

I don’t finish the sentence, praying that she will. Her mouth opens, and the words bubble like a brook.

“… comes in the name of the Lord.”

And right then and there — hand in hand with an old friend — I get the feeling that the two of us aren’t alone. I spy the face of Christ in a nursing home, in a room swollen with God’s presence.  Teilhard de Chardin calls it the divine milieu — Christ everywhere. It’s one of those moments when you know the place  is swollen with God’s presence. And you’re grateful that, for once, you’re kneeling.

I fall straight into the soft eyes of my friend. And we repeat our duet, over and over again.

“Blessed is He who …”

“…comes in the name of the Lord.”

And maybe that sounds silly, but we couldn’t stop telling each other about the blessing.

For a minute, I forget she’s in a wheelchair, in a nursing home, in a place where someone else wipes her nose and puts pills in her mouth. We are simply this: Two sisters, eye to eye, speaking fluently the language of grace. The ground is level at the foot of the cross, and that’s where we find ourselves as Holy Week begins.

We are two women of flawed existence, with the certainty of a startling, cross-bought grace that meets us right where we are. We find ourselves in awe of the way that our flawed humanity butts up against our perfect Savior.

We are two women who’ve been laying down palm branches in front of our hearts, so He can ride straight in.

There on my knees, I remember anew how low Christ stooped for us, and how wide He stretched His arms.

I look into the eyes of my friend, and I think she remembers, too. She lifts a wizened hand, holding an invisible palm branch.

And she waves it.

Writing in community with Michelle and Jennifer …

by | April 1, 2012 | 28 comments


  1. S. Etole

    The photos look as though the scenes were viewed through tears … so appropriate for your story.

    • dukeslee

      Oh Susan! I love how you “see.” Actually, the photos were taken from my iPhone this morning at church. The quality was rather poor, but now I appreciate them more. Thank you, Susan.

  2. Elizabeth

    I love this post…so true about how the word and hymns are still in the heart when the memory goes, I’ve seen it time and again. It happened with my daddy.

    • Jennifer@GDWJ


      What a tender-sweet memory for you. And you know, I think it’s a relief to us as visitors as well. When we don’t know what else to say, or how to have a conversation, we can simply sing.

      Thanks for sharing.

  3. Kim

    Wow, Jennifer! You made me cry AGAIN. But they are good tears .. and hopeful tears. I love this: “We are two women who’ve been laying down palm branches in front of our hearts, so He can ride straight in.” Thanks for sharing. (I wanted to take palm photos at church yesterday, but I was one of them waving the palms. And that’s good, too.)

    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Hi Kim! I think you chose the better way — to wave the palms! Hosanna, my friend. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Keep waving, my friend.

  4. JoAnne Potter

    “We are two women who’ve been laying down palm branches in front of our hearts, so He can ride straight in.” Oh, Lord, let me, too, welcome You in all places and times.

    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Hi JoAnne,

      I wish I had room here to tell you all the ways that this woman in the wheelchair has ministered to my soul, and to our children. We’ve had so many God-Talks over the years, and even though our words can’t go as deep anymore, the Jesus-Light is still there in her eyes. And in her few words.

      Thanks for being here today. May you be blessed this Holy Week.

  5. Christina

    “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Beautiful words. God is most present when we are at our weakest. Blessings to you!

    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      So true, Christina. Thanks for sharing. xo

    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Me, too, Megan.

      I confess: I can be a pretty elusive target — always jumping around, stumbling, etc. But He manages pretty well, despite my circuitous ways.

  6. Shelly Miller

    My grandmother suffered dementia at the end of her life. I spent a couple of days living with her in the home where she lived those last years. She asked me how to put her panty hose on and brush her teeth but she prayed with her prayer book in her lap every day. The soul remembers what the mind forgets. Sweet communion. Beautiful story Jennifer.

  7. Cindy

    What joy when you meet your friend one day in heaven waving your palm branches in front of the King on the White Stallion! It’s all about eternity. You are blessed, my friend!

  8. kd sullivan

    Laying down palm branches with you. I have been encouraged as of late to memorize more scripture, and I love what you wrote of liturgy and knowing things by heart. By heart. That my heart would still know what perhaps my mind no longer knows…Beautiful!

  9. Missy

    What a beautiful post. Not only of Christ appearing in a nursing home, but of you showing Christ’s love.

  10. Nancy Franson

    Okay. I think something broke inside me, too.

    I had a dear friend I used to visit in the nursing home. She was telling me her stories, and I was writing them down as fast as I could while they slowly slipped away from her.

    While she was still able to attend church, she stood upright and recited the Apostles’ Creed for all she was worth, even as the blue in her eyes became more and more clouded by gray.

    “I believe in God the Father Almighty…”

    Such beauty in reciting these words together.

  11. Kathy Schwanke

    Beautiful. I love that refrain together. 🙂

  12. emily wierenga

    “swollen with God’s presence.” i love this, jennifer. there is such tenderness in this post. you see her. you see Him. you see. thank you.

  13. Dolly

    Love this: “We are two women who’ve been laying down palm branches in front of our hearts, so He can ride straight in.”
    I can see Him there with the two of you…Thank you, Jennifer 🙂

  14. Diana Trautwein

    Oh my land, girl! This is just plain wonderful writing. And the pictures??? That little one in the 1st pic looks almost wraith like, sort of like he’s fading into the background…like what begins to happen with dementia… So glad you made a connection and so grateful with you for your long history together. Such gifts.

  15. Barbara

    how very precious… hold this moment in your heart and smile; Jesus is with us!

  16. Cherie Zack

    “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” What a beautiful visual God invited me into when I read these words. Thank you for sharing this post! Love you, Jennifer!

  17. brianne

    i love how you took those photos with those effects as an outcome – did you add any special effects later? i agree with what Susan said about the photos looking like you took them through tears… special…

    • dukeslee

      Hi Brianne,

      Thank you! The photos were taken from my iPhone, so the blurry effect is just from the waving of the palms. I uploaded the picture to picnik and lightened the photo, then saturated the color. … I love the observations of you, Susan and some of the others, who see something more than I ever intended or imagined. That’s the beauty, I think, of sharing our words and our art in community. It is always enriched by the input of others. I’m really glad you’ve come by, Brianne. May you experience God’s holiness in exciting new ways this week!

  18. Laura

    Soaking in this story. Plan to read it to my girls. A wise friend once told me to help my girls memorize scripture while they were young, while they thought it was a huge accomplishment. We’ve practices this and some day, no matter where their lives lead, I hope this scriptures emerge from the depths of their hearts to give them hope.

  19. Sarah

    I am new here! What a lovely post. I, too, need Him to ride straight in. I love Easter, love Holy Week and truly Love Jesus! Thank you for your post.

  20. Jennifer Ferguson

    How those moments are things that we can store up in our hearts, memories that will hold us over when we feel empty. Blessed is He…


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