The Rev Margreet Armitstead on her experiences working in a brain injury rehabilitation centre
During my ordination training I worked for some time in a brain injury rehabilitation centre. This was a home for 13 adults who, at some point, had sustained such mental and physical damage they could no longer be cared for by their own families.
Toby, an elderly man, had had a stroke, was partially lame, and had become so unpredictable and aggressive it was no longer possible for his wife to look after him.
Sarah, a lady in her late forties, had had a very difficult childhood, which included the death of her young mum, and a problematic relationship with a step-mum. She had tried to commit suicide twice, the second time by throwing herself off a railway bridge.
Jack, a man in his mid-thirties, went through a red traffic light when he was 19, while under the influence of alcohol.
Issues such as God’s forgiveness, love, or judgement cannot be approached with superficial answers in a place like this. On the one hand, the lives of people such as Toby and Sarah’s are shattered by events, influences over which they have next to no control. Yet on the other, one could so easily argue that people like Jack bring suffering on themselves, not to mention the others they put at risk by their reckless behaviour. But it would be a very pitiless judgement to say Jack deserved to spend the rest of his life paying for it.
Through the nature of our functional, daily chores as care providers, we often needed to enter into our clients’ personal space, a scenario that none of us would ever normally choose. Once I actually felt as though I heard a voice. It was something outside myself, which said, ‘This is heaven.’ It was very clear and completely out of the blue. The time was 9.30 in the morning, and I was buttering toast for one of the clients in the kitchen.
The thought that I could at that moment be in heaven, among this community of broken people, struggling through the day, doing mundane work, with nothing overtly religious going on, was startling indeed. But why should it be? In God’s kingdom people are loved and accepted for who and what they are, and there were times in the home when people felt exactly that. Everyone there was working and living towards the healing and wholeness of the community.
Psalm 139 expresses that no one exists outside God’s loving presence.
Whenever we ignore the silent or outspoken cries of those on the margins of society we deny God’s presence in them. In this way, Jesus always approached those on the margins with love and put them centre stage. Making some space in our lives for wounded people such as Toby, Sarah, or Jack may bring us, as well as them, to greater wholeness. And in so doing, inspire us to enrich our understanding of God, and His all-embracing love for each one of us.