Floppy hat, broad smile, and a twinkle in her eye, sitting in her wheelchair with her pink hat on and summer dress, she lifted her arm and gave me a nod with her head tilted sideways.
Three years ago, I met Jane at a church singles baseball game. Actually, I met her caregiver Patrick, first on the baseball field. I asked the captain of my team to place me where the balls would not fly—since I am neither a good catcher nor thrower. I just like to bat.
“Left outfield,” he told me, and there I met Patrick.
“Do you go to the Chapel?” I asked Patrick before I even knew his name.
“Yes, I attend with my patient Jane. We also go on Saturdays to B’rith Hadoshah, the Messianic Jewish Synagogue in Kenmore.”
“I’ve been there before,” I said. “It’s the only Messianic Jewish Synagogue in the Buffalo area.”
“Yes, we love it there,” Patrick said, “and at the Chapel.”
After the game, I spoke to Jane. She couldn’t speak verbally; instead she used the end of a pencil to touch squares of colored letters on a word board sitting on her lap. She spelled out her words quickly forming them into sentences. Even though I tried to follow her hand around the board as best I could, Patrick read much faster—almost anticipating her words. Over and over we communicated as though we had known each other a very long time.
That day sparked a friendship over the next three years that I will cherish for a lifetime. Jane was full of zest and life and clearly demonstrated Jesus. I’d never seen a person in a wheelchair who showed such contentment despite her circumstances.
Jane contracted encephalitis at the age of twenty-two, right after graduating from college with her chemistry degree. After enduring multiple surgeries and medical treatments, she resided at the Erie County Home and Infirmary for more than twenty years. While living there, she returned to the University of Buffalo to get her Master’s degree with dogged determination. Jane used her degree for some time, coding curves for the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
About six years ago, she was able–through a state grant–to rent a single room apartment at the Jewish Federation Apartments with 24-hour aide service. This allowed her much more freedom in her comings and goings as she had a van service that drove her to appointments and other events. When I met her at the picnic she was about sixty-two years old.
Due to Jane’s many physical issues, I suggested she come for physical therapy where I worked at Erie County Medical Center. She had received much therapy in the past, but could benefit from a tune-up. For about six months I put her through walking, stretching, and even stair climbing. Although difficult, she succeeded at short distance walking with a walker with wheels and one or two people assisting her. She got to the point of going around the entire lobby and doing some stairs with much help.
Unfortunately the carryover in her home environment was not there. The aides infrequently offered to walk with her or help with her exercises. With me, her exercising and walking was a priority, but Jane–who wanted to do social things and go to her church–sometimes forgot to do them.
One Christmas season after I had discharged her from physical therapy at the hospital, Patrick and Jane asked if I would like to help them deliver Hanukkah gifts to the residents in her building. They had done this sometimes several times a year near the Jewish High Holidays. I agreed, thinking it was no big deal. Little did I know the operation Jane had set up–boxes full of plastic bags surrounded her kitchen. Each bag contained some candy, a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah note, and a list of the times of services at the Messianic Jewish Synagogue.
For the next two weekends I helped Jane and Patrick ring doorbells and deliver these gifts. Many Jewish immigrants from Russia lived in the building and Patrick was able to converse with them, as he had lived there for two years doing missions work.
I loved helping Jane and Patrick with these deliveries. Sometimes the people invited us in for tea, other times no one answered the door–although you could hear a television in the background, and some just took the bag and quickly shut the door.
Jane’s heart was so pure, in that she regularly prayed for lost people. Through her limited abilitie she used herself for God’s glory as His ambassador in a world where most physical and speech disabilities are looked upon as ruining lives. She saw her challenges as temporary disabilities until she saw her Savior in Heaven. Instead she brought life to people—through her love of Jesus.
She had her flaws like all of us do. Very persistent in what she wanted, she was hard to slow down. That persistence had advantages too–in showing others that Jesus is the Messiah, she would never give up. On the back of her electric wheelchair the bumper sticker read, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” and on her manual wheelchair the sticker said, “My Father is a Jewish Carpenter.”
One day she e-mailed me that her aide, Kim, had trusted in Jesus as her Savior. Jane prayed and talked to Kim for several years and truly a life transformation had occurred.
On Sundays, Jane, and whoever her aide was for that day, would sit in the front of the church near the Pastor’s wife, Edie. With all her strength Jane would lift her right arm in tune to the music, praising God with a broad smile on her face. At times though, I’d see her dozing off during the service from all the medications she took.
Nothing seemed to discourage her. Despite her intense physical infirmities, as long as she could get there, she attended services every Saturday and Sunday along with many other events—singles and women’s Bible studies, attending apologetic meetings, and taking classes at the University at Buffalo. At Darien Lake Amusement Park for the Kingdom Bound Festival, Patrick shocked me by lifting Jane onto rides. We all rode the Ferris wheel together. She looked happy!
Of all the people I know who needed someone, Jane seemed the least likely. She needed someone for her physical care, of course, but she really just enjoyed people and had such strong faith in God. When I looked at Jane, I saw a woman in a wheelchair with a sideways-bent neck, orthopedic shoes, scars from multiple surgeries, and finger deformities… yet holding out one arm for a hug.
Now that I have known Jane, I notice deeper qualities—a will of steel, so much love for the Lord and others, and a special quality of excitement that you wanted to inhale. When someone asked her how she was doing, she usually wrote on her board, “I’m blessed and highly favored by the Lord.” She also loved to point to the words “Praise the Lord.”
Things just didn’t get her down much except when someone didn’t believe in Jesus or fell ill–then I would see the tears flowing in buckets. God was and is always in control and she knew it, but she was human as well, with feelings that ran deep.
I saw Jane as my spiritual mother, someone I could go to for godly advice and wisdom. “Jane, I would ask, “what do you think I should do about this…?”
She almost always gave me time despite the many friends that would flock around her to give a hug and talk with her. Jane was a very close friend of mine, nearly a best friend, not because she had all the answers, but because she was such a source of encouragement for me.
Several times, I would get phone calls on Sunday mornings via a relay system.
“Pam, the van isn’t coming, could you kindly pick me up?” Always with manners, Jane never forgot please and thank you, even if it did take more time to communicate.
My feelings told me it was quite an inconvenience as I had to get her out of the wheelchair, transfer her into my SUV, and load her wheelchair and bags of medical supplies she needed for her PEG tube feedings through her stomach. Her nurse’s aide would accompany us in my vehicle too.
Nearly every time Jane asked for a ride, I said yes, unless she called extremely late in the morning. The result was always the same—I felt so blessed! For the extra time and trouble needed to get her anywhere, she was such a joy to be around and a fellow sister in Christ who I served for the King.
At one point, Jane got very sick and was hospitalized at Erie County Medical Center for several weeks which turned into over a month. I would run up to see her on lunch breaks and after work. I looked at her communication board while I stroked her hair that was moistened with sweat. Most people would not have the type of frequently used words printed on her board that she had—Hallelujah, PTL for Praise the Lord, joy and many more to refer to God who gave her the strength she needed through adversity.
“God,” I prayed silently, “only if it be Your will, take her. She is such a good friend, for my own selfish reasons, I don’t want her to leave this earth yet. Please heal her.”
Eventually God did heal her, but not the way I hoped for. Jane passed away recently, leaving this earth for a new home, one where she will live with Jesus forever–in Heaven. Out of her wheelchair now and with a new body, I’m sure she’s as active as ever and singing loud and clear to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jane’s strong and determined will taught me and many others to live everyday for Jesus. She shined her light pointing others to Him. It’s easy to thank God when things go well, but to see someone praise Him when life has dealt them such a difficult hand– unable to speak or move very freely–only with Christ in us is that possible!