Life is filled with difficulties and challenges. Some of us may have been hurt or abused in our childhood. Some of us may have had to struggle with chronic illness or physical disabilities. Some of us may have never had the chance to get a good education or a good job. This may have caused us to become angry and rebellious. It may have led to time in prison. It may have made it difficult for us to create a loving and stable family of our own. And then we may end up in a hospital and our life may be coming to its end and a chaplain stops by to hear our story of disappointment and heartbreak.
In thirty years of hospital ministry at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Chaplain Steven Stern has heard hundreds and hundreds of stories like this. In his book “Lost and Found” Chaplain Stern shares some of these stories for you to read. As you read them you have an opportunity to see that the difficulties of life may not only cause us to lose our way but there is always that element of grace present that shows us we can also be found. In our darkest moment, in a most unexpected way, in surprising and joyous moments, hope can be found and love can be received. This book may speak to you in your struggle. This book may help you to be the one who hears the story of the lost and speaks the word of grace so the lost can be found.
An excerpt from Chapter 2 of Lost and Found…
An Abused Sheep
You may have noticed that in the world of nature there is a significant amount of cruelty and abuse going on. You see a cat catch a mouse and then play with it, batting it between its paws before finally eating it. You see a flock of chickens discover a weak chicken in their midst and then proceed to peck that weak chicken to death. Human beings have the same inclinations for cruelty and abuse. There probably isn’t a school or neighborhood or work place or society where we don’t see people abusing others. Getting picked on because you are too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, a different color, a nerd, a geek, a different political persuasion is something that we see every day and every where we look.
Some people receive more abuse than others and Wayne was one of them. He was born into the world as an Oneida Indian in the city of Milwaukee. He was in the middle of a family of ten children. At an early age Wayne was picked on and kicked around by his older brothers. One example of Wayne’s daily life with his brothers was when his brothers put him in a card board box and sent him rolling down a hill. His brothers laughed and laughed when they saw Wayne bouncing and careening down the hill. They enjoyed scaring Wayne and seeing the panic on his face. Wayne did not laugh. Along with the tears of fright that streamed down his cheeks, rage began to burn in his heart that such a thing would be done to him.
At the age of ten Wayne’s mother was killed in a car accident. Shortly thereafter Wayne’s father decided he could not take care of his family. Wayne and his brothers ended up in an institution called the Milwaukee County Children’s Home. Here Wayne found that Indians were even lower than African Americans on the social scale. On a routine basis Wayne and his brothers were beaten and harassed by the black children. It took some time for Wayne and his brothers to grow strong enough and smart enough so that they could defend themselves. Wayne had now discovered that if you are stronger and meaner than those who are after you they will stop abusing you. He also discovered you can inflict a little abuse of your own. Wayne found that he kind of liked being an abuser rather than the one being abused.
When he was about twelve years old Wayne was placed into foster care with a family who belonged to a Lutheran Church. They sent Wayne to Lutheran Elementary school and he began to take confirmation lessons to learn the basic teachings of the Bible. Yet even in this Christian environment Wayne still felt like an outsider. He knew he didn’t fit it. He knew he was different from the majority of the other kids who came from white, middle-class families. Wayne acted out his feelings by goofing off in confirmation class. The Pastor didn’t like this. He felt that Wayne was a trouble maker. On confirmation day when all the children in the confirmation class put on their gowns and sat in the front of the church to receive their confirmation certificates Wayne did not show up. Wayne told me he didn’t go because he was afraid. He just couldn’t bear the thought of all those people looking at him. The pastor concluded that Wayne wasn’t interested in being confirmed. He sent Wayne a letter in which he told Wayne that it was obvious that Wayne did not cherish the things of God. Therefore in the pastor’s opinion Wayne was now in the hands of Satan.
Wayne went on to high school and there he found his first serious girl friend. She came from an abusive home life and this may have been part of the attraction between her and Wayne. She felt that Wayne understood her because of what he had been through. He didn’t call her names. He didn’t put her down. They became intimate and she became pregnant and they got married.
But the joy and passion soon faded between Wayne and his wife. Wayne was trying to work and support his family but he also liked to drink and fight and hang out with his buddies. Wayne’s wife constantly complained that he wasn’t helping enough. He wasn’t bringing home enough money. He was drinking too much. Their relationship became more and more adversarial.
As their marriage was deteriorating Wayne and some of his friends got the bright idea that they should break into a box car and take the beer that they knew was inside. Piling as many cases as they could into a pickup truck they hauled it to Wayne’s garage and the party began. Word got around that Wayne had free beer and it wasn’t long and the beer was gone. Wayne’s wife was not amused. She proceeded to call the police and turned Wayne in. As Wayne was arrested and went to trial he found out that robbing a box car is a federal offense. He was sent to Federal prison. This proved to be the end of his marriage.
After he got out of prison Wayne found another job and got back into drinking and fighting. Wayne was very strong and weighed well over two hundred pounds. He got a lot of enjoyment out of hitting people with his fists. That old anger from way back in his life made him a formidable foe. He didn’t stop until he had beaten his opponent into the ground. Eventually this behavior got Wayne charged with a felony and he went back to prison. This time he was sent to Waupun Correctional Institute in Waupun, Wisconsin. Wayne found prison another place where he was put down and he continued to take and give abuse. A couple of guys at Waupun tried to reach out to Wayne. They invited him to come with them to a Bible class but Wayne laughed at them. He pulled out the letter he had gotten from the pastor at the Lutheran Church he had gone to as a child. “The devil has me,” he told them and they left him alone.
Wayne got out of Waupun and found another job. He worked for an excavator who did sewer installations. Wayne knew how to operate all the heavy equipment. He had lots of construction skills. On the side Wayne also took care of rental properties for friends of his. He could do plumbing, electrical, and carpentering work. So he had work skills and a pretty good income but Wayne was not a happy man. He still needed to drink and do drugs. He kept his thoughts and feelings to himself. He still had the feeling that he was an inferior person.
Wayne knew he had high blood pressure. He knew his diet and life style were not good choices for a person with his kind of weight and blood pressure numbers. But he kept on doing what he had done for so many years until one morning he woke up to get ready for work and he found out he had lost the feeling on one side of his body. He was able to dial 911 before he collapsed. By the time he was brought into the emergency room he was in the midst of a major stroke. When the damage was done Wayne was totally immobilized and he could not speak. When the hospital determined that Wayne’s situation was such that physical therapy would give him no benefit they sent him to a nursing home to live out the rest of his days.
In the nursing home Wayne found himself back where he had begun his life. Just as he had been weak and helpless as a child he now was dependent on others to feed and bathe him. Although Wayne knew what was going on he was not able to communicate what he wanted so he had to wait until the staff had the time and inclination to take care of him. He soon found out that the staff thought he was a total vegetable. They talked about him negatively in his presence thinking he wouldn’t know what they were saying. They didn’t always give him the care he needed when he needed it. They didn’t think it mattered. Wayne had gone through so much abuse in his life but this was almost more than he could bear.
One day Wayne became so enraged that he opened his mouth and said, “Damn it!” Needless to say the staff that was taking care of him almost jumped out of their skin. “Whoa,” they said, “Wayne can talk.” And when they realized that they also realized they had said a lot of insulting things to him. They realized that he knew when they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. Wayne began to say more words. Wayne began to tell people what he needed. He got back the use of his left hand. He was now able to raise and lower his bed and use the remote to change the channels on his TV set.