His name was Norman. Norman Sikes. He was only in his forties, but he lived in the nursing home at the north edge of Gas City, Indiana. He lived in the home because he had recently become blind from diabetic retinopathy, and needed help with most daily tasks. Those who are blind from birth know no other way of life, but those who become blind later in life have a difficult time adjusting, especially Norman.
I was assigned to Norman when I called the nursing home, asking if I could volunteer there. I had pictured myself sitting around with a group of older ladies knitting, or maybe painting fingernails, or taking a resident for a leisurely stroll around the property.
But I was assigned Norman. My task was to pick Norman up once per week and take him to a grief support group fifteen minutes away. Someone else would come to pick him up after the group. So every week for months on end, I drove to the nursing home to get Norman and took him to his support group.
I felt bad for Norman. I was a terrible guide. We would be walking and talking and I would forget to tell him about things like: curbs, bushes, doors. All of these are very important obstacles for a blind person to know about. I also realized how often I used phrases like, “You see . . .” or “The way I look at things . . .” I use sight-based clichés way too often.
As difficult as our time together was for Norman, it wasn’t easy for me either.
Norman was the very definition of a curmudgeon. I asked Norman if he would like me to describe the scenery as we drove, so he could picture in his mind what was going on. No. He had been a driver around the streets of Marion for years, and he did not need me to tell him where we were. He knew.
I asked him if he would be interested in me picking up some books on tape for him at the local library, so he could enjoy wonderful literature. No. He was just fine with his TV and his radio.
Most days, there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about with Norman. It seemed like most subjects just upset him. He had lost so much. He had lost his sight. His job. His family was unwilling to let him live with them, so he moved into a nursing home, in his forties. There simply weren’t a whole lot of positive elements in his life.
No wonder he needed to attend a grief support group.
On one clear fall day, I was making the trip with Norman, and somehow we came upon the subject of death. It wasn’t surprising, given his morose personality.
“The thing is Miss Robin, I don’t even know if I died if I would go to heaven or not.”
I couldn’t believe those words had just left his mouth. It was a perfect opportunity. It was as if the light of heaven shone down on our car as we drove down Nebraska Street. The very words to answer his question were dancing on my lips. It was definitely a moment when the Holy Spirit was prompting both Norman’s heart, and mine.
I pulled the car over to the side of the road, walked him down the Roman’s road, prayed the sinner’s prayer with him, scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again! Healed and saved in the same moment!
At least that’s how it should have gone, in my mind.
Instead, I muttered something like, “Well, um, if you ever want to talk about that, we can.” We continued down the road in silence. The car arrived at our destination, and I walked Norman inside, and said good-bye. The opportunity slipped away.
It wasn’t long after that I stopped picking Norman up every week. Scheduling conflicts, he decided not to go, or a combination of the two. I never got another chance to talk to Norman about his relationship with Christ.
The following summer, I was scanning the newspaper for something, and I came across Norman’s brief obituary. He had died. His funeral was over by the time I even read the column. I was devastated, and filled with deep regret. How could I have missed the opportunity that was so clearly put in front of me by the Holy Spirit?
I don’t know where Norman is spending eternity. I pray that someone more eloquent and courageous answered his questions for Him.
In spite of my regret and uncertainty, I have come to realize that God didn’t need me in order to have saved Norman’s soul.
But I could have been used by God.
God doesn’t need me to accomplish His purposes. He allows me to be a part. And if I’m not careful, an opportunity that He presents to me will remain an eternal regret.
I learned an important lesson about lost opportunities from Norman. The sincere regret over not sharing my faith has forever changed the way I view potential possibilities to share Christ with my students, my friends, and my patients. I never want to miss another moment to share what the Holy Spirit lays on my heart.
I think in a strange way, what happened that day on Nebraska Street was one of the best things to have ever happened to me. Maybe there was a miracle on Nebraska Street after all.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6 NIV