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Editor's note: We have all experienced times when our world falls apart around us. At those moments, we long for someone who will just reach out and love us through the darkness. Recently my friend, Eva Marie Everson, experienced this kind of loss. And by God's grace she found the friends she needed to help her see the light of Christ in the darkness of that moment. Here is her story.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… (Matthew 25: 35 NIV).
Imagine being miles – states, even – away from home. Imagine you are on vacation or on a work-centered trip. And then, imagine you, or a loved one traveling with you, becomes seriously ill. So sick, in fact, a hospital stay will not only be necessary, but will also be extensive.
In May 2010, that scenario became my reality. My mother and I were at the LifeWay conference center in North Carolina (Ridgecrest) when Mother became critically ill. An ambulance was dispatched. During frantic minutes as I waited for the EMS to arrive, I stuffed a few things in a small bag … items to get us through the next day. Or two, if necessary. An hour later, I crouched in the hallway outside my mother’s ER room, crying. Things were not going well. Doctors and nurses were rushing in and out of her room. A crash cart had been pushed in. I turned my face toward the wall just as a hand touched my right shoulder. When I looked up, a kind priest smiled down at me. He was from the hospital chaplaincy; his name was David. He was there to help.
During the night my brother arrived at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC after a four-hour drive north. Once Mother was settled in NTICU and we were allowed to visit her for fifteen minutes, my brother and I found two very small sofas in the waiting room. We draped our weary bodies over them, feet dangling off the edges, and attempted to sleep.
We managed to get about an hour each.
The next morning, as our mother was being prepped for surgery, another member of the chaplaincy – a Jewish man named Wolfe – walked into her room and said he’d like to pray with us if we were open. Oh yes, we said, we were surely open. After Mother had been wheeled out by three OR angels, Wolfe told us there was an opening at The Rathbun Center if we needed a place to stay.
A place to stay? Where we would land after Mother’s surgery had hardly been on my mind. But I now learned that where out-of-towners lodge is a part of the chaplain’s job. Since the doctors had informed us we could be looking at a fourteen-day stay – maybe more – this bit of information became vital. “The Rathbun Center,” Wolfe said, “will give you a place, free of charge, for the next twenty-one days.”
View photos of The Rathbun Center from Eva Marie
Seven hours later, after Mother had come through surgery and we’d been given a report by the doctor, my brother and I left the hospital property, following a simple map. We drove the car up a winding hill. Asphalt gave way to gravel and then sand. Embankments, thick green foliage, and majestic trees rose on both sides of us. Finally, after a sharp right turn, green gave way to carefully laid out gardens, walking paths, and a rambling house of 30,000 square feet with wrap around porches, private balconies, and inviting wide windows.
We were given a quick tour, a list of necessary house rules, and were then escorted to our room. I smiled at my brother as we placed our luggage to the floor. “We haven’t slept in twin beds in the same room since we were toddlers,” I reminded him.
There are twenty-five guest rooms at The Rathbun Center, each decorated simply with two twin beds, a bedside table, a chest of drawers, and a chair. Each room has access to two rollaway beds and a private balcony (with rockers) that overlooks acres of nature’s finest sanctuary. There are phones and alarm clock radios in the rooms but no televisions. “This is to encourage our guests into the common area,” Caryl Dean, House Director, told me later.
The common area is a large room, amply lit by the sunlight that spills through two walls of windows during the day and overhead lighting in the evening. It was here we met Mark, whose father had open heart surgery, Debbie, whose mother – like ours – was critically ill, Mary, whose husband was at Mission, and Jeanie. Jeanie’s mother and father were visiting her in rural North Carolina when her father became ill. When it was necessary to bring him to Mission, Jeanie knew that the trip back and forth would be too much for her and her family. The doors of Rathbun were opened to her and her mother for the duration of her father’s hospital stay. Over the next week, it was in this room – where meals are eaten, television is watched, puzzle pieces are connected, games are enjoyed, and lifetime friendships are formed – that my brother and I talked, cried, and prayed with the other residents.
Next to the common area is a large quartered kitchen. Within each quarter are two refrigerators, a stove and oven, double sinks, microwave, and cabinets with enough dishes, glassware and tableware to serve more than the Rathbun Center can house. The refrigerators are assigned; four rooms to each. The community is constantly bringing in food available to anyone who has come in and not had an opportunity to buy their own. A private ministry offers Pizza Night once a month. While we were there another group brought in grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and all the fixings. There were often homemade or store-bought cookies on the counter, free to the residents. Beyond the kitchen, each room has a small, locked pantry for their private purchases. Coffee is supplied in the common area, also free of charge.
Among the other rooms in the house are a library (with computer), a meditation room, intimate social areas (beside the common area), laundry rooms, day rooms with half-baths, and the welcoming area. Outside, along the wrap around porches, are rockers and a water garden. Behind the center is a play area for children. Counseling literature is also available in the common area, local information material provided at the welcome center, and a shuttle provides transportation to and from the hospital several times a day.
The Rathbun Center opened its doors in 1994 and, to date, has provided lodging to over 17,000 families. The concept for the center was born in the heart and mind of Adelaide Daniels Key who, while undergoing cancer treatment, watched other patients make multiple trips (sometimes daily) from outside the Asheville area to the hospital. Ms. Key solicited the support of the community, started a campaign to raise the money necessary and – in time – was able to buy an 18-acre tract of land. Nicknamed “The House with a Heart,” The Lewis Rathbun Center was officially named after Dr. Lewis Rathbun, a longtime friend of Ms. Key, both of who now serve on the Board of Directors.
One of the most amazing elements of the center is that it is operated by donations; guests are never charged for their stay. Ninety-one volunteers currently keep the center running smoothly. There are also four fulltime and four part-time staff members. Even the gardens were planted by volunteer garden clubs.
All of this for those whose lives have turned upside down. People like my brother and me, who – with so much other on their minds – don’t need to worry about where they’re going to sleep or eat. Those who need the camaraderie of others who are just like them, or who need a quiet place to pray or think at the end of a long day.
Our stay ended a week after it began when our mother slipped from this life and into Glory. On hearing the news, our new “family” wrapped us in their love and warmth. Since then we’ve remained in contact with several of them. We are forever bonded, and eternally grateful to a woman named Adelaide and a place called The Rathbun Center.
While the Rathbun Center is not a religion-affiliated operation, God’s love is felt in every nook and cranny. The house breathes His peace. The staff and volunteers show His kindness and His nature – so beautifully displayed around the house – offers His respite.
For more information about The Rathbun Center or to learn how you can make a donation, go to: http://www.rathbuncenter.org/
View photos of The Rathbun Center from Eva Marie (Photos © Eva Marie Everson)
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Reflections of God's Holy Land
Israel: The Fifth Gospel
Eva Marie Everson is the co-author of the award-winning Reflections of God’s Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel (Thomas Nelson). For more information about Eva Marie, the book, or to have her come speak to your group, go to: http://www.evamarieeverson.com/.
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