Joshua Gorenflo

Joshua Gorenflo is one of my current caregivers.

He doesn’t fit the mold of who I usually hire.  He is 29 years old and married to a wonderful woman named Jenny.  He has a degree in Christian ministry.  He is also one of the most genuinely compassionate human beings I will ever know this side of Heaven.  He came into my life at a time when many people in my immediate support system had left, and the timing could not have been more perfect. He has literally been a Godsend to me.  From the very beginning, we just clicked and have always seemed to understand each other.

Because he is a writer like I am, I asked him how he would feel about writing a guest post on my blog, about his experience working for me.  When he agreed I don’t know what I expected exactly.

Lots of stories move me.  This one made me cry.

Joshua is without a doubt one of the best caregivers I have ever had in my almost 30 years of hiring people to help meet my needs.  And that is for many reasons besides the fact that he knows not to automatically pick up a dropped pencil.

His words follow:

When I moved to Lawrence, Lorraine was one of the first people I met. My wife found a post on Craigslist advertising a job as a caregiver for a woman in a wheelchair. She thought I’d be good for the position. I liked the idea, though I’ve not done anything of the sort before. All I really knew when I knocked on Lorraine’s door for the interview was her love for the written word and something about parsley. Or palsy.

I forget which one.

It’s been 3 or 4 months since then and I know more about her now. I have seen firsthand her strength to live each day with determination, purpose, and meaning. I’ve watched her walk the better part of the distance of a 26.2-mile marathon on her parallel bars despite her legs’ refusal to cooperate. I’ve heard stories from her life plucked out from the obscurity of Chicken Soup for the Soul’s books she has been published in, and recited with her particular style, her unique voice, which adds a whole new depth. I’ve held her hand in prayer as she prepares for another restless night, as she takes another breath full of faith more profound than any that has entered my lungs.

I thought I knew what I was doing. I figured I’d come in and help where and how and as often as I could without needing to be told. Turns out my perception of service can be degrading to someone else’s determination. Now, I opt for respecting her ability, though from the outside it may look like I don’t care that she dropped her pencil as I watch her pick it up. When she needs help, she asks. When I stop assuming she is unable just because I can do something faster and easier, then maybe I’ll witness an essential portion of the human spirit I’ve neglected in my haste. So I remind myself as I pull into the driveway for each of my shifts that I am here for Lorraine’s benefit, not my own.

Turns out I’m blessed all the same.

I really should have expected it coming from a fellow writer, her reverence for saying it right. Not handicapped, but accessible. Person with a disability, not disabled person (“We are people first, Joshua!”). Consumers, not clients or patients. It’s one of the reasons I took the job, to glean wisdom from this beautiful soul whose character and experience stretches beyond my own. To learn how to respect, communicate with and dignify people who are different than me.

The more time I spend with Lorraine, the more I hear about her life, the more I share the struggles of her pursuits and hopes, the more I listen to her fears, I understand something weightier about the divine who is present in our world. God-platitudes and convenient church answers don’t work in our relationship and I find that to be a breath of fresh air. The raw ache present in all humanity, the desperate cry for ‘Be here now! Please connect with me!’  is poignant when we are together and it grounds me in soil that is true and good.

There is a lot I admittedly do not know these days. Most of the time, I’m tired and busy and making pitiful attempts to be a good husband and friend and son and brother. But this I do know: I am grateful for Lorraine’s friendship. I only hope I can give to her as much as she does to others. Or at least being there to pick up the occasional dropped pencil.