My wife Dawn and I moved two thousand miles away from Chicago to Thousand Oaks, CA in 1994 with our new baby Miranda. By 1998 we also had two boys which made getting back to the Midwest to see parents and grandparents an even greater challenge. We also found out that child #3 is really a game changer!Growing up Appleton, WI with grandparents nearby was wonderful, so I knew what our children were missing. I had the strong sense that God was tapping me on the shoulder to do something about it. So one sunny day on our way home from church, we stopped off at the Thousand Oaks Healthcare Center nursing home. After walking in, I approached a member of the nursing staff and asked if there was a senior who might enjoy a weekly visit by our young family. The nurse thought about it for a moment and then said, “Juanita Spencer! She would love visitors! Do you want to meet her now?” I said “Sure!”, and we headed down the hallway, stroller and all, to meet Juanita. When we arrived at her room she was sitting in her wheelchair watching TV. The moment we walked in she immediately perked up and shut off the TV. The nurse introduced us and then left us alone to get to know each other. We ended up spending an hour with Juanita and had a great time. She shared stories of when she was in culinary school, and her love of creating original recipes and preparing food. She told us about her upbringing, her late husband, and son that lived a few hours away. We promised to stop by after church the following Sunday, which became our weekly routine. Visiting her with young children was challenging some weeks, but it was well worth it. In September our fourth child, a son was born. It took Dawn and me only moments to decide on a name - Spencer, in honor of Juanita. When we brought Spencer over to see Juanita for the first time she had a gift for him – a card and $25 to purchase a savings bond! She said it had been a long while since she held a baby and was excited to hold him.For Christmas we flew back to the Midwest to visit our families. After returning to CA, we stopped in to see Juanita and found out that she had passed away during our vacation. Although we were saddened, we were so thankful that we were able to share our lives with Juanita. She made a big difference to us and I know she felt special every time we stopped by.This experience continues to remind me that when you put yourself out there and dare to make a difference in another person’s life, you get blessed in the process. We only knew Juanita Spencer for just over a year, but those were precious months that I would do all over again.
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