Our Healing Garden Comes to Life

At Joseph’s House we are bringing to life a beautiful new healing garden – accessible to all of our residents, neighbors, and friends. The garden’s elegant, broadly curving ramp, now our main entrance, announces that for Joseph’s House providing full access for anyone who uses a wheelchair or a walker is our joy. The garden invites all who see it to pause, come in, sit down for a moment; rest in beauty. Breathe. In a strong way, our housemate Guya is responsible for our new healing garden. But so is my late husband, Pierre.

Several years ago when Pierre’s health was beginning to fail, he and I had a conversation about how it’s the simple, everyday things that matter so much and help our residents feel at home, to know they belong – to feel important and know they are loved. It’s the everyday kindnesses that connect us to one another.

Pierre and I made our home at Joseph’s House. And like many others who live here, Pierre often couldn’t sleep. When he got up in the middle of the night to smoke a cigarette on the porch, he was almost never there alone. Nearly always one of the residents couldn’t sleep either. They kept each other company, indulging in a cigarette with no one else there to raise an eyebrow. Pierre was the first to make coffee every morning and I can still see him at the dining room table with several other early risers – drinking coffee, newspaper spread out in front of them, talking sports. They were at home.

During our conversation, Pierre told me, “Everything is getting harder.” Struggling with heart disease, it took more energy for him to not only do the maintenance around the house, but also to befriend the folks at Joseph’s House. “I wish we knew a retired priest or good-natured monk who might join us,” he said half-jokingly. “Someone who would fall in love with Joseph’s House and want to live here.” I began to pray for that friend to come and find us. God did not send a priest or a monk. But he did send Guya!

I met Guya one Sunday morning at my small faith community not far from Joseph’s House. Talking with him after church he told me he had contracted polio as a child in rural Ethiopia and that all his life he has used a wheelchair. He spoke of being imprisoned and tortured for his activism on behalf of people with disabilities and his unwillingness to comply with the demands of the ruling party. Through God’s grace, Guya made it to the United States. Once he was here, he had no money, no friends or family, and no place to stay…except, remarkably, a nearby 7-11 where the employees spoke his language. They fed him and at night allowed him to sleep in a corner in his wheelchair, sweatshirt pulled up over his head for privacy. And then God made a way for Guya.

He found his way to my church and after the service that day I invited him to come and have lunch with us at Joseph’s House. The house has an elevator so it was easy for Guya to come in and share the meal at our table. He found his place so naturally with us and communicated so warmly with everyone that of one accord we invited him to “stay with us!” in our only available space – the meditation room – beautiful and accessible. He joyously said “Yes!”, and today it is nearly impossible to remember a time when Guya Deki was not part of the Joseph’s House community.

Guya has become the anchor at Joseph’s House that Pierre was hoping for and that I prayed for. He’s not the first to wake up and make coffee in the morning, but he does play chess and cards and dominoes, and he plays to win! He eats breakfast with us before leaving for college classes and he’s gently present when a person is confined to the bed and dying. Guya shares life in all its complexity at Joseph’s House and he has given the rest of us new eyes.

Several years ago at our annual memorial service in the garden, Scott Sanders, our deputy director, and I felt more than regret when Guya could not join with the rest of us to remember the men and women he’d known and accompanied at the bedside – the garden was inaccessible to him. He was left to watch from afar, alone on the deck above. More than regret, we felt compelled to make the situation right. Knowing how bravely Guya had advocated for people with disabilities back home, Scott was especially inspired to take bold action for Guya and for all those who come to Joseph’s House using a wheelchair or a walker, so that they, too, can be completely at home here.

It took longer than we thought it would, but at last the healing garden at Joseph’s House is a beautiful, accessible refuge. Guya is no longer excluded. No one is excluded from being able to pause and rest and pray in its green beauty whenever they like.

On Saturday, June 24, we will formally dedicate the garden to the memory of those who have died at Joseph’s House and to the wellbeing of all our residents, friends, and neighbors today and in the years to come. In the garden that day, we will also scatter some of Pierre’s ashes. Pierre died in his sleep of a heart attack several weeks ago.

On June 24, we will remember all those who have lived and died here since June 1990 when our doors first opened. We will remember and give thanks for our many friends who anchor Joseph’s House, as you do, with your friendship and prayers and financial support.

Please come and celebrate with us if you can. It will be a remarkable day. If you cannot be with us in person, know that we will be thinking of you, we will remember you.

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