Thursday, February 26, 2009
Several years ago, my pastor challenged us to ask God for an assignment, then watch what happens. It was going to be risky, for sure, because it would upset my carefully laid schedule and might even nudge me into doing something I wouldn't ordinarily volunteer to do.
I went home enthusiastic, but I grudgingly asked for an assignment. In my heart, I hoped he wouldn't answer, because my week was already full with deadlines and appointments. Of course, God knew my thoughts and he's the best reader of my motives and intents, too. So he must have gotten a good laugh out of my halfhearted attempt to open myself to an assignment I didn't really want.
That afternoon, it arrived in the form of an envelope addressed to someone named Bob McKinley. Five houses down from us lived an older couple I'd never met. Oh, I'd waved to them as they passed, if I happened to be outside weeding flowers or getting in or out of my car. Didn't know their names, though. Who has time for names of people who live halfway down the street?
The envelope sat on my kitchen counter for a couple of days, until I felt that unmistakable nudge. So, are you going to complete your assignment? God whispered into my thoughts. You did ask for it, you know.
That afternoon, I took the envelope to the address on its label, and knocked on this stranger's door. I had every intention of handing over their mail and heading home, until a sweet eighty-something woman opened her door and greeted me with a wide grin. "Well, well, well! Look who's here, Hon'," she called over her shoulder.
A male voice responded with, "Come on in!"
Their names were Bob and Miriam. Nice old couple whose children lived several states away. Bob's words came in measured doses, and an oxygen tank sat at his side like a spare leg. We talked about trips they'd taken, and hobbies they'd grown to love. At one point, Miriam motioned me into the kitchen to help her pour tea for the three of us, but she really wanted to fill in the blanks. "He has cancer," she whispered. "Terminal." A retired oncology nurse, Miriam had been caring for him there at home. Her first husband had lost his battle with cancer, and she said she was thrilled when she and Bob had found each other five years later.
"Bob was my high school sweetheart. Can you imagine? Seventy years later, we reconnected. Both of us had lost our spouses." Her eyes clouded. "And now this," she said, patting my arm. I thought I was going to cry.
We visited for well over an hour, and when it was time to go, I promised to return in a few days. Sunshine warmed my neck as I walked home, and I found myself thinking, If Bob's mail hadn't been delivered to the wrong house, I would have missed meeting this dear couple.
Three days later, I learned that Bob had died in his sleep. His passing made me more aware of the world outside my door, and how little it takes to make someone happy. Stranger or friend, neighbor or internet acquaintance--everybody needs a touch every now and then.
God knew I needed that specific assignment, and I'll be forever grateful.