Sunday, August 12, 2012

Inconvenient Truth

  A number of years ago, when three of my children were still quite young, afternoon naps were my favorite part of the day.   Each child knew that they were going to go to their room for an hour after lunch, and either work on school work or listen to a book on cd, sleep, or stare out the window. I would do much the of the same. There were some days I looked forward to Quiet Time, as we called it, as soon as breakfast was finished.  There were even some days when I considered hiding in the laundry room until Quiet Time.

I have a memory of one of those days, one of those more difficult days, one of those days when it seemed that no child remembered how to do anything I had taught them the day before, there was 'nothing to eat that was good' (that is a direct quote), laundry was behind, dishes were stacked, and I looked like I was prepared to audition for a new zombie movie. I was waiting for my husband, Lee, to come home for lunch while staring out the window. I should tell you that we used to live in a parsonage house that was in our church's parking lot.  I could people watch all the live long day.

At any rate, I noticed a woman shuffling her way through the parking lot to the front doors of our church. It was not unusual for people to come and go throughout the day but something in her countenance caught my eye. Loneliness rolled off of her.  Not long after she went in to the building my husband came out and the children were cheering because they knew that Daddy would be a distraction from their school work, at least for a bit. We ate lunch and as we cleared the table the lonely woman exited the building. She was pushing a cart filled with boxes from our food pantry.  Her walking was so labored I could not imagine how she was going to make it up the hill and out onto the main road where the bus stop was.

I looked at my children, and my house that needed my attention, and thought, "Crap. I know what I should do but I don't want to."  I had things to do, for Pete's sake. I had a schedule to keep and taking some woman that I didn't even know was not penciled in.

I asked Lee if he could stay with the kids and told him I needed to run an errand, grabbed my keys off the hook in the kitchen and headed for the door.  I hastily walked to the freezer to grab some vegetable soup I had put away, just as a second thought.

"You're going to give that woman a ride home aren't you, Mom?"  my daughter asked.  I just smiled.

I beckoned the woman over and loaded her cart into the back of my van.  It wasn't cold yet but she was dressed in very warm clothes. It was still late summer. I guessed her age to be around 80 and wondered where her family was, or if she had any. I told her my name and she shared hers  - Linda. Linda wasn't sure where she lived but was able to take my by way of her bus route to her house. Needless to say, we took the long way.

I didn't want to pry but neither did I want to ride in silence. I asked questions that are normal for small talk. I learned that she had a daughter, heart problems, lived alone, occasionally worked, and liked to go to church if there was good music or a rummage sale.  I also learned that Linda was only 60.  I couldn't imagine what had happened in her life that had put so many extra years on her body.  I won't lie, Linda seemed a little off, but not in the scary kind of way.  With Linda's directions we finally arrived at her building and I parked in front. I got out and unloaded her cart and gave her the plastic container with the frozen soup in it.  As I prepared to tell Linda goodbye she, in her very quiet and slow speech, asked for my phone number.

The whole way home I replayed the scene in my head. I do not give my number out to strangers, but I had written my number down on a scrap of paper I found on the floorboard of my van and handed it to Linda. I had also told Linda that our church was having a rummage sale in a few weeks.

A couple of weeks went by and as life goes, Linda dropped off my radar.

Until the morning of the rummage sale at our church. Our home phone rang at 5:45 a.m.  It was Linda wanting to make sure this was the right day for the sale. I assured her that it was the right day, inwardly kicking myself for giving her my home number.  She also asked if I had anymore vegetable soup.

Over the next several months Linda flitted in and out of my life like a moth in pursuit of something unseen.   Sometimes I did the right thing - the salt and light thing - making her vegetable soup and taking her home. Sadly, there were other times that I batted her away, hoping that someone else would pick up my slack and that my hurried prayers were enough. I confess there were times I pretended not to see her, or shooed the children away from the blinds, or on the very worst day, refused to answer the door.  I hate myself a little bit for those moments of weakness and for a long time felt that those moments darkened any Light I had attempted to share.

At some point, late in the winter, I realized that Linda had not called or come around. She had not visited our food pantry in some time, either.  I was concerned and relieved all at once.  We went on with life.  Linda was only a thought that crossed my hurried mind occasionally.

One afternoon in spring the phone rang during our ritual Quiet Time. I answered it without thinking. The woman on the other end explained that she was Linda's daughter, and that Linda had died of a heart attack and had been found on her couch. It seemed a peaceful death, her daughter said.  I wasn't sure why I had been called.

"My mother was ill, she was schizophrenic, and we have been estranged. I don't know much about her life. Her doctor's number was on a cork board by the phone, and your number was next to it. I just wondered if you were friends with my mother."  Grief deepened her voice but I could feel the hope as well, the hope that I could offer a glimpse into her mother's life.

I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I had a flashbulb memory of that dirty piece of paper, discarded on the floor of my car, that I had begrudgingly written my phone number on.  How had my piece of trash become so important?

I shared with Linda's daughter that we were friends, that I enjoyed her mother's company, that I sometimes gave her rides and that she enjoyed my homemade vegetable soup.  I shared that I thought that Linda was happy.  I offered my sympathy and prayers and hung up.

I was shattered. I felt like a liar and a cheat and a jerk. I sat at my table and wept harder than I had in a very long time. I cried bitter tears for the times I had treated Linda as an inconvenience or seen her presence as an intrusion into my carefully orchestrated life.  After I finished crying bitter tears and begged forgiveness I cried tears of joy, joy that Jesus had seen me, broken vessel that I am, fit to use in Linda's difficult life.  How can I not praise my God who allows the weak to comfort the weak?

Linda left an indelible mark on my life, unseen but deeply felt.  After finding out that Linda had left my life before I really knew she was in it I learned to embrace inconvenient events.  I still occasionally huff and puff, but for the most part I accept that what we humans see as a disruption God sees as an opportunity.  Friends who have been in our home know that people come and go constantly. Thanks to Linda, we have an open door policy. I'm not bragging about that either, because it is not me. It is a true work of the Holy Spirit. If I had my way I'd hole up in my room and read all day, or Pin, or watch movies. When I read the stories of Jesus and see that He always acted at inopportune moments I am convicted.

In Matthew 14 we read that John the Baptist is beheaded.  Verses 13-14 say, "When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick."  (emphasis mine)

Surely if Jesus, after hearing such sad news, could take compassion on a crowd and heal them, I can have compassion on a day to day basis.

Even when it's inconvenient.

After all, He always seems to have time for me.


  1. You are an amazing writer - truly a God given talent. Thank you for stepping on my toes. I love you sister!

    1. I love you, too. I am sending you internet hugs. :) xo

  2. Absolutely wonderful writing Kara. You truly are an inspiration and God sees all that good that you have done and continue to do.

    1. Thank you, sweet cousin. That means a lot to me.

  3. We all have Lindas in our lives. Thank you for reminding me to take care of mine. I love and miss you. -Moosh

    1. You're welcome for the reminder. You're the one who taught me to love like Jesus. xo

  4. wow. wow. wow. this is beautiful, kara. too often, i ignore the lindas. thank you for reminding me that through his spirit we can do the hard things like this. xo

    1. Thanks for reading, Anna. As iron sharpens iron, my friend.

  5. Hallelujah, I just love this. I'm here covered in goose bumps. This is what living looks like. Being shattered = really living. I'm more and more convinced of it.

    What a beautiful, vulnerable story, K. You shared it so well.

    1. I just wish I could remember it every day, every moment. Thanks for reading!