We have a dear neighbor, a retired school teacher named Anne with an “e,” just like our daughter. She’s a fixture around Laguna, having served this community for over 50 years in any number of volunteer capacities, and even now has a regular shift as receptionist at the Friendship Center for homeless families. Last year she was honored at a well-attended reception for her years of service to the community.
Anne is wry, feisty, and very funny, and she’s lived alone all of her life, but for the companionship of her dog, Stanley, who is a stand-in for her beloved Hannah who died a few years ago. Like Hannah before him, Stanley is part of her telephone voicemail message stating, “Stanley does not do phone.” Cracks me up every time I hear it, even when I know it’s coming.
Anne fell last night, and when I returned from being out with Chandler, I found Marti next door tending to her. Well, I didn’t exactly find her; she came home, solving the mystery of where she had been for the last 45 minutes. She had left no note and her cell phone and glass of wine were out on the counter as if she had simply vanished. I was about ready to put out an all-points bulletin when she showed up. So, after about an hour, she went back over to check on Anne and took me with her.
It was a little embarrassing being in an elderly woman’s bedroom where she was sitting on her bed in a nightgown, her bare white legs hanging over the side. She didn’t seem to mind. And after calling our Anne at the hospital and determining she did not need to come to emergency, Marti and I set about helping her get ready for bed.
As you can imagine, an older person, alone, as she is, had a specific routine around her bedtime that included, much to our surprise, readings from two devotional books and a section out of the Bible. A regular at what I would call a non-evangelical Christian church, we didn’t know if her church involvement was more social than spiritual. I noted with joy that she was very connected to this ritual, receiving comfort when the words were comforting and anxiety when they were not. It was a little like being at the lottery, waiting to see what the words of that day’s reading would bring her, especially in light of her current affliction.
When she started to struggle with the fine print in the faint light of her bedside lamp, I volunteered to read for her, and for a while she allowed me to, but then she took the book back, because I could tell, she wasn’t getting as much out of it when I read as when she did. Struggling with the words as she read out loud to us was much more engaging than hearing me read and getting easily distracted by the many things around her that were not just so. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was reading out of the wrong month when so much of what was read seemed to apply directly to her need at the moment. My superstitious self told me I needed to set that straight, but my spiritual self told me God probably directed her to the wrong day because that was the message He had for her today. God’s truth is not relegated to calendar days; that’s our limitation, not His.
Marti and I remarked later what an honor it was to be ushered into someone’s intimate devotional life with the Lord, especially when we had no idea she had one.
Of course the Bible reading was from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “To everything there is a season…” “Turn, turn, turn…” I sang, thanks to Pete Seeger and the Byrds. Don’t you love moments like this when unrelated, God-ordained elements converge to show the obvious direction of the Holy Spirit on our lives? Such is life within the Gospel of Welcome. You just never know what might happen.
Before putting these treasured books away, Anne went back a few days in one of them to show us one of her favorite messages. Apparently the Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters: one means “danger,” and the other “hidden opportunity.”
I thought maybe you could use that today. Truth is everywhere. If it’s true, it doesn’t matter whose name is on it, it’s God’s anyway.