I had developed quite an affection for my neighbor across the street, Sandy. I had met her eight years ago when we moved into our house. She was small and looked older than her years. We invited her to neighborhood get-togethers, but she never came. In her own words, she was “backwards, shy, and didn’t go out of her house much.”
Pretty soon her habit of being a hermit became a necessity. Her heart started to fail because of years of smoking. She had to get a pacemaker and could hardly walk across the street without becoming winded. On those rare occasions that we saw each other outside, I was struck by the beauty and sweetness of her heart, buried beneath a wrinkled and toothless exterior.
I was amazed by how she was able to quit smoking cold turkey after 30 years of the habit. I was touched when she called me on the phone because she had seen a rainbow outside that she thought my children would love to see.
Once I visited her in her cute little home that had been in her family for 100 years. She showed me every Christmas card we had ever sent out, and I got the impression that she treasured them and considered us more than acquaintances. We were good friends. She could observe our comings and goings through her front window. She noticed when the boys were playing outside and how much they were growing. I realized that I should make the effort to visit her more often.
I really did try to reach out to her, but my visits were few and far between. Every time I looked out my front window, I would imagine her alone in her home except for her faithful dog. I would pray for her. Pray for her to not be lonely but to feel God’s presence. Pray for her to feel his love for her. As I prayed, day after day, my love for her grew. She became my mission field. I could not go out and do things with the freedom that I wanted to, having to be with my children and nurse the baby frequently, but I could pray for Sandy.
One night I felt the urgency to call her. I had almost never called her. In fact, I don’t call other people very often because I am afraid of bothering them and being a pest. Maybe that is how Sandy feels, I thought. Despite the fact that I had offered to help her time and again, she had never called me for help. Perhaps she was afraid.
It was late at night, but I knew her health was failing. What if I missed an opportunity? What if she was at home but in trouble? The urge was so strong, that I just had to call.
She answered and was just fine. But I got the chance to tell her that I had been praying for her and that God loved her so much.
A few months later, in the sticky heat of summer, I finally got over to visit her. Her home was messy and so dustly, it was hard for me to breath. I felt a bit sick as I sat there and chatted cheerfully. How must she feel, with her bad heart and a chronic respiratory infection? She had no energy to clean! Plus she was connected to a bulky oxygen tank by a long tube in her nose. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. At first she said no. Finally she told me that she had groceries in her truck that she had been unable to carry in from the morning.
I was appalled! It had been 90 degrees that day. Surely her groceries were ruined. But I kept a smile on my face and said, “Sure, the boys and I would love to carry them in.”
We got all the groceries in. Thankfully the perishable items had been put into the fridge earlier. I dumped the huge bag of dog food into the dog food dispenser and tried to help with anything else I could. All the while Sandy was muttering, “I hate to ask people for help.”
I pleaded with her to call me the next time she went shopping. I did not receive a call, but sometime later, Sandy’s best friend knocked on my door. She looked terribly agitated and asked if she could sit. I offered her a chair, but she never sat. She stood and paced and rubbed her hands on her legs as she explained the reason for her visit.
“Did you hear the sirens last night? Well, Sandy was back in her room using the large oxygen tank. I don’t know why she did this, but she lit a lighter and the oxygen caught on fire. She was burned all over her face, and her bed was burned. She was able to call 911, but she was unresponsive when they came. She is in the burn unit, and I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Her friend was so distressed, and now I was too! Sandy’s health was so bad, could she possible live through this? Had I lost my opportunity to tell her about Jesus?
I really prayed for Sandy over the next few days. Had I shown her God’s love the way he had asked me too? God gave me this verse.
Ezekiel 33:7-9 “I have appointed you as a watchman for the people of Israel; therefore listen to what I say and warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will die!’ and you don’t tell him what I say, so that he does not repent –that wicked person will die in his sins, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn him to repent and he doesn’t, he will die in his sin, and you will not be responsible.”
I had always hesitated to lay out the gospel message when I thought that others couldn’t or wouldn’t receive it. But here God was telling me that the outcome was not my responsibility. I was simply responsible to do what he was asking me to do.
Amazingly, Sandy was back home within a few weeks. I resolved to obey Jesus the best that I could. I felt that he loved Sandy and just wanted me to introduce her to him. I didn’t know if she knew him, if she believed in him at all.
I visited and called a few times a week, bringing her food and handmade cards and encouragement. I wanted to make sure that I was there to help even if she couldn’t ask me for it. I had some lovely times sitting in her cozy home (which was now bright and clean thanks to her very energetic best friend). Sandy’s face was black with scabs. Her head had been shaved. Her body couldn’t get rid of all the fluids that they had pumped into her at the hospital, and she had blown up like a very uncomfortable balloon. Her heart had gone from working at 25% to only 10%. I wished that there was something I could do for her! I asked her if I could pray for her and she let me. Maybe Jesus would heal her to show her how much he loved her. I tried to have faith that we could see a miracle!
“Jesus loves you so much, Sandy!” I told her. “Do you know how much he loves you?” I asked. Here was my chance to introduce my friend Jesus to my friend Sandy. I could tell her about how I met Jesus and ask if she had ever met him in that way.
“I don’t know if he loves me. Things keep going wrong for me. I am so sick. I just want to be able to get out of the house and drive to the store or something.”
I felt the weight of her suffering. I felt the power of her pain. I had been going through a season of suffering as well, carrying many unanswered prayers and unanswered questions. I wasn’t sure how to answer her because I wasn’t sure how to appease the sorrow of my own heart. I knew that Jesus loved us, but I didn’t know how to explain how I knew.
“That’s what I am praying for. I pray you will feel better and better.” That was all that I could think of to say. Perhaps Jesus would heal her through the night and she would begin to see his goodness. I would check back with her in a few days and try again to introduce her to Jesus.
Sadly, I never got the chance. Some days later we saw an ambulance sitting in the street between our houses. There were police all around. My heart was heavy. If she was truly having an emergency, the ambulance wouldn’t be sitting there like that. The police wouldn’t talk to us about what was going on, but later that night we found out.
Sandy had simply collapsed and died. I couldn’t believe it. I had no more time to develop a friendship. No more time to pray for her. No more time to tell her my testimony and find out if she had one of her own. I did not know the condition of her soul, if she trusted in Jesus and he carried her to heaven, or if she never knew him and she was separated from him forever.
All I knew was that I had not done what Jesus had asked me to. I hadn’t introduced her to him. I was distraught. I felt like the most horrible evangelist there had ever been. My mission field had been one person and I had failed. I had failed Sandy and I had failed Jesus.
I talked to God about it. How could I go through life knowing that there was something more that I could have done to save her? How could I enjoy eternity if Sandy was not there? How I longed to see her again. How I longed to see her restored and renewed and healed. I wanted to see her in all the glory and beauty that I KNEW was in her but could never be seen in this life. I felt the value of her soul and grieved because the precious jewel that she was might be lost forever.
“Is she with you God?”
He hasn’t given me a clear answer yet. I needed to feel the weight of my mistake and repent. I needed it to push me closer to Jesus and closer to his heart.
I NEED to become a better evangelist! I NEED to practice and be uncomfortable and try and try again.
What he did remind me of was this. He knew that evangelism hasn’t been one of my gifts, normally being very shy myself. He knew that this was my first big assignment (that I was aware of). He had factored in my weaknesses and failure into his plan. He wanted me to learn from this and move on with more understanding and more confidence. He did not want me to give up in guilt and despair. He wanted me to move forward, being open to talk to anyone and everyone about him.
He reminded me of how far I had come. Many places I have lived, I never gotten to know my neighbors at all! Slowly I began to become more outgoing (with help from my husband). In this neighborhood, I have a good friendship with most everyone on my block.
Over the years I had prayed and prayed and prayed again for Sandy’s salvation, for her comfort, for her healing. The Great God, who loves Sandy infinitely more than I do, wouldn’t let those prayers go unanswered, would he?
All it would have taken from Sandy would have been one cry!
A cry in her heart or with her mouth and he would have been there, rushing in with his glorious presence, wrapping her with his love and immortality! I am sure of it.
Whether she ever cried out to him, I do not know. I do know that I miss my friend. Instead of her white car with the American flag flying from the window; there is an ugly, rusted dumpster in front of her house, gathering the discarded pieces of a life. Instead of seeing the candles in her windows, all I see is darkness. I don’t know if I will ever see her again.
What I do know is that our obedience matters. It has eternal consequences that are too heavy for me to even understand. Yet our obedience has the potential to bring more joy and glory and reward than we can even imagine! And we can only be obedient if we are listening and watching what our Father is doing.
Do you know Jesus? He is my friend and he has been the best friend I have ever known. He has never left me and he never will. He is with you right now and will be with you forever if you want him to. Can I introduce you to him?