She was Bald, Toothless, Covered with Scabs…and She was Indescribably Beautiful.

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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.

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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.

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“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!

“Jesus!”

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.

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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?

This is My Mercy

 

It was New Year’s Eve.  Chris and I had just moved back to our hometown after living in Colorado for 8 years.  We had the chance to celebrate the holiday with long time friends, friends we hadn’t celebrated with in ages.  We were so excited about the opportunity to get out!  We had left our five children with two babysitters, sisters who had agreed to spend the night with our little angels since we might be out very late.  I was going to take the baby along, but at the last minute, I decided that he didn’t need to nurse anymore that night, and he could stay home and sleep with the others.

It was already very dark when our minivan drove up the onramp to the highway.  Chris, in his typical impatient fashion, maneuvered quickly to the left of a slow merging vehicle.  He swiftly crossed the right lane and went directly into the left lane, leaving the slower vehicle still chugging up the on ramp.

“You are not supposed to do that,” I thought to myself. “I know that I would never do that.”  I am a more cautious driver.

In a split second, Chris was slamming on the brakes. A dark shape came into view right in front of us, and Chris screeched to a halt to avoid hitting it.  I reached out my arm to brace myself.  We came to a dead stop in the middle of the highway, a dark car parked in the left lane just inches in front of us.  It had no lights on and had been totally hidden by the shadows of the bridge overhead.

BAM! SMASH! CRASH!

We were hit violently from behind and pushed forward into the abandoned car.  We were sandwiched between two vehicles, our hearts beating fast and our minds trying to unravel what had just happened.  We exited the vehicle, stunned to see that it was smashed up pretty good.  A young teenager emerged from the car that had stuck us.  She was visibly shaken.  A man who had pulled off to the side of the road was yelling at us to get off the highway.  Thank God for that man!  I was so shocked over what had happened that I was standing still, surveying the wreckage, in the very blind spot that had swallowed an entire car.  All of us could have been mowed down by a speeding tractor trailer.

We quickly ran to the shoulder and assessed the situation.  Several cars now sat in the highway, smashed and inoperable.  We were afraid to run back out to try and move them.  We were afraid that other vehicles would pile into them and create a much bigger mess.  Thankfully, the emergency vehicles arrived on the scene very quickly, and traffic was prevented from traveling that stretch of highway.  It seemed that every police car, ambulance, and fire truck that was close by had come to the scene.

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I stood staring into those red flashing lights cutting into the cold, dark night. I was trembling.  This was supposed to be a holiday, a special night for celebrating with friends.  Instead we were stranded on the side of the highway.  Why had this happened?  I was sure that if Chris hadn’t been in such a hurry, we could have avoided the abandoned vehicle.  It must have been his fault, mustn’t it?  Why had he done that?  Why were we in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Were we doing sometime wrong?  Perhaps we should have never gone out driving on New Year’s Eve.  Perhaps we had allowed some sin to muddy our thoughts, and we had strayed off the perfect path for our lives.  All these thought were whirling around in my mind, thoughts that had become the byproduct of our years in Colorado.

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We had been apart of an abusive church, a community of “Christians” who would look at any misfortune in your life and find a reason to blame you for it.  Bad things weren’t supposed to happen to good people, were they?  So if something bad happened to you, you must have done something to deserve it. You must have sowed bad seed and were now reaping the equally bad harvest.

This is my mercy

The still small voice broke into my thoughts.

“What?  How can this be mercy?” I thought as I viewed our totaled van and a highway shut down because of us.  Then my thoughts began to unwind and straighten out and become more like God’s thoughts.  Accidents happen.  That doesn’t make it our fault.  No one was hurt.  Every single person in every vehicle walked away with no injuries.  The ambulances drove away empty.  The fire trucks had no fires to put out.  We were safe!

“Oh my goodness!  I was going to bring the baby!”

I remembered that my sweet, little four-month old was sleeping peacefully at home.  He had not been in the accident.  He was safe!  This was God’s mercy!  He had not been punishing us for something.  He had saved us and our infant son from something that could have been much, much worse.  He was not waiting to bring retribution; He was guarding us and protecting us at all times!

It turns out that the van could not be repaired, and the insurance company paid us for it.  We were able to take that payment and combine it with Chris’ pick-up truck and get a new van with no monthly payments.  That was something we had been specifically praying for.  We each also received $5,000 in free chiropractic care, something else we had been praying for.  God used this destructive accident to bless us!

So the next time you are looking at a mangled mess that disrupts that flow and peace of your life, God could be saying…

This is my mercy!