When my FH (former husband) was sick, friends coordinated meals for us so we didn’t have to cook. I remember the people who came to our door, some we knew and others complete strangers. Some days I was so fragile that I had to pull myself together as I walked to the door to greet these “angels” that came to feed our little family. Often I would answer with tears as I threw a hug at the unsuspecting person. Most of the time they didn’t know what to say but the beauty is that in those moments, nothing needed to be spoken. The gift was in the love they showed by doing something practical for us. Their thoughtfulness really touched me and stuck with me. I vowed in my heart that I would someday pay it forward.
Two years later I signed up for the meal team at church. An e-mail would go out from the coordinator sharing something about the family who had a need. I volunteered whenever I could. I started making all of my weekly meals one day a week and would try to make and freeze a couple extras. I wasn’t in a strong place yet to get out there and try to make an impact in the world, but I had a soft spot in my heart for those families who needed a meal to ease the pain of sickness, surgery or suffering. Mother Teresa said it best, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” She was speaking my language. I didn’t have a lot to give, but I could prepare a dinner.
As I delivered food to families, they would often just meet me at the door. Occasionally someone would invite me in. Sometimes it was appropriate to pray for them, other times it felt right just to hand them the bag and give them a hug. It was always a delicate exchange because of the difficult circumstances surrounding the delivery.
A meal sign-up e-mail came in about a week after it was decided we would be getting a divorce. I was in a really bad space but for some reason I opened it and gave it a quick glance, “(We have a couple who) could use an extra blessing. He is in and out of the hospital with cancer treatments and bringing a meal could surely help. Please let me know who can bring a meal this week? Next week?” Someone responded that they could bring one the following week because they were on vacation. The coordinator replied with a thank you, then added, “Is there anyone who could bring a meal this week?” No response. It was the middle of summer and people were gone, out of town, traveling. And me? I was in a bad place and could hardly move. Pass.
A little bit later a thought ran through my mind, “YOU can bring a meal, Cristine. You can fill the need.” I was confused. “Me?” I responded, maybe out loud or maybe just in my mind, I don’t remember. “I’m a mess right now. I can’t even make it out of bed.” But I knew that I could. I knew that with God’s help I could get up, take a shower and get in my car and make the five minute journey to the grocery store. God was giving me an opportunity to give out of my deepest pain, to GIVE out of NEED. I desperately needed God in a way I never had before.
I stepped out in faith. I hit reply. “I can bring a couple of meals tonight. I will call and let them know.”
That was it. I had committed.
When you’re in this kind of situation, when the despair is so overwhelming that you can’t even function, the simplest of tasks become very difficult. The shower that day was painful, every bone in my body ached from emotional pain. I think it took me 30 minutes to put on my make-up (usually a 5-minute routine). Another 30 minutes to make a simple grocery list. I don’t even remember being at the store that day but I picked up a few ingredients for a couple of my favorite (and easy) meals.
I programmed the address in my GPS and drove to a patio-home about 10 minutes from my house. I distinctly remember doing breathing exercises at a red light on the way. I literally had to give myself a pep talk before opening that car door…one foot out, then another. Bags of food in hand, I gently knocked on the door. A precious, petite woman greeted me and as she hugged me, she started to cry. Those tears pierced my heart. I knew that feeling, answering the door to a stranger who has come to give you something so basic, yet so valuable, in your hour of need.
I caught a glimpse of her husband out of the corner of my eye. He was frail, sitting on the edge of the couch, surrounded by blankets and pillows. She introduced us. His eyes were hollow yet he made a point to make eye contact and put what little energy he had into saying a soft “hello.” I fought the tears as she and I talked and I heard their story. He had developed cancer as a result of some asbestos work he had done earlier in life and he had just come out of surgery. They were trying to be hopeful and I could tell that she loved him more than anything in the world. I gathered that when he was healthy, he had been a strong man, of faith and stature, and a wonderful father and husband. I soaked it all in. When you are broken, your heart is tender. Mine listened, gathered facts, and absorbed everything that I could. Her words—their story—penetrated every fiber of my being. It was beautiful in every way. I was completely immersed and then the conversation went a different direction. “What about you?” she asked.
What about me? What did she want to know? I wanted to tell her that I was depleted. Empty. Running on fumes. But instead I simply shared that I was starting the process of a divorce. Her eyes welled up with tears which of course caused mine to do the same. Here I was, standing with a woman whose husband was in the final days of his life and she had sympathy for me. In the midst of her pain, she shifted her heart and attention my way. I was overwhelmed with God’s compassion in that moment, realizing that He was using her to show me His love. I was blown away as I drove off, tears streaming down my face. God had spoken to me earlier that day, challenged me to give, and given me what I needed to actually do it. And you know what? That was the beginning of a small change in my heart, and the thing that got me moving in a positive direction.
A couple days later I got a call from an unknown number. When I got around to checking my messages it was the familiar voice of this precious woman. “Cristine,” she said, “My husband liked the food you brought and I haven’t been able to get him to eat much the past two days. Would you make some more?” There was no time to hesitate, of course the answer was yes. And then I immediately realized what God was doing. It was like he was saying, “You matter. Your small gift made a difference. You felt like you had nothing to give but you gave anyway.”
God asked me to open my heart on one of my darkest days. He asked me to give out of my need. And only by His grace, I was able to respond with a “yes.” That step of obedience was so important because it was the catalyst for growth and my first step toward healing.
The message started to sink in. Open your heart, listen and then accept the challenge when it comes your way.
My next visit to their home I was accompanied by my older son who had just returned from time with his dad. I had a lump in my throat as I shared their story with him. I asked him to prepare his heart for whatever God would have him do or say. I told him that it might bless them if he prayed for them.
We were welcomed with big hugs. My son was introduced. The wife showed signs of exhaustion, her husband was weaker than he had been on my first visit yet he stood and slowly walked over to greet us. He thanked us for the food and although notably frail, smiled and mentioned that he liked it. My son prayed for him that day. We all gathered together and cried out to our heavenly Father. A couple days later I got a message from her that her husband had passed the night before. I remember feeling sad for her, and very touched that she would call me.
God had put us in each other’s lives at a time when we both desperately needed each other…two strangers who met for the first time on a front porch.
I attended his funeral. I met his son. I talked with his wife and she thanked me for preparing his last supper. It was clear that he was loved by so many and that as a couple, they had touched many lives. God had cracked open a door and given me an opportunity to walk through it. And though the task seemed daunting, once I stepped out, His blessings literally poured out over my life. An open heart led to an open door. And an open door led to a gift that would have surely been missed with the response of a more comfortable answer.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.