Servant

My girls and I decided to go on an evening stroll with a representative from the local historical society. It was advertised as a “ghost” walk, but I was more interested in finding out how some of the landmarks came to be.

Our guide was in vintage attire from the 1940s with a cloche hat and an old-fashioned Halloween print skirt. She had a personality that was a mix of dramatic flair and knowledge like a librarian.

We traipsed through neighborhoods stopping along the way for her to explain the significance of some of the houses and the strange occurrences that had taken place.

One very elaborate home had been built by a colonel who was known for his kindness. The current owner has kept some of his original belongings where he had them, and she has reported that she feels a presence from time to time. One night, she saw the light on in the basement that no one had used, and she went to turn it off. She noticed a strong smell of gas. This prompted a call to the emergency line at the gas company and all occupants evacuated.

A pipe needed repair, and apparently, if it had gone on longer, the house would have blown up with everyone inside.

He also rescued someone who was standing on a chair and began to fall. She said she felt someone hold her up as she was headed for the floor, preventing injury and ensuring a safe landing.

When our fearless leader started to go over the town’s past plague of tornadoes, an unexpected turbo force picked up out of nowhere, throwing leaves and garbage all over the place. It wasn’t lost on any of us in the group that it didn’t seem like a coincidence. We moved on with wind whipping us all in the eyes. And as quick as it came, it went away.

One of the most impressive locations was a home that a married couple had owned. He was a physician who took a streetcar to his office while his wife, Flora, had her practice out of their residence. Only 6 percent of women were doctors in the United States during that time, so her achievement was remarkable. She focused on women’s and children’s health care.

When I stood outside looking up at the second floor, I felt like I was being watched. It wasn’t a bad feeling but just like someone observing. It felt like a lonely person who wanted to talk but couldn’t.

Across the top of the house toward the roof, a banner was displayed when it was open for visitors. Someone had turned it into a store. We were told that those who shopped there often heard footsteps from the upper floor and smelled cigarette smoke when no one was there. It was not the healthiest habit, but in her era, they had no idea of its ill effects.

It sounded like the perfect place for me to go back and see for myself.

The next day my daughter and I returned. The front of the building looked somewhat junked up with merchandise spread all over. For such a majestic entry, nothing was being done to preserve it.

Inside the door, there was the most beautiful spiral staircase. I instantly felt a stifling, closed in feeling as I saw wall-to-wall items for sale. It was advertised as antique offerings but mostly what I saw were handmade items from the present. It felt like I was in a museum that should have been held in high honor, being disrespected, and used to hock trinkets. It felt all wrong to me.

As we made our way around the lower level, the tightness in my chest got stronger. It wasn’t anger but sadness. From the small speaker, the song Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water started to play hauntingly. That song has significance due to seeing my mom transition to heaven over a bridge. So when I hear it, I know I am supposed to pay attention.

I tried to concentrate on finding what remained from the past. Old doorways and windows were still intact amongst the wares being peddled. I looked past the gnomes and the dishcloths to see remnants of a time long ago.

The kitchen was a step back in time with a bell by the window and a pantry. I felt this was the respite where the two doctors came together after a long day at work to finally have a minute of quiet.

I climbed the ornate stairway with it creaking every step of the way. I have always wanted one, and this one was built to pass the test of time.

The upstairs was jam-packed with more items. But I began to picture Flora treating her patients and using her office to keep records. I walked to a far back room just to take a minute to breathe. It was like someone had struck me across the back, and it was an overwhelming sensation of constricted breathing. Not like I was suffocating but as if I was grieving. It was like being in a room with someone who was weary. I got the impression that this lady wasn’t stuck but visiting and not thrilled to see what had been done to the place.

My daughter suddenly felt an extreme coldness next to her. Again, not in a scary way, and just a presence that something was with us, sending out a remorseful feeling that this space once set apart for medicine was now being used for another reason far removed from that.

There was another spiral staircase in this extremely large wrap around. One big circle would have made it so easy for her to go room to room treating ailments and comforting the sick. And she had two ways to return to the first floor if she had to.

I ended up leaving feeling somewhat dejected that it hadn’t been better taken care of so generations would know of her outstanding work within the community. I wanted to hold something in my hand that she had. Like a stethoscope or a thermometer, anything she had touched would be valuable compared to what was being sold.

I looked up her information online to try and get to know her better. She helped spearhead the town’s first public library. No wonder I like her so much. On top of that, she was a published author who had written over two hundred poems plus a couple of books on better health. The fact that she was a leader of a women’s group showed she wasn’t all in it for her own gain. She was determined to make life more meaningful for everyone around her.

It was reported that her mother had died of an illness when she was twelve, moving her to pursue her life’s work. She was going to be a missionary until she met and married her spouse. It seemed her steps weren’t her own, and she walked where God told her to go.

I started to think about what happens to a person’s legacy once they have departed. A woman who dedicated herself to alleviating pain is barely remembered inside her own home. God used her hands to heal, and there was not a scrap of evidence of that.

That is why seeking an eternal reward is more critical than the flaky accolades of this dimension.

In Matthew 6:19-21, it addresses this:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

A clearer picture is given in Luke 12:33-34:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

In Luke 6:35, another route to gaining what matters is stated,

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…(ESV)

When the time comes for you to leave here, hopefully, you will know that you joyfully served God to your highest ability, you helped those who needed it, and a heavenly welcome mat will be rolled out with congratulations coming your way as a good and faithful servant.

(Flora did it up big with this entry)
(I did this…maybe they will get it together and remember her more…)

To the Letter

Two things seem to be antiquated: handwritten letters and printed books with pages meant to be turned. Both of these I genuinely enjoy, so they continue to take up space in my life.

There is a particular author who I have become fond of that has long since passed onto eternity, but I value his insight, and his voice of knowledge rings true for my spiritual growth. His books are still in print, and instead of downloading them, I have made it a personal goal to buy and create a library. I find myself scouring eBay quite frequently, looking for the price I want and the format I would prefer. Usually, this happens as I am engrossed in one of his books, and a reference is made about another title. This puts me on the hunt.

The last time this happened, I was doing my usual mental back and forth regarding paperback versus hardcover. Loud and clear in my mind, I heard: Go with the hardcover!

That narrowed my choices as there was only one. In an instant, it was in the shopping cart, payment was rendered, and I forgot all about it until it arrived a week later.

After retrieving it from the mailbox, I carefully unwrapped the package, then flipped through it to check for highlighted passages or see if any secret notes were scribbled in the margins. I never view these as flaws in used books, and I feel a little disappointed when there aren’t any. It’s fun to read what impacted another and to see if it would resonate with me.

The pages were crisp and clean, so feeling a slight letdown, I went to close it and put it aside until I had finished my current one. That’s when I noticed the letter neatly folded, tucked inside the cover. I smiled, thinking how I will use anything available as a bookmark. Gas receipts, car recall notices, and old bills have not been spared when I need a placeholder.

I unfolded it, saw that it was from 1998, and gave it a quick read. It’s funny how a person can look at a date and make an assumption. I figured the author of the note was either deceased or unreachable. I also had difficulty determining who had been the recipient and why the writer had sent it. It was apparent that there had been a passing, but who needed to be consoled? A widow, perhaps? Because I didn’t have time to delve deeper, I put the whole matter aside.

The following week, I thought that maybe my daughter would benefit from reading that particular book. As I gave it to her, I said,

“There’s a bizarre letter in the front of it. I don’t get it. It’s 23 years old, and probably everyone is long gone who was involved with that.”

Not listening to me as usual, she went online and quickly found information about the man who wrote it.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, there’s got to be a million men in the world with the last name Brown.”

I had tried to search for him and came up with half a million and quit looking. Talk about your needle in a haystack!

“No, this is him. I know it is.” She had this tone that left no room for arguing.

Still, I was unfazed. I had let my head take over, and I thought this would be an embarrassing situation if I contacted the wrong person. Because of her insistence that I can never refuse, I sent off a message. As soon as I hit send, I started to feel sadness in my chest, like when you lose something valuable, and you can’t get it back, no matter how hard you try.

I looked at her and said,

“I think you found the right Jerry. I don’t know how I am even saying this, but it’s him.”

Randomly, she opened the book to a page where the author discussed his recent North Carolina and Minnesota trips. A coincidence? No, because that is where Jerry was from and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis.

Within a few hours, I heard the familiar sound of my phone receiving a response to my message. I wanted to look, and yet I didn’t.

I found this stranger to be kind and appreciative regarding my efforts to get in contact with him. I had asked if he wanted me to mail his special note back to him, but he told me to keep it. In the course of our conversation, I learned that he and one of the men mentioned in the letter, Bryant, had been best friends. He had penned and given it to Bryant when his dad had passed in 1998.

The book had been on Bryant’s bookshelf with Jerry’s letter kept safely inside. He told me that in May, Bryant had died of cancer just before his 70th birthday. The magnitude of that hit me, and both my newfound acquaintance and I could not help but tell each other that we were sobbing. He admitted that he missed his best friend terribly, and it was startling for him to see the letter from so long ago. Both of us came to understand the profound meaning of what was occurring.

Jerry’s words of comfort were now being sent back to him from heaven. I was so glad that I had listened and chose the copy of the book I now owned. One minute I was laughing, the next, I had tears flowing down my neck like a river. Out of all the people in the world, I had been allowed to help lift another soul. Can anything compare to that? I don’t think so.

It is stated in Matthew 6:8: …for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him…

I didn’t realize that I needed to have this experience just as much as Jerry because it reminded me of how much we are loved beyond what we can hold in our hands or see with our eyes. God knows precisely what will touch us and bring us peace, right down to the letter.