When I was younger, I was not a morning person. As a child my family often teased me about my “5 more minutes” in the morning. I would sleep and sleep until the last possible instant, then rush to get ready for school, which sometimes caused me to miss out on a spectacular Southern breakfast. We’re talking eggs, grits, biscuits, milk, orange juice, bacon – the works. I was always upset when I missed breakfast, but the next morning, without fail, I was back to old habits. “Please just 5 more minutes, I’m so sleepy”. Was the extra sleep worth missing out on breakfast? No. It never was. As an adult and parent, I am now a converted morning person. I love being up early and being productive. However, the “5 more minutes” mentality is something I still struggle with in other areas of my life, particularly my walk as a Christian.
I met Miss LB on my 35th birthday. Instead of having a party or opening presents, I wanted to spend the day doing nice things for other people. Inspired by some ideas I had seen on Pinterest, I had spent the days prior to my birthday compiling a list of 35 acts of kindness that were doable – affordable and logistically possible, since time was limited. I knew I might not get to do all 35, but I wanted to do as many as I could in a day.
The list included things like purchasing someone’s coffee anonymously at Starbucks, and taping coins to vending machines so that the finder would get a free treat. Nothing Earth-shattering, but carefully considered good deeds that would make each person smile and spread a little joy. Many things on the list were things I would like to receive myself.
The day was fun. We all know that giving feels better than receiving, we’ve all heard someone say that, but I think the accuracy of that statement is often minimized, or not considered at all. It feels good to give. It feels amazing to see another human’s face light up because you took a few minutes to brighten their day. After just a handful of tasks were completed, I was feeling high on life and full of joy and gratitude. It was shaping up to be the best birthday ever!
One of final acts of kindness on the list was to bring flowers to someone in a nursing home. Having grown up with my grandparents, I have a heart for the elderly, and am acutely aware that our society does not value them as it should. There happens to be an assisted living home pretty close to us, so after purchasing some flowers and a card, we drove there. My husband waited in the car, as I wanted to do this one myself. Walking in, I didn’t know what to expect, (would it be depressing? Lots of older people waiting to die, watching tv and drooling?) but I was not expecting what I found. A clean, well-lit lobby that looked similar to that of a hotel and smelled like whatever delicious lunch was being served, and all sorts of people milling about. Some watching tv, some dining and laughing together. Not depressing at all.
My eyes immediately went to a small, white-haired lady on my right. She was dressed in a navy blue blazer and slacks, seated in a wheelchair, watching me intently and smiling. I smiled back. She pointed to the flowers and said, “Are those for me?”
“Well… of course they are!” I responded enthusiastically. I bent down to hug her and she hugged me back. I didn’t stay to talk, I don’t know why except that talking to strangers is not my forte, and I hadn’t quite rehearsed how this would go. The other acts of kindness required minimal conversation, where this one required real human connection, and that scared me a little. Still when I turned to go I felt happy, like I had spent the day well and been handsomely rewarded, emotionally, for it.
As the days and weeks passed, I thought about Miss LB a few times. I decided to go see her again on Easter. I didn’t know (I still don’t know) her family situation, but I got the impression that she was alone a lot. This time, I would drive myself, and stay with her to chat if I felt up to it.
Miss LB wasn’t sitting by the door when I walked in, so I asked the receptionist where I might find her. The receptionist graciously guided me to Miss LB’s “apartment”, where I waited in the hall. Eventually I was led to the back, where the sweet lady I’d met a couple of months before was reclined on her bed, watching some game show on her television. I couldn’t help but notice a huge oil painting that hung on the wall of a grinning young serviceman, dressed in his army uniform, brown hair combed neatly to the side. Her husband, I presumed (but didn’t ask). This was only my second visit and I didn’t want to get too personal. The receptionist (who I’d realized by now was actually a nurse) was speaking gently, trying to coax Miss LB into joining the others for lunch. She should eat something, and the food today was very good. The food was declined, but my company was welcomed, so I walked over to the right side of her bed, where the nightstand was, and put down he flowers. “These are for Easter”, I told her. She told me she was glad to see me again. She had thought about me since that first brief meeting, and she so loved to receive flowers. The receptionist/nurse was ever-present, though, and the pressure of a supervised “getting to know you” conversation was heavy, and I didn’t stay long. Still, I was glad I had gone. Glad to have met Miss LB.
In my daily life, I contemplated often the perceived randomness of life – why things work out the way they do. For instance, why it was Miss LB the one who was there on my birthday, who asked about the flowers and then collected them. I don’t believe in coincidence, I believe in purpose. I was sure God had caused me to meet Miss LB on purpose.
Days passed, then weeks, then months. (Time goes faster the older you get, my dad used to tell me, and now I routinely experience it for myself.) Spring turned to Summer and Summer to Fall, and I had not been back to see my sweet new friend. I wondered how she was doing, and even prayed for her, but didn’t visit. I meant to. Honestly, I did. My good intention was often followed closely by a good excuse. I’m too tired. I don’t have enough money for flowers today. I’m too busy. They seemed like good reasons to procrastinate at the time.
As the holidays approached, I felt a real urging in my spirit to see Miss LB. “I need to go”, I would tell my husband, and then I’d fall right into my daily routine of driving past the assisted living home, promising myself sincerely that I would go as soon as I had time.
I knew that God was asking me to do this thing. There is a distinct feeling – a knowing – in one’s heart and spirit that take place when it’s God who is speaking. I repeat: I knew that God was asking me to do this thing. As he persisted, I resisted, repeating the excuses that had appeased my own conscience a hundred times.
Christmas passed, and I thought about her. I considered whether she had family, whether she received any gifts or cards or hugs – or flowers. I didn’t go see her. New Year’s went by, and I thought about her. Does she like to watch the ball drop on tv? I didn’t go see her, absorbed instead in my own selfish “to do” list, I pushed the thoughts out of my head as quickly as they’d entered, like I had done so many times before.
Today is January 3rd, 2016. Today I finally had time. I decided to take my 6 year old with me to run errands, and I thought it would be nice for him to meet Miss LB. We went together to the store and he chose the flowers and signed the card. I drove to the assisted living community, all the while mentally patting myself on the back for being such a good mom, showing my son how to love others and be unselfish. We walked in, and asked a nurse whether we might walk down and see Miss LB. She paused, but didn’t say anything, so I repeated myself. “Miss LB? Her last name is ________, I believe. We just wanted to give her some flowers.” The nurse excused herself, made a phone call, and then promptly came back over to me. “Miss LB is in hospice (end-of-life) care. I’m so sorry.”
Bam. A punch in the gut. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me, but knowing my son was watching I took a deep breath and inquired as to her current location. “We’ll just go there and see her”, I told him with a faint smile. The hospice facility was only a couple of miles away, so we went there and inquired about Miss LB. The orderly at the desk checked his book and then asked us to follow him. We arrived at a nurse’s station. I heard him whisper, “Is Miss _______ up to having visitors? Is she still talking or anything?” The nurse looked at him, looked at me and my son with his flowers, and shook her head. Miss LB can’t speak anymore, she told him. We would need to leave the flowers with her. So we did, and I thanked them, and then held onto my son’s hand while we walked what felt like miles back to our car, him asking questions and me fighting back tears.
Delayed obedience is disobedience. Our pastor said that once, in a sermon that spoke directly to my heart. Do you understand, he said, that when God asks you to do something, he means right now? I never forgot those words, because so often I mean well, I want to obey, and then I procrastinate. When the day finally comes that I do what God has asked, I pat myself on the back when in reality God isn’t happy with me at all. I haven’t done what he’s asked; I’ve been an insubordinate fool and likely missed out on untold blessings because of my foolishness. God can use the willing, (truly he can use anyone he pleases), but we can only please him and grow spiritually when we pair a willing heart with an obedient mind and spirit.
My heart aches today. I know that Miss LB was a special lady. I know that God gave me a rare opportunity to connect with someone, to bless her and have her bless me, and now I have to live with musings and daydreams of the conversations we’ll never have. Stories and hugs and laughs that won’t be shared. All because I assumed that tomorrow would be fine. All because I wanted to do what was on my list, and not what was on God’s list for me. All because I wanted my 5 more minutes. Let me tell you straight, friend, it was absolutely, unquestionably, not worth it.
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 1:28
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:25
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61-62
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15