Monday, June 13, 2022

An Odd but Divine Moment

 I have a gift for landing in odd situations among unusual people.

Today I roped Paul into going to Springfield with me to buy an old-fashioned porch-swing-in-a-bench off of Facebook Marketplace. Paul typed the address into his phone and off we went.
We were directed down a back road right by the river, which looked alarmingly high and close by. We were in a neighborhood of older trailer homes on large lots. As one does, we drove slowly, craned our necks like tourists, turned around twice, and tried to read the house numbers on the shabby mailboxes, all while the directions on the phone bore no relation to what we saw before us.
Finally we pulled in a driveway, as close as we could get to the red teardrop on the phone screen. We waited.
An older woman and a dachshund appeared at the door. I got out of the car. "I'm looking for..." I began, but was interrupted by the woman.
"Stop right there!"
Certainly. No problem at all.
Then I saw she was talking to the dog.
They came closer. She was very old, and tiny. The dog, a coppery brown, was on a leash. She spoke briefly to the dog, inserting a word that began with F.
I said I was looking for 1440. "Oh, this is 1243."
"Oh. Where is 1440, do you think?"
"Oh just around there." She waved her hand at the curve in the road. "I live all alone here and it's so d... lonely. All by myself in that big long house. Here!" And she handed me the leash.
I was too surprised to do anything but take it.
She marched back to the back door of the trailer while I stood in front of our car holding a purple leash and feeling a bit stunned. Paul watched from the car, no doubt thinking, "There is my wife in a bizarre situation, her natural element."
The lady returned and took the leash. I suppose I could have left then, but I noticed a bandage on her arm. "You hurt yourself!" I said.
"Oh yeah, had a d-- fall and it hurts like h--. I hate it here. All by myself." She tottered briefly, and I prepared to catch her, but then she recovered. "It's my knee. See how swollen it is? G-- I hate my life. I want to go back where I came from."
"And where is that?" I said, looking at her knee, an obvious swelling in the thin leg.
"Germany. Wiesbaden. Forty years ago."
"Sie sprechen Deutsch!" I said.
"Oh. Ja." She said more in German, and I actually understood her.
She told me her name is Monika.
Then it was more bitter words about how alone she is, how scary it is at night, and she doesn't know what to do. All of it was scattered with some of the bluest language I've ever heard in a person her age.
I feel like one thing I offer the world is listening to stories. To my great grief, I can't fix anyone or anything. I can never think of profound or spiritual things to say. I can never make it all better. The one coin I offer in my cupped little hand is a talent for asking questions and listening to the answers.
Our church has been on a renewed mission lately to share the Gospel with people and not stay locked into the silence that has been the Anabaptist tradition for hundreds of years.
So I thought about that, in this moment, and felt that I should not only stay, instead of slipping back into the car with a polite smile, but I should keep asking and listening, and not try to tell her anything.
"Do you have family?" I said.
"Well, I had a son, but he up and killed himself." She took a deep breath and looked out toward the river. "And I have two daughters, but they're off and gone. I never hear from 'em."
The pain in her voice expanded in the air until it surrounded us both, like a cloud, and we stood in it, quietly.
"So I'm all alone. I don't know what to do."
The dog stayed close to our feet, quietly waiting.
I asked about social services, Medicare, anything I could think of.
"Nobody can do nothing."
I took out my phone, wondering if I should commit to anything, in this moment. Visiting, calling, anything to mitigate this desperation.
"What is your number?" I typed in "Monika" and the number she recited.
"You can't do nothin' for me," she said.
How well I knew. I can't fix lives. I am not in a place to take on more projects or people. But I wanted her information, just in case.
Paul was still watching, and he probably knew what was coming next.
"May I pray for you?" I said.
I expected a rebuff, but she said it was ok.
I put a hand on her bony shoulder and prayed for God to show her that He is with her, and to give her peace, and to bring people and help to her.
By this time, the Marketplace guy had messaged the correct address. The earlier one was two digits off.
I got back in the car, and Paul drove the short distance to the correct house, another trailer in among huge trees.
A congenial older man waved us back behind, to an assortment of canoes and grills and furniture among flower beds and an RV. He praised the Lord for his goodness as he showed me the bench from the ad, and it was exactly what I wanted.
When I paid, he said, "Thank you! God bless you a hundred fold! This is all going to help in Ukraine, you know. God keeps blessing us, and people keep bringing things for us to sell."
Paul went to back up the car, and I had an idea. "Do you know the lady up the street?" I asked the seller guy. "Monika."
He thought just a moment. "Oh yeah! Monika! She comes around and talks to us. I knew her husband."
I explained how we had stopped there. "She feels all alone," I said. "It seems like she could use some help, if you would be able to do that."
He nodded. Then Paul arrived, and we loaded up the bench, which ended up fitting perfectly, even though [he said later] he had been sure we couldn't get it in, when he first saw it.
We passed Monika's house on our way back to the freeway. I felt I had placed her in God's and the neighbor's hands. Maybe, I thought, she wasn't as alone as she thought she was.
Maybe none of us are.
Maybe the kindest thing we can do is remind each other of that.


  1. There are no coincidences! God knew what Monika needed, and knew who would respond. I love stories like this because they remind me that we are known, we are loved, and we are provided for. Thank you for being a good listener, that is a much needed talent in this world.

  2. Dorcas, because you wrote about this experience more prayers are being said for Monika, including mine. You not only blessed her, but you’ve shown me and others how faith can work in ordinary life. Thank you for being an inspiration through your eloquent writing.

  3. Beautiful divine appointment!

  4. I had to think about this for a bit before I left a comment. What struck me first was the sad dynamic of a person working so hard to gather "help" for Ukraine, while a neighbor a few steps away suffers and no one helps. Now, I know Monika is probably so prickly that she has probably made it difficult for anyone to help her. Still, I think sometimes our priorities get screwed up.
    Secondly, and I'm trying to put this so you don't think I'm criticizing you or the prayers of your community...but the story basically ends with Monika...not helped. Is it your responsibility to make sure every needy person you meet is helped by you personally? Of course not. Still, it seems like you were led to Monika for a reason. I really do hope your encounter with her and her neighbor leads to positive things for Monika.

    1. I've learned that we each have our callings, and you can't foist a calling onto someone else. I do hope Mr. Ukraine-fundraising helps Monika, but I can't judge him if he feels called to invest in Ukraine.
      And yes, the story ends with Monika not being helped in any substantial way. I've had too many years of taking on everyone's burdens and getting thoroughly burned out. Now I am better at doing what I can in the moment and trusting God to take it from there.
      I got only a glimpse of her story, and I have a lot of questions. Why is she estranged from her daughters? what if she reached out to them?
      I think I was meant to be only a small part of her story, but we'll see what happens.

    2. I think you were right on by setting boundaries in the moment. When we want to help someone, there are three tricky and sometimes mutually exclusive considerations to balance: What they say they need, what we think they need, and what they actually need, which we can't always know because we're passing by and don't actually know anything about this person. Example: I work for an agency that houses formerly homeless individuals. I recognize some tenants flying signs off our property and representing themselves as currently homeless. What they're asking for is cash; what well-meaning passers-by give them is socks and granola bars; what they actually need is a harder push toward MI/CD resources than the Fair Housing Act allows us to give. I'm not saying that this is the case for everyone who's flying a sign or in need of help; this is just an example of how little we might know about the person we've known for five seconds. Brava for providing comfort in the moment (the meetable need) and engaging someone who might better understand the needs you don't know.

    3. I really appreciated your thought -“What they say they need, what we think they need, and what they actually need”.
      You’ve obviously got some experience that we can learn from.
      Would you be willing to share some more tips the Lord has taught you in understanding who to help, when to help, and how to help?
      I know there are many times we try to “fix” broken people, broken situations, and end up just wearing ourselves out and not helping them at all.
      Too often we end up enabling them in their self destructive ways instead of helping them out of it.

  5. Love this story. And the image of a coin in your cupped hand. God uses all our efforts, I believe - we have a song in our hymnal called "Nothing is lost on the breath of God" which tells of all the little things gathered and known by God.

  6. I have found that people are so open to prayer! They may never in their life have heard anyone pray for them by name!

  7. Thank you so much for publishing this. Incidentally swear words might not have anywhere near the same punch in one's head if it's a second language, and if you spend time around native speakers who punctuate their speech with easy repetitive swear words, and if you're frustrated with things in general and also the language itself as you speak it, I think it's easy for those words to almost become your 'ums' and 'likes'! Not necessarily in that particular lady's case of course.

    I wanted to say thank you for publishing this because it's made me realize that I think I have some of that same ability to listen, but I've never noticed it and definitely haven't thought of it as a positive, probably because of listening to silly anxiety in my head- 'what if they think you're nosy? What if they think you're not actually interested? What if you're enabling off-putting rambling that isn't helping them? What if they tell you something they regret later and you're actually manipulative?'. I think I can maybe laugh at or dismiss some of that now! I always love being listened to so it's probably not that complicated!

    1. Interesting about swear words. I noticed this with my kids' college friends from other countries who learned their vernacular English from other college kids.
      I am good at anxiety but somehow I've never thought of all your questions when I'm listening to someone! I hope you cultivate this gift because, like you say, we all love to be listened to!

  8. ^ the really tough thing is the people who want to be listened to, but are so boring you just about start crying.

    1. Been there! Many times. I try to take notes in my head so I can write it down later, because the rambling is usually so unique to the person and tells you so much about them.

  9. Wonderful devotional for today- made Ed take his head out of his book and listen as I read this out loud. God bless you!