Tuesday, August 8, 2017

4 a.m. and really free

When the phone rings at 4 a.m., we usually know at the preacher’s house, it’s not good news. When Jerry is chaplain of the week at a local hospital, we’re certain of it.

He groggily picked up the phone and I heard him say, “I’ll be there in a few minutes”

Four hours later, he called me to meet him for breakfast. On the way, I thought about how maybe he needed to give up these rotations at the hospital―especially challenging at his age (don’t tell him I said that). He needed to speak to a high school football team later in the day and I knew it would be hard to prepare and deliver a message in his sleep-deprived state.

When I arrived at the restaurant, Jerry had tears in his eyes, but oddly seemed almost elated.

I sat down, and he began to tell the story.

When he arrived at the hospital, he entered the room of a deceased woman. Her daughter sat beside her praying. As Jerry took a seat, she shared their story. They had lived in a war torn African nation and because of her mother’s determination and perseverance had come to this country. The daughter now had a doctorate and performed medical research. A son was a medical doctor. The mother’s faith and encouragement had been a driving force in their achievement.

The day before her sudden death, the mother had at last finished her final interviews to become a United States citizen. Taking the oath of citizenship only remained.

“Why do you want to be a US citizen?” the daughter had asked.

“Because I want to be free,” the mother replied.

“But mother, you are free,” the daughter answered.

“But I want to be really free,” her mother declared.

How convicting her appreciation of what we often take for granted. What an amazing person she must have been. Jerry agreed, so moved by the story of her life.

“I wish I could have met her,” I said.

Jerry then told me the church she attended

I put down my coffee cup and stared at him.


The server came to offer us refills. “I’m having an epiphany,” I told her.

“That’s all right,” she said, “but do you want coffee?”

As she refilled my cup, I told Jerry, “Don’t you remember last Sunday after church at the restaurant?” A woman had been coming down the aisle toward me, and she wore the most beautiful African dress with petal-like pieces on the sleeves. "I love your dress," I told her.

 She beamed, "Thank you." Then she joined a group of women from the church Jerry had just mentioned.

 “I know that was her,” I said. “I did get to meet her if only for a moment.” I had wanted to speak with the woman further but her group awaited. She had such joy on her face.

“I thought she looked familiar,” Jerry said as we both sat there and marveled at this odd sequence of events and how this woman we didn’t know had touched our lives.

I had to wonder how broad her legacy was, and how many like us were touched by her life of faith even if they had only known her for a moment or two.

So, I’m taking back all that business about Jerry giving up these rotations. He made it just fine and his message to the team that afternoon went great. I'm also realizing that sometimes the news isn't all bad in the middle of the night.

I’m thinking these days on what it means to be “really free.” I have been inspired to do so by the life of a woman I knew for only a few seconds, but whose influence on me I will never forget.

Saint Paul said in Romans 6, “Offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits” (The Message).  Though this woman longed to be really free in this life because of this country she came to love, she now experiences in that heavenly land a freedom, which is truly without end.

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