The Paper and the Card
[NOTE: Patrick is posting several articles this week and next since he will be out of the country June 30 - July 10. Remember to go to escape2sea.com if you want to go on a cruise with him and his friends next January 7th. Only a dozen or so cabins are left.]
It hadn't been a hard meeting to preach. It was only a Thursday through Sunday morning event at the East Grand Church of Christ in Springfield, MO and I only spoke three times. Billy Wilson, an old friend from Glasgow, Scotland, was the main speaker and did a great job. Everybody else did all the hard work. I just showed up, gave my wee talks, and moved off the stage.
So why was I so tired? Here it was, a hot Sunday afternoon, and I had just done a thirty mile march with full gear.... okay, I had just walked in from the rental car parking area hauling all my bags. Same thing. Anyway, I sucessfully turned in the keys to the car, found the check in counter and turned my biggest bag over to the TSA, and went in search for my gate.
It was on the other end of the airport. Not that Springfield is a large airport, by any definition, but for some reason Northwest Airlines has been assigned a gate two miles from everything else in the airport... okay, maybe a hundred or two hundred yards, but you get my point. On the other end of the airport there was a restaurant, some shops, a very comfy lounge with plush chairs, a bank, lots of people, a pool party with an open bar... okay, I made that last one up, but you understand where I am going with this, don't you? After schlepping your bags out of the fun part of the airport you trudge past the luggage carousels, the rental car counters, and the large red Jeep parked in the middle of everything with "Springfield Airport Rescue" on it (a tad unsettling to see THAT right before you strap yourself into an executive mailing tube headed for Detroit), you come to a long rising ramp, the top of which has a few racks of industrial chairs, a Coke machine, and a vending machine selling off brand snacks. That's it. Northwest's side of the airport recalls to mind Bosnia, circa 1981.
I was hot, tired, and wanted nothing more than to lay my computer bag and carry on down, read a book, and engage in non-interaction (I am an infamous loner and introvert. Sorry. But not much). I had two hours to kill and just the book to do it with. A few pages in, two airport employees arrived pushing wheelchairs occupied by two older African American women. I recognized the women from the flight in four days earlier. We hadn't spoken to each other then, but I had noticed their need for the wheelchairs and the way that one of them smiled most of the time. She was smiling now as she quietly asked one of the employees, "Is there any place to find a newspaper?" The employees shrugged and said there was probably one at the restaurant, turned, and wheeled the chairs away. The women sat quietly, looking at a two day old USA Today as I sat there and thought...
I didn't understand why the employees didn't wheel one of the ladies down to get a paper. I also didn't want to get up. I had my book. I was in the Cone of Silence. I was hot and tired. Plus, to help, I would have to hoist the my bags again. Post 9/11 you can't ask someone to watch them for you without being in danger of random body cavity searches (and after six or seven of those, they lose their novelty). I kept telling God "no" but found myself putting the book away, grunting under the weight of my bags and walking all the way across the airport, buying a Sunday paper (and a Diet Dr. Pepper -- hey, I had to get something out of this trip!) and walking back to the Northwest Gulag.
I walked up to the ladies and said, "I heard you say you wanted a paper, so I got one for you." I smiled at them and walked back to my seat, dumped the bags, and was reaching for my book when I looked over and saw them both staring at me. It was as if I had given them a house! Their eyes shone with both disbelief and joy. I waved it off and told them it wasn't anything, but one of them said twice, "I can't believe you would just go do this for us!" I got back up and went over to them and told them I was a Christian and that is why I did it. I gave them my card and told them that when they got back to Detroit, if they needed anything, just give the church a call and we'd be there for them.
They told me that they were Christians, too, and I spent the next fifteen minutes saying "no" when they asked me if I knew Pastor This or Pastor That, working hard on keeping my smile going. And that was that. I thought.
Three days later I got a lovely card from one of the women. It said I had a servant's hands, ways and heart. I was stunned. She sent me a card! I flipped the card over: it cost $1.99 (if she paid sticker price) and the stamp was another 37 cents. I gave them a $1.50 newspaper and they had just spent more money to thank me! They had out-Christianed me!
The ladies were wrong: I don't think I have a servant's hands, ways or heart. I have to fight myself every day -- a hundred times a day -- to remember that I have to live what I believe. But when that card came, those ladies blessed me so much that I couldn't help myself. I went door to door talking to the staff about these wonderful women and how a simple little act (all of a sudden, the trip to get the paper seemed like only a few steps and not Marco Polo's trek across China) had brought the three of us such joy.
Now, almost two weeks later, I am sitting in my office and thinking about those ladies. I may never see them again. I gave them my card and told them to call anytime, but something tells me they won't. I hope to see them again, here or in heaven. They think they were blessed by me, but the fact is that they were messengers of God to Patrick that day.
"For how many of us have entertained angels unawares...."