The dilapidated vehicle in front of me first caught my attention when I realized the driver was at least 15 miles below the speed limit. I was on a mission to get lunch for my father and with the lunch hour approaching I felt my body's need for nourishment as well. It didn't take long for me to get a glimpse of her silver hair and recognize she was headed to the same fast food chain as she inched her way into the parking lot. Grabbing my purse and coupon, I headed to the door, believing the slow driver had chosen the drive thru window option. As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I was surprised as she rounded the corner. Speaking to me, a total stranger, she explained her dilemma of finding a parking place.
I stood behind her at the counter and listened to her simple order of one piece of chicken and a drink. I wondered if she were unable to afford anything more or whether she like some elderly folks had a smaller appetite these days. Her clothing was clean but mismatched and it was obvious she was well past the prime of life. But then, I have left out an important fact that I must share with you. She was not a total stranger to me. I'd seen her several times in the last almost 36 years. I'd known her briefly as a quiet but very conscientious nurse on the maternity ward in November of 1976. I'd recognize her face anywhere. I was impressed at this meeting with just how much she'd aged since the last time I'd spotted her in public.
Those who know me well are aware of my own propensity to strike up a conversation with strangers in elevators, hospital halls and parking lots. I often find myself recognizing students I taught years ago in kindergarten. On occasion, after a short chit chat with a former student, we both walk away with a feeling of being special to one another. Being remembered as a teacher or a student, it really doesn't matter. We all like to know we've touched someone's life in a significant way. Many times these chance meetings have led to God moments in which I learned something about myself or was able to bless the other person with a kind word or prayer.
This “not so chance” meeting, on the fast food chain's sidewalk, was not about my blessing another, but a blessing and thought provoking moment designed for me. I've thought a lot about the fact that I didn't choose to say the words to her that she said to me. Perhaps its because I've had walls up the last couple of months. Walls that needed to come down.
“I think I know you, your face is familiar. I took care of you at the hospital when you had your baby.” she announced as she pulled up the chair next to me. I was scarfing my lunch down in order to get to my father's by lunchtime. I glanced around for a clock to see how much time I might give to this conversation. Nothing could have surprised me more and certainly I was curious to hear what she remembered.
For sake of her privacy, I'll call her Ms. Liza, who much like myself on my good days, seemed to have the gift of gab. Before too long, I'd learned her name, her age (95) and much about both her career as a nurse and her life history. A single parent of three after her husband died at age 49, she and another nurse had been responsible for taking care of young mothers like myself that Bicentennial year of 1976. I shared with her my memory of the one thing I remembered most about her care for me. “When you would come in to take my pulse, I wondered how you were able to get a read you touched my arm so lightly.” She seemed so pleased to hear I remembered even this small detail. I told her the details of my tiny, beautiful girl's birth were still very clear in my mind. She continued to share story after story of locals that she'd seen come into this world, mentioning names of parents, children, teachers and local business people. Did I mention there was nothing wrong with her memory?
Though I felt a pull to be leaving to get lunch to my father, I found myself drawn into her stories. She ticked off stories of helping others through the years, those that had no one else to care for them. Once she helped a dying neighbor for four years, even while being on crutches herself. At first I noticed the gridlines of wrinkles crisscrossing her face but then found myself captivated by her lashless, twinkling eyes. I didn't remember them being so full of expression and a real passion for life those days in 1976. I also don't remember the infectious laugh. But then, she and I were different women in those days. She, about 59, perhaps caring for those three children, I about to embark on mothering for the very first time.
“This is what I remember about you,” I told her. “You were very gentle.” It seemed to please her to hear those simple words.
“You know a week from today it will be 36 years since you were my nurse. Next Monday is my daughter's birthday. I remember that day so well, the day my life changed forever.” I shared. Another smile broke over her crinkled face.
I guess I expected this chit chat session to end with just a memory of my daughter's birth and thinking it a gift from God coming so close to her birthday. But then something unusual and unexpected happened right there at the table as I began to get antsy about being late with lunch for my father. I'm very thankful I didn't short circuit the plan because this time will be etched in my memory just like those beautiful days in November 1976.
With her next words, it was as if she lightly took my pulse again some 36 years later.
I'm sure she couldn't know what was happening. She has a good memory but she's not a mind reader. God, however, had a plan to use the woman with the dilapidated car and mismatched clothing to slow me down at the fast food restaurant to hear the words I needed that day.
“People have run over me all my life. They've talked about me. I never did hold it against them.” she said with confidence. “It was a raw deal what this person did to me and my family.” she reported about a deeply painful incident. “I'll always remember the day I went to visit him in his hospital room. He only said one word, “sorry,” but he knew he'd done wrong.” she assured me.
“I let it go. You HAVE to let it go.” She said these words with such an assurance of the way they'd helped her move on.
I told her the words were a gift to me. I needed to hear them. Seemingly unaffected, she continued on to another story, while my mind tried to wrap itself around what had just happened. I believe Ms. Liza was as oblivious to my heart condition as I was to hers as a young mother in 1976, but God had used her to speak a great truth to my heart.
This serendipitous moment I experienced came at a time when I was struggling in my heart to forgive someone. How completely unobtrusive the way in which God was able to speak to my heart to let it go! As I drove out of the parking lot, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of thanksgiving. He is still giving me good gifts. November 19, 1976, God bestowed on me the beautiful gift of becoming a mother for the first time. On November 12, 2012, the nurse, who had cared for me, suddenly reentered my life to remind me of God's greatest gifts of love and forgiveness.
She certainly didn't have the appearance of living the high life with riches and wealth. Her stories included those of doctors and lawyers she'd seen make their entry into the world and those she'd rubbed shoulders with in life. She'd lost some worldly possessions at the hands of another and yet she was rich in forgiveness and love for others less fortunate. Nearly a century of living this life, I found her stories of serving others inspiring and her story of forgiveness convicting.
In 1976, I was pregnant with a beautiful baby girl and though I experienced pain in the birth, the gift I received has brought unimaginable blessing to my life. As sure as I knew the birth pangs meant the birth of my child was coming, I knew Ms. Liza's words “let it go” were coming from the heart of God to me on November 12, 2012. My gentle and loving Father brought these words to me so I could experience healing and the grace to release and forgive. And what better gift could I give my daughter for her birthday than a heart that is free and clear of any bitterness or unforgiveness?
So thank you, Ms. Liza, for being who you are and may you touch more hearts for Him before the Great Physician calls you home. You didn't just take my pulse yesterday, you brought healing to my heart.
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17