One of my favorite people died on August 13. He was tenderhearted and generous and authentic. He had this great laugh. He was a reader. He loved the church. He loved his family. He loved God. His name was John. He was married to one of my other favorite people. She was kind and gentle and just as generous. When she talked to you she made you feel important. She was intelligent and classy, equally filled with love. She died a year ago, after being brave and courageous and joyful in the midst of countless cancer treatments. She was a beautiful woman. Her name was Liz. I usually ‘fake name’ the people I write about, but not this time. This time, I want you to know their names.
There was this woman long ago from a city called Shunem. She was a Shunammite, you could say. We don’t know her name. Someone simply wrote about her because of her kindness. Elisha, this prophet of the LORD God, would pass by her door every so often on his travels to and fro; and when he would, she would feed him . . . give him a place to stay for the night. That’s all. No biggie. Just some dinner and a pillow. Anybody could’ve done it . . . but did they? Funny how something so simple could make it into a history book so grand.
When I started as pastoral resident [fancy name for an amateur minister] at a church in Virginia, I had just come out of seminary and I was full of vision and passion and life. [I hope I still have most of that by the way.] I moved into an apartment of my own and realized very quickly that the nights are lonely without roommates. I got a dog and definitely imagined his voice in my head; but alas, our inside jokes and random late-night Taco Bell runs just weren’t the same. I had been in that small town a month when Liz and John called. “Just some dinner,” they said. That’s all. Nothing fancy. Salads with yummy cranberries and bleu cheese. Homemade brownies and some vanilla ice cream from the fridge. Sitting around a table, talking for hours about random world events, their grandkids, my dog, favorite books, favorite movies, and following God . . . always following God. I stayed in that city for two years . . . two years of salads with yummy cranberries. The dessert always changed. They knew I love dessert.
That’s all. Nothing fancy. I want you to know their names. John and Liz. I have added them to my history book because they were that grand.
We focus on junk that doesn’t matter. [And when I say we I’m mostly talking about followers of Jesus or ‘little Christs’ you could call us, though this statement probably applies to everyone.] This doctrine or that one. Church politics, who gets to be a deacon and what translation should the pew Bibles be. How should we vote and on what should we focus our next picket line? Lots of . . . junk . . . that doesn’t truly help or support or love anybody.
This cool guy [I assume. I actually don’t know him.] named Tony Campolo [which is just a cool name] once said, “I wish Jesus would ask, ‘Virgin Birth; strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree? Check one.’ But those aren’t the questions. The questions are, ‘I was hungry, did you feed me? I was a stranger, did you make room for me?’” John and Liz got it. They were some of the best ‘little Christs’ I have ever known, and it wasn’t because we voted the same or agreed on free will versus predestination. It wasn’t because they showed up every week in their ‘Sunday best’ or took a stand for/against healthcare reform and gay rights. They were some of the best Jesus-followers I have known because I truly believe they looked like Him . . . loving me, and everybody else, the same way He did when he walked on the earth 2,000 years ago.
To John and Liz, you don’t know what you did for me. You were just feeding this young, amateur minister, providing her a little human companionship from most of her nights spent alone. I told you that I loved you. I told you ‘thank you’ a thousand times; and yet, I am confident that you never realized what an eternal fingerprint you left on my heart. You were my Shunammite woman. You were Jesus to me.
To those who loved John and Liz, may we cry tears of sadness that they are no longer in our presence but may we more so cry tears of joy for having actually befriended two people who resemble that much love. There are truly angels walking among us, and now we know two of their names.
To all others, who are simply reading these words, may you recognize the Johns and the Lizs in your life. May your eyes be opened to the Shunammite women and men in your midst, for we may be entertaining angels in disguise. And may each of us take seriously the legacy, the fingerprints, we leave behind. Just some dinner. A dollar here and there. A hug. Some encouraging words. A conversation. Holy traces. Sacred moments in the mundane. May we resemble Him.
Danielle Nicole Smith is currently “pastor” at Red Robin Restaurant and Bar in Knoxville, Tennessee. Read her blog at http://www.ourdailyfries.blogspot.com/