ACROSS THE STREET AT THE FUNERAL HOME
The parking lot at the funeral home was jam-packed, and I counted myself doubly lucky to have not only commandeered one of the last few remaining parking spaces, but also that it was beneath the shade of a very small tree. It was a sizzling hot day in the sunny South, and I was hoping that minuscule amount of shade would help my car to be a tad bit cooler when I returned to it after the service I was about to attend.
Normally I am seldom at a loss for words, but I said a silent prayer as I walked across asphalt that was practically gooey from the intense Alabama Summer Sun, that I would have some small words of comfort to offer my sweet friend who was grieving the unexpected passing of her daughter.
Inside, when I reached my turn in the receiving line, I did not have any real words of wisdom, except to offer her my love, prayers, and condolences. As I hugged her, I whispered in her ear that I knew that her faith would get her through. Feeling inadequate, I once again lifted a silent prayer for strength for the family to make it through this service. And it was indeed a lovely service! Although it wrenched at my heart to hear of the vibrant woman in her early forties being called home a little too soon, at least by modern societies standards. Watching the slideshow which was filled with a myriad of photographs from this woman’s life, depicting her as a small baby, up through more recent days, I was struck by what a good life she seemed to have had! Now she was in perfect peace. I knew that she was at rest now, and that the grieving process was for the family.
Immediately upon exiting the funeral home, I began sweating due to the excessively blistering heat and exceedingly high humidity. Normally I used the term glistening instead, but this was outright sweating. The humidity was at or near 90%. In my mind I was already planning how I would go to my office and freshen up while I awaited delivery of steak tips from Steak Out. That would give me an enjoyable lunch prior to my next appointment.
I got into my car and pushed the starter button, and although the engine did not turn over, the thermometer and dashboard lit up, and I saw that the thermometer read 104 degrees. Sweat began trickling down my back as I realized with a sinking feeling that the buzzing sound I was hearing each time I tried to start the car meant that it was not going to start at all! A single woman whose son lives 700 miles away, and whose son in law was overseas, I felt dismay that I knew not whom I could call in to come to my rescue. I have many friends, but they were all pretty much at work. I could call a tow truck, but that would mean calling to reschedule my appointment, and since I was showing my own listing, I did not want to do that.
I thought of the co-worker who had sat in the same pew with me for the funeral service and decided to dial him to see if he was still there. Fortunately, this extremely nice guy had just left the parking lot and immediately agreed to return. In spite of the sweltering heat, this true Southern gentleman, dressed in long-sleeve shirt, tie, and dress pants, endured, and jumped off my car battery without complaint.
As he was doing this, I noticed an auto parts store located directly across the street. I bid him goodbye, thanked him profusely, and prayed that I only needed a new battery as I drove across the street. Sure enough, when the employees tested my battery, they determined that I did need a new one. I elected to wait inside the air-conditioned lobby of the store while the young man installed it. My throat was parched and I was feeling a little dehydrated and much dismayed when I realized that I had no cash to purchase a bottle of water from their vending machine. Realizing that things could always be worse, I took a deep breath and prayed that he would hurry with the replacement so that I could go and find something cold to drink.
About that time, I saw a lady approach the sales desk and begin complaining loudly. She, too, was very frustrated that her car had decided to quit in the miserable heat. But she was complaining a little too loudly about it for my liking. I glanced over at her and saw that she was wearing a boot that one would wear if they had a broken foot or leg. As my eyes met hers, I saw intense sadness in them. So I resisted my impulse to turn away and decided to offer her words of encouragement instead.
“Things could be worse,” I tentatively offered. She looked over at me and proferred a tiny little wry smile. “We could be over at the funeral home across the street, you know?” I offered this to try to engage her. She nodded at this, and replied, “You are right.” I told her that I had just left the funeral of a woman who had passed in her mid-40s.
What she said next took me by surprise: “ I was just there 3 weeks ago myself.” I offered her my condolences and she explained to me that she had suddenly lost her 36 year old son. She then proceeded to tell me that everything in her life seemed to be going wrong all at one time. After her son’s death, her finances were taking a hit, she had been sick, had broken her foot, and now her car had died on one of the hottest days of the year. I nodded. Life’s like that. Sometimes tsunami waves wash over us such that we find it hard & almost impossible to focus on putting one broken foot in front of the other.
Suddenly, my own irritation at having to spend my lunch break getting a new battery dissipated completely. I lifted yet another silent prayer and asked God to please give me a few words of comfort for this stranger.
I told her about the verse in Isaiah, the one which I can never recall exactly where it is located, that speaks about people dying young and how we don’t understand why the good ones are taken away. The verse declares that it is because they are being saved from evil. I tried to assure her that perhaps God knew that if her son remained here on Earth longer he would have unbearable trials and tribulations. She appeared to take some small comfort in this, but told me that it was all just so overwhelming to her. Like me, she is a single woman without a family to turn to in times like that. But instead of her son being many miles away, he had departed this life time. And in that moment I felt so very lucky.
I told her that the devil is attacking her in every area of her life and that the devil never wins. She must take heart because things would get better. Her grief and sadness would never go away, but she was left here on this Earth for a reason. I asked her if I could pray with her, and right there in the middle of this store I grabbed her hands and prayed for her to have strength, peace, and the comfort of fond memories. I prayed for healing for her body. And I prayed for God’s Provisions for her.
Those who know me best will attest to the fact that I have been known to hug total strangers from time to time, if I thought it was appropriate. But I was surprised when this woman reached out and grabbed me and wrapped her arms around me and gave me a huge hug. I asked her name, which she supplied, and then she asked me mine. And I looked into her eyes, & told her that her faith would get her through.
About that time the young man came in and told me my car was ready to go. I apologized to her for having to leave, but explained that I needed to go show a house and she looked at me with a funny look and said, “You are a real estate agent?”
“Yes, ma’am, I’ve been selling real estate here for a very long time,” I answered. She then told me that her daughter is looking for a real estate agent to help her buy a house, and she asked me for my card. She told me that she knew I would take good care of her daughter!
I gave her my card before I left the store, satisfied in knowing that regardless as to whether or not I ever hear from her or her daughter again, perhaps my little delay was a Divine appointment.
I received a text from a friend who lives in Atlanta that I was supposed to meet in Chattanooga for dinner that evening as I pulled out of the parking lot. He had to cancel on me earlier in the day due to an unforeseen work issue. To paraphrase his words, he was saying that perhaps the reason we had to cancel our plans was to spare one of us from getting into an accident or something enroute.
With no time left to order my steak tips, I visited the drive through of a local burger place. That sweet tea they serve has never been my favorite, but boy, was it delicious & thirst quenching!!As I hurriedly choked down my 2 Krystal cheeseburgers, minus mustard, plus ketchup, I thought more about the way the day had unfolded. I was very thankful my battery had not died during rush hour traffic on the interstate on my way to dinner. Or, worse yet, somewhere along the long stretch of uninhabited roadway that I would have had to traverse on my way back home later that evening.
Instead of an upscale Italian dinner in the arts district, I later had my favorite guacamole salad at a local Mexican restaurant while listening to the sound of the hail that was a result of a pop up thunderstorm. What if, I have been on the road during a hailstorm, out in the darkness alone with a broken car battery?
It was definitely a day that did not go exactly as planned. But if having to replace my car battery meant that I could make a small difference in someone else’s day, then it was most definitely worth it.
I pray for peace & comfort & strength for the families mentioned who lost loved ones. Hoping that they will realize that their loved ones are now blessed with perfect peace far from the turmoil of this life. They no longer have to worry about car repairs or money or sickness or relationships, or anything at all. I pray that they understand that they still have a purpose here. I pray for the woman who lost her son, that she will recognize that she is never really alone.
I’m sharing this to encourage you to take an opportunity to offer words of hope when you see the sadness in a stranger’s eyes. To remind you to be thankful for the interruptions in our daily lives that may possibly be designed to keep us from even more unpleasant circumstances. To suggest that you pick up the phone and let someone in your family know that you are thinking of them today,
because you never know when they could suddenly be taken away from this Earth. And to let you know that, though they are frustrating, most of life’s daily annoyances should be treated as just that: nothing more than annoyances. After all, you could always be across the street at the funeral home instead…
– Lou Lehman Sams