"We've all gathered here today to celebrate our dear friend, Pat," Richard said to those gathered in his basement. It was a cozy affair with a fire crackling in the fireplace. The backdrop of windows behind the couch revealed a flurry of snowflakes.
I sat among the room full of people that had become my true family through a difficult time in my life. And it indeed was time to celebrate. Memories flooded my mind, and I grabbed hold of one of Richard. Oh, the many times he came to escort me to chemo treatments. He is a big burly man, and you would never know that his touch could be so tender. He would so gently lift me from the wheelchair into the car after a treatment. Before cancer, I had wondered if God loved me. Richard was one of God's answers. He showed me God's tenderness in the midst of strength. I had to snicker when I recalled Richard's human side. What Richard had in the tenderness department he equally lacked in the patience department. Nothing like a traffic jam to push his button, releasing a burst of colorful expletives followed by humble apologies for exposing me to them.
One by one, each person in the room stood to share their story about me. Betty stood with her back straight, her head held high and spoke with authority. She and I worked together. Betty gave me a ride to and from work when my car was in the shop. Eventually, Betty discovered my secret. Betty, being dear Betty, wasn't satisfied with just picking me up or dropping me off. Oh no, she came by on the weekend with bags of groceries. She had noticed my lunches and suspected I might need some food.
"I will never forget the look on Pat's face," Betty said, "when she opened her door to find me there with bags of groceries surrounding my feet. It wasn't what I had expected. I expected more of a look of gratitude, but no, it was a look of horror! You would have thought I had a gun and was holding her up!"
She was right, of course. I wanted to slam the door shut and hide. Betty suggested she help me carry in the bags. Two things I learned fast about Betty, she never suggested, and she certainly was never discouraged!
"Well I grabbed several bags," Betty said, "and when Pat leaned down to pick up the rest of the bags, I entered her home."
Of course, Betty came to a screeching halt blocked by columns of boxes and bags. I couldn't make eye contact with her, so I quickly turned and got ahead of her and said, "Follow me."
"All of you know the rest," Betty said.
And they all did know about my hoarding problem and never made me feel bad about it. Each and everyone in this room helped me clear out my home and turn it into a livable space. And again, I saw God demonstrating his love toward me. They invited me to share meals with them at the bible study held once a month at Lisa's home. During these times, I heard about Jesus' love and witnessed their love for one another and experienced this love myself. I experienced more and more freedom, while the shame and guilt disappeared.
I moved to a temporary apartment during the renovations to my condo, again with the assistance of this group. And then I got the news that I had breast cancer. Each chemo treatment left me weaker, so the group worked together to get me to the fellowships at Lisa's across town. Over time I became so weak and sick; I could barely walk from the car to Lisa's front door. By then I was back in my condo, so the group asked if we could meet at my home so I wouldn't have to travel.
It was Mary's turn to speak. We all got quiet because she is very soft-spoken.
"You should have seen the look on Pat's face when Lisa spoke to her about having our fellowships at her home. I was sitting at the table with Pat when she was on the phone. Tears came to her eyes, and I got a bit anxious because I didn't know if something terrible had happened."
Yes, it was true I was so touched that they would move the fellowship to my home. These fellowships had become very precious to me. It was a time of laughing and experiencing God's love through one another. I didn't want to miss them and hadn't been sure how much longer I could go that distance. God was showing me his love by providing for my need even before I asked him.
And on top of that, the fellowship would be in my home. I never dreamed that I would host anything at my house. Now here I was opening my home to a time with God.
The study we did during that time was about God's grace, and we were all having our eyes opened to see his grace in our everyday life. For me, his grace flowed like a river. My family was there for everything. I became sicker and unable to do most anything. They did my laundry, cleaned the condo, shopped and prepared meals, as well as, took me to medical visits and pharmacy runs. I was truly amazed! These people were not even blood relations; my hoarding had burned those bridges. My blood family still stayed in contact, but I could not expect any help from them. But just as my hoarding was no longer with me neither was any previous bitterness or unforgiveness toward them, I understood.
It was humbling to hear what each person had to say. Lisa was the last to speak. Lisa…..what special memories. I don't think any of the others understood the intimate relationship she and I had. Lisa was the one I called when I was so frustrated with the numerous counselors the Lord had sent me. Through her unconditional love, she taught me how to be honest with myself and with God. She was the only one that knew my real desire. We had spoken many times about death, which as Lisa put it, wasn't death at all just an exchanging of bodies. The corruptible for the incorruptible. I didn't want to disappoint the others as they believed for my healing, but if I were honest, I desired to be with the Lord. Lisa understood and allowed me to voice myself. I believe she was sent for this reason.
I had gone into the hospital for a routine procedure of draining my abdomen of fluid buildup. Lisa usually picked me up afterward. When she didn't get the usual call, she called my phone. Betty answered and informed Lisa when I awoke from the anesthesia I couldn't talk or move. I could, however, feel and hear.
"I'll never forget arriving at the room filled with rejoicing.," Lisa said, staring Pat's way, "I knew Pat was pleased to be surrounded by the love." Lisa smiled and was silent for a few moments. "But I also knew I was on a mission. I dared to share that mission with those I could trust, but they didn't believe I heard correctly, not even the nurse believed me. I questioned myself, but as it is when God speaks, I was certain against all contrary indications that I heard just fine."
Betty added, "God so orchestrated that night. As it turned out you were the only one of us that could spend the night with Pat."
Yes, Lisa stayed after the last person left that night. She came to my side and told me what God had told her. He had said he would bring a quiet peace in my surroundings. And as agreed between Lisa and myself, she would hold my hand as I entered glory. She took my hand in hers and quietly prayed. She reminded me of God's love and his magnificent presence I was about to enter. A sweet song arose at the end of the bed while Lisa massaged my feet and ankles, which had turned blue. Her voice melded with the angels who also were singing. I could hear them. We enjoyed a sweet, intimate time for several hours, and then I let go.
"When you called me the next morning to tell me Pat had gone home, I was surprised," Betty said. "I was so glad you were with her, and she wasn't alone."
"It was the most special time," Lisa said. "I had promised Pat that she wouldn't be alone and that I would hold her hand. I was humbled to think that God allowed me to do just that. She's with the Lord now, but she will always be part of God's family, so she will always be with us too."
Lisa looked my way as though she could see me, but I knew that wasn't possible, but I blew her a kiss just in case.