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The Love of a Stranger


The hotel “complimentary” wake-up call jarred us out of a deep sleep. We shuffled through suitcases, changing as fast as we could, threw on our jackets and ran downstairs. Deb grabbed some coffee and pointed me toward the apples. “Get some of those for the kids,” she whispered amidst the bustle of breakfast buffet traffic.

Apples in pockets and coffee in hand, we exchanged “good mornings” with tired smiles while the kids stumbled behind us to the car. The soccer game was starting in 15 minutes, but Siri said that the field was 20 minutes away.

“See if you can shave off some minutes, Daddy!” David shouted from the back seat as we pulled out of the parking lot. What can I say? The boy gets me.

Deb rolled her eyes, and kept repeating, “Arrive alive.” It became more of a prayer than a warning as I pushed 80 just off the I-70 on-ramp.

“We gained one minute!” shouted Joy, holding Deb’s phone and waking up in the back seat. With those words and a few miles of I-70 past us, I exited with a smile, but the happiness, like our car, came to a halt—we hit another red light.

Deb leaned in close to the mirror, using the opportune moment to put on some mascara. “It’s alright, Erin, we can miss a few minutes of the game,” she said, trying to sound calm.

A bus caught our attention, slowing down as it came through the intersection. We were close enough to hear the air brakes breathe as it pulled up to the bus stop across the street. With nobody there, it grinded into gear and started moving away, but just as the red light turned to green, a man ran across the street.

That’s dangerous, I thought. What is he doing? We watched and understood. Even from our car, we could see him shouting at the bus, waving his arms, trying to keep his backpack from falling as he ran. We drove by watching him give up, slamming his backpack on the ground. He leaned forward, hands on knees, in utter dejection and breathlessness.

An annoying question interrupted my race with Siri: should we give him a ride? Hope’s game was starting in minutes, and giving him a ride to the next stop could mean we’d miss the first half. He wasn’t exactly put together. The hoodie and baggy pants looked a little overused. Could we even trust him? That last question became my excuse, and I kept driving, but all day, watching the game and driving home, I couldn’t get that breathless, frantic man out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe I missed a chance to love someone.

It’s harvest time right now. Farmers all over the US are spending hours in their combines trying to get to their fields before the rain. One farmer in the Bible, however, always left part of his fields unharvested. His name was Boaz, and he practiced that tradition so that the poor could “glean” from his fields whatever food they needed to survive. He always made room for others.

Pastors and authors point to that tradition as an example of having enough “margin” to love people well. It’s easy to get so busy that when there's a need, we just don’t have the space in our fields of life to do anything about it. That’s me. With a life jam packed with soccer, Young Life, cross-country, and papers to grade, honestly, I don’t have much “margin”. The edges of my field don’t have room to love frantic travelers desperate for rides.

I’m thankful, however, for one field that did have margin. Mary Ellen was the kind-hearted owner of the “field”, and she worked it every day. She was married, had little ones, and she was involved in Young Life, but she still found time to love a young teenage girl who lived across the street. There was strategy in the margin she created. Whether it was to get the mail or work on her front yard, Mary Ellen was always outside waiting when the young teenage girl would come walking down the street headed to an empty house. Coincidence? Definitely not! The older woman would offer a smile and the beginning of a conversation. Sometimes there was an offer for lemonade or pizza, and the casual conversation about school would turn to boys, broken relationships, and a battle with depression.

As the relationship grew, Mary Ellen asked her to babysit, and after returning home, she and the young teen, quickly growing into a young woman, would sit down at a table where there was always plenty of room for others and talk about what it means to be loved. It was at that beautiful table that the two cried together about mistakes made and prayed about the future.

Mary Ellen could not have known the impact her investment in that young woman would make later in life. She could not have known that the young lady she loved so well, the broken girl so desperate for hope, would later stand with me at an altar and become my wife. After Mary Ellen told her about Jesus, that teenage girl grew up to be a mom who told her own children about His love around her own table.

God used the margin of one woman's field to create a legacy that now has impacted five lives, including my own, and I barely know her. Our society is desperate for fields with “margin”, but creating it is hard. There are no easy answers as the tidal wave of activity pounds against us, but maybe we don’t need answers. We need people like Mary Ellen. Looking at a life like hers, we learn to slow down, reach out, and discover the tangible warmth of God’s love.

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