(Beth on her birthday, September 2014)
A few weeks ago, Jim and I learned of the earthly passing of a dear friend. In some ways, Beth was our most unique friend. In some ways, she was our most trying friend. But in many ways, she was also our dearest friend. Our lives have been enriched, expanded and illuminated because of our friendship with this wild and wonderful woman.
I first met Beth while serving as a youth director in Toledo. Beth was homeless, and at that time she traveled by bicycle all over the Toledo area. She would stop by my office just to chat, or to warm herself during cold winter mornings, or to escape the heat of sweltering summer afternoons. Many times she also asked for financial help, but she always promised to pay me back- and she did whenever she could.
Oh, how I wish I could say that I was always gracious and welcoming, but there were times when I didn’t want to be bothered. I’m ashamed that I even stayed elsewhere in the building a few times when she stopped by. But most of the time, I was blessed to spend time with her, help her when I could, and come away from our visits with a lighter spirit. I knew that this was what I was called to do through the love of Christ. And certainly my church office was the perfect setting to serve like Jesus.
Then came the eye-opening, soul-opening day when Beth asked me where I lived. At first, I wouldn’t tell her; I was worried that she would come by at inconvenient times, and I was anxious about actually having her in my home. The hurt in her eyes was profoundly, sadly visible when I remained quiet. She knew then that I really didn’t consider her the friend that I had led her to believe she was.
Through that humbling and heart-breaking moment, God opened my heart. I was reminded about selfless service. About genuine hospitality. About spiritual integrity.
I gave her my address. That small step opened a new venue and new life for our friendship over the next years. I will be sharing some of our favorite times and stories of Beth as they come to me in the days ahead.
Here is one of my favorites…
Jim and I were meeting with other ministry colleagues when Beth came to the church. She was very concerned; she had found a wallet and was desperate to return it to the one who lost it. Beth knew there was money in the wallet, but as Jim searched for identification, he found an additional two hundred dollars tucked behind another flap! When Jim told her what he had found, Beth only became more determined to find the rightful owner. She never even considered how nice it would be to keep the money for herself.
This was our first lesson from Beth. What an honor, a privilege, to know someone who is so destitute and yet would never, ever consider keeping the money. Oh, the rich generosity of this friend who had nothing, who still chose to return the treasure she had found! What a blessing to see Christ in the one we had only hoped would see Christ in us.
Thank you, Beth, for showing us how to live with true compassion and selflessness.
Thank you, God, for bringing Beth into our lives.