My wife and I had the privilege to meet a kind lady in 2012 that had not been to church to worship in more than 50 years! Yes, that’s right. This is how it happened. I walked into the puzzle room/library of the Paradise RV Resort in Arizona where we live. A silver headed woman looked up from a Santa 500 piece puzzle of Santa Claus. She had every piece of the puzzle placed but one. Her countenance gave her away.
I said, “You seem to be upset.”
“Yes, this last piece will not fit.”
So, I stood over the puzzle for a few moments and studied the problem. I immediately noticed that one of the placed pieces didn’t fit perfectly, and then saw three adjacent pieces had been forced into the puzzle incorrectly. In just a few seconds, I had readjusted the pieces and she placed the last piece to complete the cute puzzle.
A bond formed instantly. I became the hero, the puzzle healer, and the situation solver. We talked for nearly thirty minutes about her interests and our recent arrival to the resort. When I got ready to leave she said, “You go home and tell your wife you have “an old poop” for a girl friend.” I chuckled and left.
When I arrived home I immediately told Marji about this encounter with my new friend in the puzzle room. I said, “Marji, you have to meet that lady!” So, we walked up to the puzzle room and Marji asked, “Are you the lady that is claiming my husband as a boyfriend?”
She said, “That would be me!”
We soon learned that she was 81 years old and a widow. Quickly we became the dearest of friends, and Marji and Rosa became almost inseparable whenever we were at the resort. She had an incredible sense of humor—often much more salty than that to which we were accustomed. Her husband had been in the Navy and then a longshoreman. She soon learned I was a retired minister, but someone unlikely to prematurely judge or condemn her. It became obvious that she enjoyed embarrassing me with some of her borderline jokes. She boldly began to tell all of her domino-playing friends about her new boyfriend.
Marji and I immediately recognized the need to share our faith with her, and had hopes that it would not be long before she would attend church with us. As it turned out, she never attended church with us. She always had an excuse. Like so many people, she felt uncomfortable in church. So, we backed off on the church invitations, but found our friendship growing more quickly with Rosa than anyone else in the park. All three of us often commented about why we chose one another to be the best of friends.
Her experimenting with faith gradually emerged. The first hint of her acceptance of our influence came with the use of grace at the dinner table. We told her that it was our custom to pray before our meals. After a few times of eating together, she, without exception, would say whether at her home or if she was hosting us at a restaurant—“Bobby, please have a blessing.” I counted that as the first stage of visible growth for this lady trying to become comfortable with faith. She never mentioned it, but I suspected that she was probably a bit intimidated at the faith level to be hanging out with a ministerial family. So, we waited patiently for the next step toward a serious discussion about what she did and didn’t believe. She periodically sat in our discussions about sermons and faith experiences, but was pretty quiet about her own personal convictions. And we chose not to ask her direct questions.
Eventually, we spent our first thanksgiving together. And, again, since it was at her house, she made prayer an important part of the meal. And, then at Christmas, she gave us a beautiful card laden with the story of the gospel. So, Marji asked her the next time they were alone, “Rosa, we loved our Christmas card! Did you carefully read the verse on the card?”
She responded, “Yes, of course?”
Marji asked, “Do you really believe that “God sent his Son to the world to save us from our sins?” Do you believe in the importance of the birth of Jesus for your own life?”
She replied, “Of course, I am a believer. I just don’t feel comfortable in church with all my coughing from my emphysema. And, some of my friends in the park keep pushing me to go to church with them. And, I get tired of that.”
Marji continued, “You believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior?”
She responded positively.
Rosa remained amazed about how we came to love her more than she had ever felt loved before. And, one day she mentioned “the why” of our love for her. I had been waiting for the right time to talk about what I believed was the reason we had become friends. She said, “I don’t know what I would do without you! Why do you guys love me so much?”
I said, “My dear friend, I believe God put us together! I want you to know that we love you because we really enjoy your friendship. But more importantly, we want you to see God’s love for you through our love for you.” The seeds of God’s love were planted once again. She didn’t respond directly to my comments. She just smiled and said, “I love you so much.”
A little after a year of friendship with Rosa, her spinal column began to fracture in different places from years of taking prednisone for her chronic obstructive lung disease. Her health worsened and she began to see the approach of the end of her life and declared her desire to attend church with us. Unfortunately her health collapsed so quickly she was never well enough to go to an organized church, so it fell our joy to take church to her. On her deathbed, Marji sang hymns to her, read scripture, and we prayed with her. For the last four days of her life, one of us was always by her bedside.
She slipped in and out of consciousness during the last few days under Hospice care. She would often start quietly to say something and then lose her train of thought. I thought I heard her say, “I am thankful.” So I walked to her bedside and asked her, “What makes you thankful?”
She said clearly with the few weak breaths she had left, “I am thankful for waking up. I am thankful God loves me. I am thankful for good friends.” Once again, she drifted into silence. And, she would never speak coherently again.