A Call to Heaven
About five or six years ago, I accompanied our Youth Group to a homeless shelter around this time of the year to bring food, sing Christmas carols and spend some time playing games and just be present to those who might not otherwise have any kind of Christmas. I remember thinking how good it is for these teenagers who are so immersed in such a self-centered and ego-driven world to see what others are experiencing and what they themselves take for granted too often. It was good for all of us. I remember some of the kids were a little frightened of the folks coming in for a hot meal, which, by the way, those young people had all helped prepare earlier that one Saturday morning which is cold and wet and most inviting to remain in a warm bed…but there they were. As our time went on, I could see everyone actually becoming more and more comfortable, starting to address one another by first names while more and more laughter began to fill the shelter area. The songs and games went extremely well and who’d have thought that we had all spent more than three hours together. As the afternoon progressed, the temperatures dropped substantially and the rain slowly moistened the ground beneath our feet as I began to catch a few saying good-bye to their new-found friends, knowing that they may never ever see them again. A few of them were crying and I knew that was a good sign and a hopeful sign for not only a powerfully different Christmas but also, perhaps, a changed perspective on life. As we began to pick up empty boxes and wrapping paper and make our way back to the vans, an elderly woman sitting alone at one of the tables motioned for me to come closer. “Yes, ma’am,” I said, “what can I do for you?”
“Do you have one of those cell phones, honey?,” she politely asked.
“Yes, ma’am, I do.”
And with that, she pulled out a small plastic bag which I assumed at that moment contained most—if not all—of her belongings and fumbled for a short while to locate then give to me a small piece of paper with a phone number on it. “Sir, could you please do me a favor? You see my son and I were travelling and we had some problems with the car so he left me here at this place where I could get some food every day and a warm place to go. He told me to call him and he would come for me but I don’t have a phone. Would you please call him for me and tell him that I’m ready to go now? It’s already been two months…” For a second, I thought time had stopped. It was as if for a couple of seconds I couldn’t move or say a single word. I knew exactly what had happened to her and I was sure that number wouldn’t work. “Of course, ma’am, I certainly will call for you and everything’s going to be fine,” although deep in my heart I wasn’t even sure if I believed that.
“Merry Christmas, honey,” she said with a sweet, tender smile, her eyes gazing off into the distance. “Merry Christmas, to you, too. God bless you!,” I said, fighting back a few tears. As soon as I returned to my vehicle, I tried the number and as I suspected, it went nowhere. Not a working number. Not even a working area code. (!) A couple of days before Christmas, I returned to the shelter and spoke with the workers and they told she was fine, just looking out the window all day, waiting for her “ride.” I waved but I don’t think she recognized or remembered me.
That particular year, we had a nasty freeze right after Christmas which left quite a few homes without heat. I’m sure I probably got busy with all my life’s demands and forgot about the shelter for a while but after it cleared up a bit, I did think about that woman and called down to the shelter to see if they needed blankets or fire wood or anything. They told me that the cold spell affected the older residents dramatically and that poor woman died in her sleep on New Year’s Eve. Her own son never took her call, but the Son of God sure did. Every call to Heaven is always answered.