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I threw my arms around Mr. Grady giving him a tight squeeze. He blinked back tears, and let out a grumbled cough, uncomfortable by the display of emotion.
Every Wednesday for three years the seventy-six year old man walked eight blocks to my house. He sat in the warmth of my kitchen and sipped tea. We talked while I fixed him breakfast, scrambled eggs, light on the butter, but hold the salt, and a slice of toast.
When my husband found a better job in another state, I wondered what would become of Mr. Grady. At one time he had a wife and kids, but around midlife his wife left him. He took up residence in a dingy basement apartment and lived like a hermit. Who would look out for Mr. Grady now? Who would listen to his wild Irish tales and absurd stories of mythical beings? Would anyone open their home to offer him kind words and a hot meal?
These thoughts whirled in my mind as I prepared breakfast for him our last visit. When it came time to leave, he refused to say goodbye. That's when I hugged him. Standing by the door, he pulled a knit cap down over his ears, and tucked the ends of a wool scarf into his heavy coat. My heart ached as I watched him go out in below zero temperature and walk away. The footprints he left in the already deep snow soon disappeared beneath the large flakes falling from the clouds overhead.
Friendship with Miles Between Us
We remained connected through the letters we'd promised to write. He started spending more time at his daughter's after I moved away. I wrote to him about what was happening in my life, how my husband's new job was going, and about our kids. Occasionally, I included a Bible verse and told him I prayed for him. He wrote about changes in the weather and reveled over the tennis matches he won against students from the local university. Mostly, he wrote obscure bits of Irish folklore and his outlandish fantasies.
Several years passed and he grew older. I struggled with the decision to send him a Bible. Sure, I'd shared Scripture with him here and there, and I'd certainly told him of Christ's death on the cross and what that meant for each of us. He always humored me by listening, and then fired back with his most bizarre story yet. I didn't know how he'd respond if I sent him a Bible.
Another winter came. Sick with colds, fever, and flu, Mr. Grady rarely left his basement. When spring arrived, I knew I needed to send him a Bible. Would he get mad or would he know my action was out of love? I didn't know. I knew this might risk our twelve-year friendship, but I had to take that chance.
At a Christian bookstore, I chose a Bible I thought he'd like. As I packed the large print, hardcover, I prayed that he would receive the truth it contained and the love behind my gift. While I sealed the lid shut the Lord reminded me of the verse, "My Word…shall not return…void." I hoped this would be the case. I hoped Mr. Grady would discover God's love and forgiveness for himself. If he embraced the truths found in the Bible, I knew they would change his life. Anxious, I mailed the package.
Several weeks passed and I heard nothing. Each day, I checked the mailbox, hoping for a letter, but none arrived.One day, as I shuffled through the mail, there was the letter I'd been waiting for. I expected Mr. Grady to say how much he appreciated my thinking of him, and that he was reading the Bible and considering his life. I was thrilled to play a part in the work God was doing. I tore open the letter and read:
"How could you? You've ruined everything. If I'd wanted a Bible, I would have had one long before now. I can never trust you again. Please don't contact me anymore. This is the last time I'll write to you."
His words spewed from the page, piercing my heart. I stood at the end of my driveway in shock. Tears burned my cheeks as they soaked his furious words scrawled on the paper. This wasn't the response I had dreamed of. Where was God? What about Isaiah 55:11 (NKJ), the verse the Lord gave me? I took the risk and God didn't show up. The outcome left me confused and hurt. Now, I'd ruined our dear friendship.
Mr. Grady kept his word, and I never heard from him again.
A year later, his daughter contacted me. He'd been quite ill and died in the hospital from complications due to pneumonia. During his final days, a minister visited his bedside and led him in a prayer. There in a hospital bed with his dying breath, she felt he acknowledged some belief in God. "I thought you should know," his daughter said.
The Gift's Journey
A couple of weeks later, I called her and asked if she knew anything about the Bible I had sent her dad. She proceeded to tell me the Bible's journey. Mr. Grady was so angry when he opened the box and saw a Bible inside that he tossed it onto a pile of papers on a kitchen chair. There the package stayed, gathering dust, until one day his son and eight-year-old granddaughter came to visit. When he moved the stack of papers to make a place for them to sit, the box fell and out tumbled the Bible. His granddaughter had recently started going to church with a friend's family from school. When he heard this, he gave her the Bible.
Jenny carried it to church every Sunday and then asked her dad to read it to her at bedtime. She loved the Bible and the stories it told. When Christmas came, she played a part in the Children's program. Her parents, who had never married and didn't go to church, came to see her. They watched as Jenny, dressed in white and wearing a gold halo, proclaimed the birth of the Savior. The Christmas story affected them in a way they hadn't experienced before. They started attending church as a family. The couple got married. They came to believe in God, and received Christ's gift of salvation.
Life doesn't always turn out the way I picture, but now I understand God works in ways I can't see or even imagine. It is true; God's Word always accomplishes His purpose.
Note: I've changed the names of Mr. Grady and his family in this true story.
© 2009 Kathleen Kohler