The Gift (5)

Later that evening he remembered with a start as he looked at the pile of bills on the kitchen counter that he had not gotten the mail for at least a couple of days. With all that had been happening he had simply forgotten all about it. This had also been one of the many things his wife had always done and so it was difficult for him to remember.

Almost every day, rain or shine she would go out to the mailbox when she saw the mailman coming up the street and personally take the mail from him. He was a middle-aged fellow who had lost his wife many years ago and they would often take a few minutes and talk, sharing stories or simply saying hello. The old man smiled slightly as he remembered the many times she would take the mail from him only if he would accept a cup of hot chocolate or some cookies that she had taken along with her. That was just her way; always reaching out, always ready to talk, always willing to help in any way.

Returning from the mailbox he set the bundle of mail on the counter in order to take off his coat. He couldn’t believe how much there was. Scattered here and there throughout was junk mail or a few bills but most of the envelopes in the stack, which measured about four inches high, were sympathy cards sent by friends and people from the church where his wife had been a member.

His first impulse had been to throw them in the trash container under the sink without even looking at them. The last thing he wanted was to be reminded of the hurt he felt. He didn’t want to think about how much he missed his dear wife. No amount of cards or sympathy would bring her back.

Holding the bundle of cards in his hand however he couldn’t help but think how disappointed his wife would have been in him if she had known that he had not even opened the cards that had been sent. His conscience finally won out and so he settled into his chair with the glass of juice he always had before bed and began to open and read each one, intending to look at only a few before retiring for the night.

As readers went he was somewhat slow, had always been slow in fact, and so an hour later, past his usual bed time, he laid the last card down on the table next to the chair. He took his glasses off and slowly rubbed his weary eyes. Looking at the clock on the other side of the room as he put his glasses back on he was surprised to see how much time had gone by.

What a woman his wife had been, he thought. He had always known it himself but for some reason it astounded him that so many others, most of whom he had never met, knew it too. She had certainly touched many lives as was testified to in the stack of cards next to him.

Slowly then he moved about the house performing his nightly routine of making sure the doors were locked and the lights turned off. Though he had slept well the night before the happenings of the last weeks still wore on him and the fatigue he felt in his mind and in his body seemed almost overwhelming.

That night however sleep eluded him. He chased it through dark tunnels and hospital hallways, across a sunlit cemetery and around the bed in which his wife slept. And it was so windy. No matter where he went there was that cold wind that blew, seeping through all barriers and chilling him to the bone. A man that he did not know came to the bedside of his beloved wife and laughed. He didn’t know him nor did he understand why but the man simply stood there with leaves swirling around him in the wind and laughed.

With a start he woke up, freezing cold and yet sweating so much that the bed itself was damp. Slowly realization came over him and with some difficulty he sat up on the edge of the bed.

He had seen her. Though he knew it had been a dream it seemed so real. She had been sleeping but had looked so healthy and vibrant. There had been color in her cheeks and a glow about her that had been absent those last weeks. Unconsciously he reached over with his right hand to where she had slept by his side for so many years but felt nothing there except the cold bed and the blankets that covered it.

Gradually he drew his hand back and began to weep. At first the tears ran down his cheeks slowly and then as grief overtook him they flowed freely and his body rocked with wave after wave of sorrow. There, in the dark of his bedroom with a faint glow from the streetlight sneaking through the blinds and falling across him, he experienced the very depths of the valley of the shadow of death. With no others to comfort or console him he seemed to plummet deeper and deeper until he could fall no farther.

Never before had he ever felt so alone and lonely. There was an emptiness in his soul that seemed larger and deeper than anything could be. Hopeless. That is how he felt. There simply could be no hope. All the future he could see was dark and grim and filled with loneliness and sorrow. How in the world would he ever go on alone?

Again he thought back to the prayer that the young man had offered on his behalf that day in the cemetery. Especially he remembered the part where the young man asked God to fill the empty spot in his life and to give his soul peace. Peace. Oh, he thought, if only he could feel peace in his heart and soul.

With those thoughts lingering in the periphery of his consciousness he lay down again and was finally overtaken by the sleep he so desperately needed. As the long and dark hours of the night gave way to dawn he lay completely motionless and slept. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, that sleep was an answer to the request he had made. Though it was not a well thought out prayer or offered on bended knee, it was the simple and yet profound pleading of a child—a child of the Father.

The Lord had brought him in those hours into the depths of despair and the man would never be the same again. Those hours, and really, those moments had been determined by God as the particular time that this man’s cold heart would begin to be turned toward his Father. All of the events in his life up to this point the Lord had used to prepare him for this amazing moment. How fitting it was then that the man lay sleeping. Fitting because it was nothing he had done nor was it even his conscious desire, at least at this point, to turn towards God. The Holy Spirit had worked in his heart and though he would not realize it for some time, he was and always had been a Christian. Chosen by God since before the foundations of the world and saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, his savior. It would be a long time though before he could make that confession with his heart and mouth. In fact from a human perspective it could be said that this would happen only in the nick of time and yet in God’s time it was exactly as it was determined to be.