By Katy Rose
It was several years ago, back when we lived in 250 square feet. One evening there was a knock at the apartment door and my husband peered out the peep hole, then opened it up.
There stood Mr. Peters from two doors down, ragged, frail, and weathered. We had passed him on the stairs for almost a year, smiling and making small talk here and there. Several flights up in a no-elevator building seemed almost impossible for his stooped frame.
He dove right in feebly, without a smile. “Hi there. I was just seeing if you all would come down here to my apartment for just a minute and take a look at a couple things.”
Our dinner was hot and ready but we shut the door behind us and followed. In seconds we stepped into his home, and it appeared we may have been the first guests to cross the threshold in decades. Thick dust and trash mingled with dirty dishes, stained shirts on a clothes line, and mountains of paper.
“I’m done. Can’t survive another winter here. I’m flying to California in the morning.”
We stood, trying to not appear struck, as he bitterly laid bare his life story.
The woman he once loved was gone. He held up a faded picture of his son but, well, things had fallen apart years back. His mother had been estranged before death. His army days, his working years; life had been hard and dark. There wasn’t a shred of hope.
He led us around the narrow space picking up various trinkets. Instead of wood floors there was cracked, bare concrete. Piles littered tabletops, relics from his past, reflections of his heartache.
“Please just take anything you see that you might want. It’s yours.”
At first we thanked him effusively for his generosity but felt hesitant to take anything. Quickly though, we realized the most loving gesture was to collect our treasures.
We asked questions and took interest. We probed him about his plans once in Los Angeles.
“Paradise Hotel is where I’ll go first. Not quite sure after that.” We tried to get more details and a contact number but he didn’t offer much. We were concerned.
After talking a while longer we reluctantly gathered our pile of books, a Spanish travel poster, an old measuring stick, and an assortment of other odds and ends, and headed back to our apartment.
The cold dinner sat waiting, but we couldn’t eat. The burden of Mr. Peters weighed heavy.
We talked about what to do and within minutes my husband grabbed his Bible and was out the door.
We really only had one thing worth offering him.
Kristian returned a while later. At first sight, the Bible had angered the old man. He rejected a God who allowed for such a decayed life. But there was desperation in his aged eyes, and tears, and so my husband humbly persisted. He apologized that we hadn’t engaged him earlier. He shared that there was Someone who loved him, with a love counter to anything he’d experienced on earth. Mr. Peters’ clinched jaw relaxed momentarily, and he listened. He kept the Bible.
The next evening we called the Paradise Hotel. There was no record of a Mr. Peters checked in, no reservation. We called back a few days later. Nothing.
Kristian and I struggled with remorse over not having engaged with Mr. Peters sooner. Both of us had felt prompted throughout our year sharing the stairwell, but didn’t want to intrude, and probably more accurately, didn’t want to be interrupted.
And there is grace in this. God is sovereign and his plans won’t fail because of my possible disobedience.
Yet… what joy did we miss out on? What if we had knocked on Mr. Peters’ door before he knocked on ours? What if we had listened to that still small voice compelling us to enter in?
I’m empowered by the Spirit to serve as Christ’s hands and feet. He doesn’t need me to accomplish His work on earth. But he allows me to play a part in the story, because He loves me and he loves my neighbor. Our gracious Savior knows we will find more satisfaction in looking beyond ourselves, stepping outside our comfort zone, and offering Love.
Great joy is found in obedience, and I believe there is joy lost when we fail to obey.
We don’t know where Mr. Peters spent his final days, but we do know how his life affected ours. He was a glimpse of the reality of our surroundings- the lonely, hopeless, the forgotten and bitter.
Every home we have lived in we’ve quickly learned that one or two doors from us there is someone desperately hurting. Several of them have knocked on our door.
As a mother, I long for my children to know the power of love. I want them to know the astonishing love of God and for that reality to shape them. And I want them to witness the life-changing strength of love in the brokenness surrounding them.
Because I’m increasingly convinced that in reaching out to people in deep need we experience in our own hearts deep, God-given joy, I’m praying for less forfeited opportunities to sacrificially love.