It’s so strange the way that people come and go in our lives. Some people never really come, we’re born into a family and have a group of people around us who we can’t seem to get rid of. Some come almost out of nowhere and never leave, faithful friends who stay by us for a lifetime. Some come for a season of our lives, staying with us through highschool or college. Others step into our lives for a very short time, and then disappear again. I find myself wondering why. Why would God give us someone for just a few weeks and then take them away?
I met Lillian toward the end of last semester. A friend of mine had been cleaning her house all semester for her Community Service class and was looking for someone to help her out over the summer. In the middle of May, I walked to her house, met her, and agreed to work over the summer. Come mid-June, it was time to make good my word. For the next month and a half, me and one of my best friends walked up the hill behind campus once a week to Lillian’s house to vacuum, mop, make beds, hang up laundry, and do anything else she needed help with. We loved and dreaded spending time with her. She was the funniest, spunkiest little old Jewish lady I’d ever met. She was ninety-four-years-old and had a ninety-year-old boy friend. She had a little bit of a dirty mouth, and some very unusual theology, but we loved her and kept going, kept talking, kept trying to help her understand what we believe, and kept praying for her. She was so old and set in her ways, and it was discouraging sometimes, but we loved her, and that made it all worthwhile.
Then she disappeared. A week went by without her calling to let us know what day she’d like us to come up. When we tried calling her that weekend, there was no answer. We assumed she was out, left a message, and waited for her to call back. Another two weeks passed with no call from her and no answer at her house and we got worried. We went up to Lillian’s house and knocked on the door. No answer. Everything about the house looked too clean. We knocked on the doors of the houses on either side of hers. No answer. We went across the street to the house directly across from hers- there were cars in the driveway there at least. We knocked and waited impatiently, nervously, to see if someone would answer.
Finally the door opened, and a bewildered looking old man stared out at us. My friend politely explained that we were looking for Lillian, the lady whose house was across the street, and that we wondered if he knew anything about where she was. He seemed confused, but told us that he thought her daughter had moved her to a retirement home, but she certainly did not live over there anymore. We spent the next week and a half trying everything we could think of to track her down. The only contact information we had was for the empty house. We had no way of knowing where she was, but we did our best. But it was the third week of August. School started, and we didn’t have time to look for her. We moved on with life, thinking about her, wondering about her, and praying for her every now and then, but sort of giving up on hearing from her.
Today, the director of the Community Service program told us a story. A story of a stubborn old Jewish lady named Lillian who they had been sending girls up to clean for for years. A story of a stubborn old Jewish lady who said she gave her life to God last semester. A story of stubborn old Jewish lady who disappeared toward the end of the summer. A story of a stubborn old Jewish lady who was moved to a nursing home by her daughter. A story of a stubborn old Jewish lady who passed away a week and a half ago. And I started to wonder.
When I talked to Lillian, she said she was not a Christian. She said she thought she would go to heaven because she was a Jew and had “Jesus’ blood in her veins.” But she told the girls who cleaned for her before us that she had given her life to God and asked Jesus into her heart. And who knows who she met and talked to after she vanished from my life. The Community Service director said we should praise God that Lillian is heaven now because of the faithful service and witness of so many girls over the years. And I didn’t know what to think. I honestly have no idea whether or not Lillian is heaven right now. It breaks my heart not to know. I would love to believe she is and that we’ll get to see our beloved crazy old Jewish lady in heaven someday. But I keep hearing her voice echoing in my head saying that she didn’t need Jesus to die to save her and Jews would never kill Jesus.
Is Lillian in heaven? I don’t know. But I guess that’s okay. If I needed to know, God would have told me. I do know that God is good, and that He works all things for the good of those who love Him. He had a good reason for bringing Lillian into my life, even for just a few weeks. And I learned how very true the opening lines of one of my favorite songs are. “We laughed out loud ‘til we cried and the tears were sweet. Midnight melted to morning, a moment faded to memory. All these days just slip away through our fingers, so don’t let go, hold on to every moment…”
This moment is really all I have promised to me. Yes, eternity is coming and in a sense I certainly have that, but once I get to heaven everything is final. For now, I have the chance to change things. I have the chance to reach out to people like Lillian. But who knows how long I have that chance. People come and go through my life as abruptly as Lillian did. Some stay longer, some I’ll never have more than a single conversation with, but almost everyone leaves eventually. Will there be things I wish I had said to them? Will there be tears of regret when I hear second-hand that my chance to reach them is gone? And most importantly… What will I do with this moment?