Ever notice how life has a funny way of repeating lessons we most need to learn? We think we’ve mastered an annoying habit that’s plagued us for years, that we’re waaaaay down the road on finally conquering it, once and for all. Then life jumps out and yells, “Surprise!” – and the same habit taunts us, telling us we still have miles to go.
Let’s face it: We usually don’t like those kinds of surprises. A happy surprise, they are not. I groan, for instance, when a reminder pops up that I’m not as far along in the Patience Department as I hope. Like when I’m so focused on my work that I don’t fully listen to my children’s questions about their work and offer a rushed response – and their faces tell on me.
But, these moments serve a valuable purpose: They remind us that we always have room to grow. That, when it comes to certain character traits, there’s no such thing as a ceiling we hit or a Bruce Lee-type master level we’re supposed to reach. That it’s so unwise to rest on our laurels and then just hover, content and convinced we’ve “arrived” somewhere.
One of my stretch-and-grow areas is faith. And elder care is the teacher.
Case in point: Mr. Mylvett. Up in age, with a slight but sturdy frame and a literal twinkle in his eye. Dressed neatly, wearing a collared shirt and tailored slacks. And a fedora.
I noticed him while taking care of a banking matter. The manager was clearly concerned about him. Like me, she saw an elderly gentleman using a cane and moving about alone on a super-hot and humid North Carolina morning. She tried to convince him to stay inside the bank until his ride arrived. But, he replied in a sing-song, lyrical voice, “Ooooooh, miss. I am fine. I will just keep moving along as always.”
She looked worried. But he really did keep moving along, clearly determined and independent. All of five feet tall, he put on his fedora hat, grabbed his brown paper bag and walked out, slowly but steadily.
Watching Mr. Mylvett, I thought of my dad and his arthritic knees. Ensuring his physical safety is constantly on my mind. So, watching Mr. Mylvett leave the bank alone was nerve-racking. I thought, who’s looking out for him?
I prayed for the line to move faster so I could be sure he was okay.
As I walked outside, I looked around but didn’t see him immediately. Thankfully he hadn’t gotten far, though: By the time I pulled out of the parking lot and turned the corner, he was there, slowly making his way down the street. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I slowed our mini-van to a stop, turned on the hazard lights, and rolled down the passenger side window. “Sir, may I give you a ride to wherever you’re going?” I asked.
“Oooooooh! God is so good! Yes, please!” he replied, with a genuine smile.
We properly introduced ourselves. And, over the next 15 minutes, I learned a lot about him. I learned that he is proud to be 93 years young. That he’s very recently widowed after 60-plus years of marriage. That he and his wife were blessed with 12 children who all live out of town. That he lived in New York for many years, so he’s quite used to walking everywhere. That he is an ordained minister born in Belize. And that he’s traveled the world over the years sharing a message of God’s love for us all.
Mr. Mylvett turned out to be one of the gentlest, most humble spirits I’ve ever encountered. He has an easy smile, and a quiet but sincere way of saying what’s on his mind. His faith in God is keen, clear and deep, without apology or bounds. I thought, our paths must have crossed for a reason – but why?
And, before I realized it, the ride was almost over – but the lesson for me was just beginning.
About 2 miles later, we pulled into his apartment complex. Smiling, he asked, “Before we part, may I say a small prayer with you?” Without hesitation, I responded, “Yes, please do.”
See, I’d woken early that morning with a lot on my mind. What “absolutely had to get done” that day. How quickly I needed to get it all done. That I had about 44 additional to-do lists waiting in the wings. And feeling the stress and weight of it all. And that was all despite having prayed with my family as we do each morning. Instead of focusing on faith, I was focusing on stress.
There’s no way Mr. Mylvett would’ve known all of that. I never interrupted him when he spoke. I didn’t speed down the street in a rush to take him home. I didn’t tell him about my to-do lists or everything I juggle on my life’s plate each day. In helping Mr. Mylvett, I stopped focusing on my stress and focused on him.
His prayer was simple, but profound. He thanked God for sending me his way. Then he prayed over my life – my family, my well-being, and (get this) my peace of mind.
The tears quietly flowed, and I didn’t try to stop them. I was so grateful for what felt like an incredibly sacred moment. In extending compassion to Mr. Mylvett, I received an unexpected gift in return: the reassurance that God has my back. It took the prayer of a stranger to remind me to rest in that reassurance, rather than focus on the stress of my day. It hit me that, just as God has been protecting Mr. Mylvett for 93 years, He has been and will keep providing all I need – even the strength to knock out those to-do lists, one at a time.
After helping Mr. Mylvett out the van, I hugged him. Before driving away, I rolled down the passenger side window to wish him well. In his Belizean accent, he offered, “And remember: Life is beautiful – it’s all in how you live it.” Another happy surprise.
“Yes, sir” was about all I could muster before a second round of grateful tears began. In 15 minutes, a very kind gentleman shared a very big reminder about faith with me. And that when we stretch and grow our compassion for others, a happy surprise may be just around the corner.
What lessons are you often reminded of by life’s moments?
Have you experienced happy surprises along the way?
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