Friday, August 29, 2008

Stranger Hospitality


After physical therapy on Tuesday, Grace and the kids and I went away for 2 nights this week to a bed and breakfast about 1 hour from our house. I had booked an 1800s log cabin that had been preserved in its original state and filled with antique furniture. It was like staying in a museum. It felt like we were living in the 1800's with the exception of the bathrooms. Grace and I even felt some culture shock initially, the change in atmosphere in the house was so pervasive. Perhaps people were shorter back then because I hit my head quite a few times on the logs sticking out from the ceiling. Little Gracie even managed to hit her head on the slanted walls!

Merriam, the owner/innkeeper greeted us when we arrived. She is a 69 year old woman who has been running this bed and breakfast for over 20 years. She invited me into her living room to complete the registration while Grace took the kids to the log cottage to use the bathroom. As I was sitting there waiting for the credit card to process, Merriam asked me if I had surgery recently. I told her that this was my second surgery for cancer and described some of the treatments that I did recently. Merriam's face sunk. She let out a big sigh and didn't say anything for a minute. I didn't know what to say either, so I just sat quietly. Then she said, "It's just too bad. Somebody so young. It's just too bad."

I didn't really know what to say in response. Sometimes I try to cheer people up by telling them how it's not hopeless and I'm actually quite happy despite what's been going on and that I believe in a God who can work miracles. Usually I get really uncomfortable sitting silently in front of a stranger, but for some reason I felt comfortable leaving the conversation at that. There was a manner about Merriam that made me feel very comfortable and welcome in her home.

Before leaving to show us around the property Merriam said, "It was a little hard to understand you on the phone, but in person it's not a problem at all." For some reason those where really encouraging words to my ears. I felt thankful that she could understand me.

After we finished the tour of the property the kids played and ran around freely like they were at home. AJ was so excited about the chickens and horses and kept talking about them all the time. We really felt like we could get away even though it was just for 2 days. I felt sad that we missed prayer meeting on Tuesday night at our house and Wednesday night at church because I always love seeing people from church, but it was nice to just be alone as a family with no phone calls or doctors appointments to worry about. The kids loved being on a farm with animals and they even got to touch them and feed them.

Merriam proved to be the kindest and most hospitable hostess I'm ever met. I typically feel self-conscious around strangers about the fact that I can't eat and have to eat through a tube in my stomach. Even at church gatherings I'll feed myself in the car or try to hide so people don't have to see. But for some reason instead of feeding myself before I went to breakfast, I decided to bring it and feed myself in Merriam's 1700's dining room. I didn't feel self-conscious around Merriam. In fact, I almost felt loved by her even though we barely knew each other. As I was feeding myself, Merriam came over and said, "What is that you're having there." So I went on to explain how I couldn't eat and had to feed through a tube.

In response her face sunk again just like the first day when first I told her about my cancer. While she served some delicious looking banana bread, eggs, bacon and hash browns to Grace and the kids, she told me about people that she knew that had cancer and had digestive disabilities. Then she told me how she herself had to relearn how to eat because a surgeon who removed her tonsils when she was five damaged the epiglottis so she had trouble protecting her airway. That is basically one of the problems I have with swallowing as well. After that Merriam told us about how she broke her neck in a car accident and should have been paralyzed, but miraculously is not, yet can't turn her head left and right and how her husband left her after 28 years and she had to open this bed and breakfast in her home to make money just to survive. Then she told us about her daughter's husband leaving her and how tough her life was. I remember thinking to myself that she really has had a tough life but she's not bitter about it. She's just so happy all the time you wouldn't know it.

As we talked more we mentioned our church, Redeemer Bible Church, in Minnetonka. Merriam said, "Oh, thats nice. I'm familiar with bible churches because I used to go to Maranatha Bible church when I lived in Bloomington. Where in Minnetonka is you church?"

"On Highway 7", we answered. After Merriam mentioned Maranatha Bible Church some lights started turning on for Grace and I.

It turns out that Merriam used to go to our church 30 years ago when it was still in Glen Lake and was called Maranatha Bible Church. Since then it moved to Minnetonka and changed names to Woodland Hills and then to Redeemer. She knows many of our friends like Betty C. and Audrey F. who helped start the church and two of the pastors, Don G. and Doug S. In fact, she went to high school with Betty. Small world, huh?

After talking about the church and expository preaching and other things, our time at the bed and breakfast came to a close. After looking back on our experience I just felt like Merriam ministered to us in a special way and with few words. She made complete strangers and their toddler children feel welcomed and loved. She had her own burdens but always had a warm smile and caring personality all day long. She knew what pain and discomfort was like, and always spoke to us with compassion and love. Grace and I wanted a short vacation getaway, but the Lord was so gracious to give us a loving friend along with it.

Merriam Helping Gracie feed the horses

AJ and Gracie playing in the field

AJ wearing the free hat they gave me after my oncology appointment


  1. What a blessing Merriam was to have there and be your host! I'm so glad you guys could enjoy this time away.

  2. thanks for sharing! we are encouraged and continue to pray for you guys!

    -Steven & Angie

  3. It's a Small World, and a wonderful and refreshing account of our Lord's blessings for you and Merriam. The children's pictures are adorable!!! How they have grown...
    We continue to pray for Andrew's recovery and healing,
    Gloria fr. NJ

  4. angie & dan thorntonSunday, August 31, 2008 12:09:00 PM

    Merriam sounds like a wonderful woman. So glad you guys got a chance to get away!

  5. Glad to hear you and your family got the change to get away and rejuvenate a bit :) Praying and thinking of you guys as always, ~audrey

  6. Andrew,

    I love it, another an person with a shock and awe kind of story, but with a twist...that comes with an opportunity to share the mercy and grace of Christ! It's awesome, I am not alone. God is awesome and merciful yet His children have an awesome opportunity to share His gracious works.

    I is very cool that it seems the cancer scare has somewhat passed.

    Your children are always a great source of inspiration. They always seem to be a good mood despite circumstances.

    That is proof that God is in control.

    We will keep praying for your family. The entire family. Keep us posted. You rock dude! Praise God!

  7. reading your description of merriam made me a little teary-eyed. its amazing how God allows pain and suffering to create in us a unique ability to love and empathize. i'm so glad you were blessed and refreshed during your vacation!

  8. Andrew and Grace,

    I love the picture of AJ wearing that hat "Chemo Sucks". One of our rallying crys through Amy's trial with cancer was Cancer Sucks. It just summed up our feelings at times, truely most of the time. Yes, God teaches us through the trials but sometimes being blunt just helped. I laughed out lound when I saw that pic.
    Love ya,
    Jason Lewis