I was 22. Two facts were:
1) I was engaged to the delight of my eyes.
2) I had no clue what appendicitis was. (I certainly would have not spelled it correctly.)
Stephanie and I spent our junior year at Johnson Bible College (now Johnson University) engaged. We would spend the majority of our time together and this last weekend of January was no different. After going out for pizza, we strolled through some stores and enjoyed our Saturday evening together. We came back to campus, said our goodnight, and went to our dorm rooms. Pretty normal night.
Later that night, around 3am, I received a phone call from Stephanie. She was in deep pain. She was doubled over. She was hurting. I grabbed my keys and sped across campus. Her roommate had helped her down the stairs and we got her into my car. Stephanie sure was coping well with the pain but I could tell she was deeply uncomfortable. I rushed to the hospital. This was the first time I really wanted to take something away from her and realized I could do nothing about it. I was scared. Yes, I will admit it, I was really scared.
We got into the emergency room and everything went really fast. It did not take long before we learned that Stephanie had appendicitis. Not being sure what that was, I became fixated on the other words that I was hearing such as, “We need to get into surgery now.” Again, those aren’t the words I wanted to hear. I was hoping it was bad pizza and some tums might do the trick. They allowed me to stay with her for a few moments in the room before they took her. I prayed over her. The nurses came in to take her away. I was allowed to go down a few hallways with her and then we came to the double doors where I could go no further. I locked eyes with Stephanie and told her I loved her and would be right here.
Now the movies seem to always play some kind of music right here that calms the mood. Unfortunately, I heard no music. Instead I turned back around and saw three cold, hollow, silent hallways. I stood there, a stranger. A stranger to hospitals. A stranger to these emotions. A stranger to the fear of surgery. A stranger to the fear that a routine surgery could take a wrong turn. All I knew was that they were going to go inside her body to take something out. Call me crazy, but that leaves an opportunity for something to go wrong. With our parents seven hours away, I was a stranger to being all alone in a quiet waiting room hoping for updates. I didn’t know how long the surgery would be and the clock was taking a toll on me.
Then it happened out of nowhere. Someone unexpectedly arrived. She was a member of our church. Joy came around the corner into the waiting room with a smile and a bag from McDonald’s. I still think there was a glow around her. We embraced and it was then that I felt what I knew to be true…I am not alone. I was able to release my emotions with her. I asked if she was heading into church and she said, “No, I am staying here with you.” That was exactly what I was hoping she would say. I am confident that the McDonald’s sandwich and orange juice that I had that morning had never tasted so good.
One hospitable act changed everything for me. Joy chose not to go to church that morning, but she was the epitome of the Church. When I was a stranger in the hospital, I found out what hospitality can do. Food, community, fellowship, and prayer with Joy that morning was a deeply holy experience that I will never forget.
I pray for our church to become more and more attentive to those around us who may be in a state of “stranger.” It can look so many different ways. But the answer will always be a hospitable one.