Letters to a Stranger

Letters to a Stranger

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

Letters to a Stranger

The Lord helps those who help others.

~Anonymous

On a bitter January evening in 1992, the phone rang and my fifteen-year-old son Tajin hollered, “Mom, it’s for you!”

“Who is it?” I asked. I was tired. It had been a long day. In fact, it had been a long month. The engine in my car died five days before Christmas, and I had just returned to work after being out with the flu. I was feeling overwhelmed by having to purchase another vehicle and having lost a week’s pay due to illness. A cloud of despair hung over my heart.

“It’s Bob Thompson,” Tajin answered.

The name didn’t register. As I walked over to pick up the phone, the last name seemed vaguely familiar. Thompson... Bob Thompson... Thompson? Like a computer searching for the right path, my mind finally made the connection. Beverly Thompson. In the brief time it took me to reach the phone, my mind replayed the last nine months.

As I drove to work last March, some patches of snow were still on the ground, but the river, winding on my left, had opened up and was full of swift-moving water. The warm sun shining through my windshield seemed to give hope of an early spring.

The winter of 1991 had been a hard one for me as a single working mother. My three children were in their teens, and I was finding it hard to cope with their changing emotional needs and our financial needs. Each month I struggled to provide the bare necessities.

I faithfully attended church and a Bible study but had very little time for anything else. I longed to serve the Lord in a way that had some significance. So that day I again apologized to him that I had so little to give back to him. It seemed I was always asking him to meet my needs or answer my prayers.

“Lord, what can I do for you? I feel like I’m always taking from you because my needs are so great.” The answer to my own question seemed so simple. Prayer.

“Okay, Lord, I will commit this time that I have during my drive to work to prayer. Will you give me some people to pray for? I don’t even have to know their needs, just let me know who they are.” My heart lifted as I continued to speak to him during the remainder of my forty-five-minute trip from New Hampshire to Vermont.

I arrived at work and proceeded to open the mail and prepare the deposit. I was in charge of accounts receivable for the Mary Meyer Corporation, a company that makes stuffed animals. I opened one envelope and attached to the check was a note that said, “I’m sorry this payment is late. I have been seriously ill. Thank you, Beverly Thompson.”

I can’t explain it, but I instantly knew that this was the person the Lord had given me to pray for. “You want me to pray for her, don’t you Lord?” I asked him silently. The answer came in a feeling of peace and excitement combined—I knew he had just answered my prayer from less than an hour ago!

So began my journey of prayer for Beverly Thompson. At first I found it very awkward to pray for someone I didn’t even know. I did know one thing besides her name. She owned a bookstore in Presque Isle, Maine, and she ordered bulk quantities of our plush animals to sell. I didn’t know how old she was. Was she married, widowed, single or divorced? What was wrong with her? Was she terminally ill? Did she have any children?

The answers to these questions weren’t revealed as I prayed for Beverly, but I did find out how much the Lord loved her and that she was not forgotten by him. Many days I found myself in tears as I entered into prayer for her. I prayed that he would give her comfort for whatever she would have to endure. Or I pled for strength and courage for her to accept things that she might find hard to face.

One morning, as my wipers pushed the spring rain off my windshield, I saw muted tones of browns and grays. I prayed that the Lord would give Beverly eyes to see that the same drab landscape would be transformed into the greens and yellows of spring by a single day filled with sunshine. I prayed she could find hope, even though it might seem covered up in the muted tones of her life, and rely on a God who can transform winter into spring.

In May, I felt that I should send her a card to let her know I was praying for her. As I made this decision, I knew I was taking a risk. Because I had taken her name from where I worked, I could possibly lose my job. I wasn’t in a position to be without any income.

But, God, I told him, I’ve grown to love Beverly Thompson. I know you’ll take care of me no matter what happens. In my first card, I told Beverly a little bit about myself and how I had asked the Lord for specific people to pray for. Then I mentioned how I had come to get her name. I also told her that the Lord knew all about what she was going through and wanted her to know how much he loved her.

I certainly knew how much God loved me. When I first moved into this new town, it had been difficult, especially as a single mom. But only a few weeks after arriving, I bought a Bible for fifty cents at a yard sale. When I got home, I found a folded note inside.

When I opened it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Dear Susan,” the handwritten note began, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6) Obviously, the writer was encouraging another Susan, since I had randomly picked up the Bible. But for me, it was assurance that God was personally interested in me!

Summer came and went, and I continued to send Beverly cards and notes. I never heard from her, but I never stopped praying for her, even telling my Tuesday night Bible study group the story. They also upheld her in prayer.

At times I had to admit to God that I really wanted a response, I wanted to know what Beverly thought about this stranger and her steady stream of notes. Did she think I was completely crazy? Did she hope I’d stop?

I took the phone from my son’s hand and immediately my hand went clammy. I know why he’s calling, I thought. He’s calling me to tell me to stop bothering his wife. They probably think I’m a religious kook. A million scenarios flew through my mind.

“Hello, Mr. Thompson,” my voice squeaked nervously.

“My daughter Susan and I had just been going through my wife’s things and found your cards and notes and your phone number. We wanted to call and let you know how much they meant to Beverly and to fill you in on what happened.”

My heart loosened as this grieving husband continued to tell me about Beverly’s last days.

“While we were going through her things, we found your cards and notes tied up with a red ribbon. I know she must have read them over and over because they looked worn.”

Then he said quietly, “My wife had been diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of forty-eight.”

I winced at the thought of Beverly’s physical setback, but Mr. Thompson’s next words comforted me. “She never suffered any pain at all. I know now that this was a result of your prayers.”

Then he answered one of the questions I had nagged God about. “The reason you never heard back from her was because she also developed brain cancer,” he said.

“Our relationship with God amounted to going to church once in a while, but it was nothing that had much effect on our lives,” Mr. Thompson explained. “I wanted you to know that my wife asked to be baptized two weeks before she passed away. The night before she died, she told me it was okay for her to die because she was going home to be with her Lord.”

As Bob Thompson continued to share his wife’s story with me, the drab landscape of my own life was transformed. As insignificant as my life had appeared to be to me, God used it to shine His love upon another life, resulting in a gift that no one could take away.

The experience increased my faith significantly. God took one of the lowest points in my life and added glints of his glory. It made me realize that when we’re willing to be obedient, God works in profound ways.

~Susan Morin

Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul

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