I had the most pleasant surprise yesterday. After the noon Ash Wednesday worship service, I was hanging around talking to my organist when I caught sight of a man I didn’t recognize walking through the narthex. Nothing out of the ordinary. People wander in all the time. I walked up and introduced myself, and as he shook my hand he said, “Jim Werner.”
Wait a minute. This name is familiar. This name is in the mental database. OMG, Jim Werner. I shared a house with him thirty-eight years ago in Neptune, NJ. Are you kidding? No way? That’s a name from like three lifetimes ago. Yep, it was Jim. He was on his way to Jacksonville, looked me up, stopped by and by the grace of God found me.
Suddenly, a flood of memories from my past overwhelmed me. In 1980, with a whole year of experience of work at Bell Labs under my belt, Jim asked if I would like to share a house with him. Apartment life wasn’t working out very well for me, so I jumped at the opportunity. Jim was a fellow tenor in the choir with me. His family was an influential part of the church Less rent for me. A more affordable home for him. A win-win.
That opportunity was a life-changer in many ways. I could get my first dog, a yellow lab named Gabriel who got along famously with Jim’s Irish setter named Shannon. Jim worked nights, I worked days, so we rarely saw each other during the week. His bright idea to buy a wood burning stove to heat the house afforded me the opportunity to learn how to operate a chain saw and cut and split firewood. I absolutely loved doing that.
I was running 70-80-90 miles a week in preparation for marathons while he had family and friends over to party. His supper would often be no more than a few slices of toast, while I ate a variety of vegetables. Both of us slept on mattresses on the floor because neither one of us had a bed frame. Hey, it was comfortable.
Jim’s family (mom and dad plus three sisters) became my surrogate family as I learned how to live on my own. We were very different from each other, but were also very good for each other.
You never know who God is going to put in your life to help shape your future. But somehow, he always knows who you’ll need.