The Stranger at the Door (Thanksgiving, Part I)

November, 1931

Abigail stood at the kitchen sink and looked out over the barren cornfield. It had been a long hard year since Will’s spirit left his cancer ridden body. She didn’t want him to go, but she didn’t think she could stand another hour of watching him suffer. Though ravaged with pain and often too weak to stand, he worked with her and their young son to bring in his last harvest.

Will had never allowed her to work in the fields before. “I didn’t marry a field hand. I married a wife, a lover and a fine, graceful lady.” Although he cried the day he reluctantly asked her for help, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. How would she have survived this gruesome year without the knowledge and strength she’d gleaned working that last year beside her sick husband?

Abigail felt lost when the next planting season arrived and she was forced to go it alone. Though the rows were crooked and she forgot much of her neighbor’s lengthy advice, she managed to plow the fields and plant the crops. When the rains came and the bright sun warmed the land, the tiny shoots made their way to the surface. Finally, she understood Will’s passion, remembering how he walked the fields and returned to the house full of excitement in anticipation of a bountiful harvest.

When her son wasn’t in school, Micah had been right with her, doing the work of a young man much older than his nine years. He became a dependable source of information as he recalled much of what his father had taught him. Each day, as the sun disappeared behind the tree line, the two novice farmers trekked from the fields, dirty, worn and tired. Many evenings she would have preferred falling into bed without a thought of food, but her son needed nourishment to satisfy his growing body. The sewing, preserving and housework would suffer until the crops were harvested. What they couldn’t sell, they gave away to those less fortunate.

Abigail didn’t think she would survive another year, but she had no choice. No one had  money to purchase her farm and she and her son needed a source of income. In these depressed years where jobs were scarce and food was a necessary commodity, the farm proved to be an asset. Despite her lack of experience, this was all she knew, but she couldn’t continue without help. God, please show me what to do.

Just as the last dish found its way to the drying rack, Micah came running into the house, slamming and locking the door behind him. “Mom, there’s a man coming up the lane. Should I get the rifle?”

“That won’t be necessary. It’s probably one of the neighbors.”

Micah ran from the room insisting that the “stranger” looked more like “a bad man up to no good.” They were far from the main road or the railroad tracks and had never faced this situation before. At least, not since her protector and guardian had left for heaven.

Be our Sword and Shield, Abigail breathed as she heard the screen door open and the weak knock. It was too late to pretend they weren’t home–the kerosene lamp burned like a beacon on the kitchen table. She shook with fear as she opened the door a crack, followed by a force so great she sprawled clumsily on the kitchen floor. Crying out in fear, she took a whiff of the heavy weight landing on top of her. It smelled so rank, she gagged amid the sharp pain surging through her lower back. When she tried to free herself, her hands roamed over dirty clothing covering a skeleton of a man. Heat radiated from him as his bare bones pressed into her own bruised body. When she felt his frail shoulders and arms, she recognized the symptoms of an extremely malnourished and sick individual.

Not yet freed from the heavy weight, she heard the cock of the rifle and saw her son preparing to shoot. “Put the gun down, Micah. The man’s unconscious and burning up with fever. Please go back to your chores. I’ll take care of him.” Amid Micah’s protest, Abigail knew her son had to be her first concern.

Just when fear threatened to rend her useless, she remembered a devotional booklet she’d recently read. Two verses pulsated through her mind as she wiggled out from under the man’s dead weight. ” . . . I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. (Matthew 25:35b)  “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers; for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Hebrews 13:2) The verses halted their march as another thought took precedence. God, could this be your answer to my prayer?

When Abigail managed to stand and get a good look at the stranger, she knew she’d been right to open her door to this severely malnourished individual. Despite the road dirt, shaggy beard and thread barren clothes, the answer to her prayer lay on her kitchen floor. That is, if he didn’t die before she could put him to work. With a wash cloth dripping with cool well water, she made an attempt to lower his body temperature. She removed the soiled shirt and washed his arms and neck. Flashes of heat swept over her as she wondered if she should remove the dingy, ragged undershirt.

Not wanting to embarrass herself or the poor man if he ever regained consciousness, she gave attention to his shoes. Tears filled her eyes when she saw the flapping, thin soles and wondered how he’d even made it up the lane. She remembered Mary washing Jesus’ feet and then another verse from Matthew 25 came to mind. “. . . when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”

~~~

Ben felt the warmth of the room and something tickling his feet before he ever opened his eyes. Nausea welled up in his throat when he lifted his head.  His eyes dilated in disbelief when he realized an attractive young woman leaned against him and gently washed his feet. At the tickling sensation, he abruptly jerked, startling the woman. She looked up with fear and uncertainty. He felt embarrassed at his bedraggled appearance. How did she stand to be near him? Discretely, he moved his feet away from her gentle touch.

When she realized his intention to rise, she wrapped her arms around him with a strength that contradicted her small frame. She helped lift him from the floor and together they moved slowly until he fell helplessly into a kitchen chair. “It’s okay. You’re safe here. I just put some soup in the icebox from our supper. I’ll heat it for you.”

Ben sat at the table, too astonished to speak. He didn’t know where he was or how he got here. He didn’t even know the angel’s name. But, he did know that God guided him to this place and he never felt more at home.

(To be continued)

 

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