A Heaven-Sent Hug

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Last month, a parishioner told me she looked forward to the great stories I would bring back from vacation. Today, I would like to tell you the best story from my time away. It’s actually a story of Tori, the wife of a former college roommate I visited. It is a God story which all involved are happy to share with others, and this story is entirely true.

Tori worked ten years at a Christian school in Oregon with a much-beloved Bible teacher named Dave. He was like a father figure for her. Tori did not really know his wife, Marcy, but he often spoke of her in glowing terms. When Tori had left her teaching job and moved away, Dave was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer shortly after his retirement. Dave and Marcy helped keep their friends and family in the loop through their joint Facebook account until he passed in 2017.

Amanda Robin Sandberg

Fast-forward to May of 2022. Tori and her family have lived in Northern Idaho for a little more than a year. And it so happens that Marcy, the now remarried widow, has also moved to Idaho and lives less than two miles away from Tori, though they still remain merely acquaintances. One Monday, Tori is scrolling Facebook and sees one of Marcy’s posts: it’s the picture (right) of a smiling 42-year-old woman paired with the caption “My beautiful daughter.” This seems like a rather benign item, but Tori’s thoughts keep returning back to it, over and over. So Tori revisits the post the next day and reads its many replies. From this she learns that Marcy’s daughter Amanda has died, recently and suddenly, in an unmentioned way.

Being a mother herself, Tori’s heart breaks; she weeps, moved with compassion. Seeing far away Facebook friends writing to Marcy saying “I wish we could be there for you,” Tori prays, “I’m right here, I’m close. God, what can I do?” And the idea she receives is, “Go! Go to her house!” Tori thinks, “I don’t know her very well. I should bring her cookies or flowers.” But this was answered with, “No, don’t bring anything. … Bring her a hug. That’s what you’re allowed to bring her and nothing else.”

Now Tori is very kind, but naturally an introvert. This plan to just drop-in on a mourning acquaintance was not her preference. She asked, “Is this really what you want me to do?” And the compelling idea continued urging her like a mantra: “Show up, bring her a hug. Show up, bring her a hug.” Like she had experienced in previous inspired episodes, this thought’s persistence despite Tori’s personal fears and doubts were a sign to her that it was coming from the Lord. Tori reports, “I felt stronger and stronger: ‘This hug is from her daughter. This is what she wants to give her.’

Late Tuesday afternoon, her stomach sick with anxiety, Tori went to Marcy’s home and rang the bell. Marcy soon opened the door with a surprised but friendly expression. Tori said, “I believe I saw something on Facebook.” Marcy’s face fell and she nodded. Extending her arms, Tori said, “I’m here to give you…” and Marcy interrupted, “A Hug!” Tori is ordinarily a light hugger but she gave Marcy strong embraces. Marcy joyfully said to her husband, “She hugs just like Amanda!” The two women smiled, cried, and hugged again and again.

Amanda had died just four days before in a car accident. She was the same age as Tori. Marcy had Christian faith her daughter was in heaven but was asking God for a sign that Amanda was alright. Just hours before Tori’s visit, Marcy had told her husband one of the things she was going to miss most were Amanda’s hugs. Marcy told Tori that Amanda had once hugged her mom so tightly that she broke some of her mother’s ribs. “I never told her,” Marcy said, “but I guess she knows now!” What beautiful things would the Lord do through us if we were more open to his promptings?

This morning, Jesus shares with us one of his greatest Gospel stories. In this famous parable, after evil befalls a traveler on the road at least three people happen by. When the priest, Levite, and Samaritan began their days’ journeys none of their plans had foreseen a detour to help a stranger in need. The priest and the Levite both saw the robbers’ victim but they were too busy or too afraid to help, or they simply assumed God didn’t want them to get involved. The Samaritan, however, was open to the will of the Lord that day in a way the other two were not. The Samaritan was moved with compassion and approached the man; cared for him, lifted him up, provided help for him, and left him better than he found him. Of the three, Jesus presents the Good Samaritan as an example for us to follow, telling us to “go and do likewise.”

You can do likewise by being open and asking, by asking the Lord and being open to his promptings. First, choose to increase your openness to loving “the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then ask the Lord in prayer to use you as his voice, hands, and feet; as his conduit, his vessel, his powerful instrument in your daily life. (“God, please show me your will.”) Finally, as you go throughout your day, be open to his invitations.

What are the Lord’s promptings like? When some innocuous thing seems highlighted in Tori’s attention or when someone comes to her mind during prayer, in a dream, or in the course of her day, she pauses to ask Jesus about it. Maybe she is supposed to reach out to someone with inspired words or some good deed. Tori notices the Lord’s ideas hit her differently than her own, they stick with her rather than fade away, returning to her in quiet moments. And if she were ever to hear an evil suggestion, she would then know it’s not from him. Provided Tori does not give in to busyness or distraction, when she is welcoming heaven’s invitations, “Every time I’m open to God doing something,” she says, “he does stuff.”

This spiritual openness, asking and listening and doing, is a skill to practice. Like when cultivating a new garden or starting to lift weights, it is better to begin small and to grow over time than to never start at all. Be prepared to take some risks for Jesus. It is better to make small mistakes than to miss amazing opportunities. Christ died for us. We must be concerned about more than merely our own comfort and plans. Like the Good Samaritan, be interested in helping to save and bless others. Be open and ask God to use you, ask our loving Lord and be open to his great ideas.

One Response to “A Heaven-Sent Hug”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Thank you for the inspiring story and the challenge to be available for whatever the Good God wants to accomplish :).

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