God has His way of leading us. He takes us on journeys we don’t even know we are equipped for and sometimes he doubles us back into the path of someone just to bless us.
When I was a small child, I lived in the woods in a rural part of Loudoun County. There were only three houses on the one-mile private road where we lived, and I remember it was a long walk to the bus stop at the main road. The isolation meant there were no friends nearby to play with so I spent a lot of time exploring the woods and turning over rocks in the creek. Occasionally, I accompanied my mother to the next house on the street where a very interesting woman and her husband lived. Her name was Alma Newitt. She was very kind to me and my sisters, and she let us play in her summer house while she visited with our mother. She would give us little gifts and tell us stories and one Christmas, she presented me with a book that she had written and that her husband Bill had illustrated.
It was called, A Mouse Tale for Christmas and I still have it.
We moved when I was about ten years old, and I didn’t see Alma anymore. Life marched on, and my parents left the area while my (ex)wife and I moved to Clarke County where we raised our son and daughter. When my son was a junior in high school, we were invited to a holiday party by the parents of the girl he was dating. Over the course of the afternoon, I discovered that I had grown up in the same area of Loudoun as the girl’s mother. When she asked where exactly we had lived, I told her, and she said, “Oh you lived near Alma.”
“You knew Alma?” I said. “I always wondered what happened to her.”
The woman laughed and said. “She lives on Main Street in Berryville.”
I was stunned. Alma lived less than a mile from my house. The next day it snowed, but I was undeterred. I walked over to her house and knocked on the door. Out peered a familiar but much older face. It had been 36 years since I had seen Alma and it was such a joy to see her again. We talked for hours, and over the course of the two years that followed, we had the chance to see each other often to talk about God, family, and life in general.
I found out Alma had cancer about a year ago. She was under hospice care at home for the past six months, but then two weeks ago she took a turn for the worse. Alma died on February 1, 2014.
There are many of us mourning the loss of Alma this week. The world is a lesser place now that she is gone. We all take comfort in the knowledge that she now walks with the Lord, but we are left with only our memories of Alma until we see her again.
On my last visit with her, I sat at her bedside reading Bible passages to her, randomly thumbing through familiar verses in the Psalms, but I finished in Philemon. It is a brief letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon and his greeting, as he opens the letter, is full of affection and admiration. As I read the last line of that greeting, it caught in my throat and choked me to tears because it described my relationship to Alma so well.
For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my (sister), because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
I missed Alma for 36 years but was blessed with some unexpected time with her.
Now I will miss Alma once again.