When I first met my husband, he was living on the upper west side of Manhattan, a block from Central Park. A mutual friend set us up on a long distance blind date. We talked on the phone every night for two weeks before Tony flew down to Miami to meet me. I loved his heart for God, sharp mind, love for adventure, and generous spirit.
With two degrees from Harvard, and a great job on Wall Street, I was more than a little surprised to walk through the door of his apartment for the first time. The only furnishings in the small efficiency were a mattress, a dresser, and two folding chairs. Not exactly what I had imagined.
“I like to move in a taxi.” he explained.
“Who lives like this?” I thought.
Suppressing the idea that he might be the Unabomber, I convinced myself that he just needed someone who loved furniture. A month into marriage, Tony gave a friend permission to live in our apartment while we went on a six-week bike trip. It was one of those conversations where ground rules hadn’t been set.
“You what?. . .Are we moving our stuff into storage?”
I was okay with lending out the apartment, just not the idea of someone else being responsible for my stuff. He was a guy, for crying out loud. A few raised voices and choice words later, I grudgingly agreed that Peter could stay while we were gone.
I’m still indebted to a Georgia woman I met that summer who helped me get on the same page with Tony.
The bike trip had a unique housing element to it. They called it serendipity because there was no advance arrangements made for our lodging. Each day as we rode to our designated city, the support bus would drive ahead, and secure a church, community center or school for us to sleep in. That meant the 60 of us were typically sleeping in one large room in sleeping bags. Not exactly ideal for us honeymooners.
If we stayed at schools and community centers, we had a good chance of having shower facilities. But if we stayed in a church that meant we would connect a garden hose to a pole, and shower in our biking shorts on the lawn. So much for getting clean after a long ride. Near the end of the trip, we stopped in Fort Valley, Georgia, to spend the night at a church in town. A gracious parishioner, seeing the dreaded garden-hose-shower, invited the women in our group to shower in her home.
Upon arrival, she showed us the bathrooms, gave us fresh towels, and told us to make ourselves at home. Then she took me to the kitchen where she had set out brownies and lemonade and told me to make sure everyone got some. I was so excited about the hot shower and goodies that I almost missed her next statement.
“Just make sure you lock up when you leave. I have a city council meeting I need to attend.”
I stood dumbfounded at the realization that she had just allowed 12 strangers to take over her home and was leaving us alone as if we were part of her family. Thoughts of my begrudging attitude toward Peter contrasted sharply with her cheerful demeanor. Conviction welled inside as I headed to the bathroom. That evening she came back to the church.
“Can I do your laundry?” She asked as we chatted.
“Who lives like this?” I thought to myself, overwhelmed with gratitude for her ongoing generosity. Discovering Tony and I were newlyweds, she invited us and another young couple to spend the night. “You need a little privacy,” she giggled. We jumped at the chance.
Twenty-nine years, four boys, and a lot of furniture later, I’m still mindful of that generous Georgia woman. The memory of her hospitable heart continues to mold and shape my decisions. Thanks to her, we’ve had the privilege sharing our home with countless strangers. I’m so grateful for the impact of her joyful generosity.