Cally wasn’t sure of what she was doing but she went ahead and did it anyway, swallowing hard as she approached the elderly man that the congregation sadly nicknamed Stinky Pete. He usually sat in the same front pew every Sunday morning.
“Are you Okay?” she asked.
Pete didn’t answer he just kept coughing.
“I’ll get you a drink of water,” she told him, panicking as she fled to the empty pulpit, thankful church hadn’t started yet. She grabbed the water and hurried back to the choking man. “Here, drink this.”
As Pete guzzled the water, Cally looked up to the rest of the congregation moving to their seats, avoiding the front pew. They gawked at her, shaking their heads. Finally, Pete cleared his throat saying, “Thank you dear.”
Cally smiled, noticing the pianist had started playing the first hymn so she sat beside Pete even though she knew all eyes were on her. “You’re welcome,” she said to him, squeezing his hand. When he didn’t let go, it alarmed her. Then she saw tears streaming down his face, confusing her. Was he as lonely as she was? It hadn’t even been a month since her father died of cancer. It took him in three short months and broke her heart. She didn’t want anyone in church to know. All she wanted was to go to church without confrontation, but all that did was make her lonely.
The pastor spoke about love in his sermon. He told the congregation to reach out to the community like Jesus did. He told them to stand and shake hands with everyone but nobody ventured toward them at all.
“Doesn’t it bother you when they avoid you?” she asked him.
Pete slumped down in the pew pulling her with him. “If I don’t give my heart away, it can’t get broke.”
Cally felt the tears come. Usually she guarded her emotions, but this time she couldn’t hold them back. Pete struck a nerve with his theory, a theory she knew all too well. Since her father’s diagnosis, she started withdrawing. Nothing seemed to matter anymore –not even God. Disappointment washed over her, consuming her until her life was anything but fulfilling.
As the pastor concluded his sermon, he looked toward the front pew and began to cry. “We all know why I’m preaching this sermon today,” he choked. “Pete Johnson sat in the front pew, and I can’t even remember the man.”
People in the congregation suddenly began to break down, sniffling and wiping their noses. Cally looked around confused as she leaned over to ask Pete, “Are you Pete Johnson?”
“Yes,” he said closing his eyes. “If you ignore them, they’ll go away. It always works. I try not to see them, and they try not to see me.”
As the pastor dismissed the service and the people headed toward the exit signs, Pete got up and led Cally toward the foyer. “Did you know Pete well?” a voice asked her, bringing a sick feeling to her stomach as Pete pulled his hand away from hers.
Suddenly a large arm draped across her shoulder. “One thing Pete taught us was that we should reach out to others,” the pastor said.
“Why are you telling me this?”
Then she remembered what Pete said, “If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.” But they weren’t following the rules anymore.
“Would you like to have dinner with my wife and I?” the pastor asked her.
“I guess…I could.”
“I knew you needed a friend when I saw you sitting in Pete’s pew,” the pastor’s wife spoke softly. “I hadn’t realized you lost your father. It must be hard losing two people you love all in the same month.”
“Two? I’m sorry, what do you mean?”
“Pete’s funeral, it hit us all pretty hard yesterday. I can’t imagine how it’s affecting you dear.”
From that moment on, Cally knew seeing Pete that day wasn’t a coincidence; it was a gift. She had been hibernating from everyone, cutting herself off from the things that mattered most. It wasn’t until she reached out to someone, that healing could take place in her own life. Now she deliberately seeks out those lonely people, making them feel loved. In return, God has restored her soul completely, reminding her that He loves her and is willing to do anything, and use anyone to make His point.
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