I sat on my hands to keep them warm. My heart pounded and my thoughts darted in a million directions. I wanted to read but I couldn’t concentrate. My prayers were earnest but not enthusiastic. Also, I was hungry. How long would we be stuck here?
My husband Tom traipsed up and down the rural road nearby redialing the car rental company with no answer. A few curious folks walked by but didn’t offer to help.
Three hours earlier, at 4:00 pm, our left rear tire went flat without warning. It was a casualty of deep potholes, curbs that jutted out into the narrow road and a jittery Tom who’d just ventured out for the first time on the wrong side of the road. I was grateful he was behind the wheel and not me.
Limping on three wheels, we coasted into a tiny neighborhood in rural Piscottie, Scotland. A spare tire would be a simple solution, but there wasn’t one in the trunk.
In the midst of my angst, a tap came at the window. A man was saying something, so I opened the door. “Wouldn’t you like a coffee?” “Yes!” Then I followed him beyond the neighborhood to his property nearby. His house was unique. One section was stone, 300 years old. The remaining rooms had been added as needed over the years to create a suitable home. His small yard was filled with pots he’d acquired from the recycling center and they spilled over with flowers. He was a hard worker who loved growing things and landscaping his small space.
Andrew had a beautiful Scottish dialect. Even though quite a few of his teeth were missing, his handsome face reminded me of a rugged George Clooney.
He’d already gotten to know my husband. He’d spotted Tom and called out, “Is there anything I can do for you?” That simple question changed our day and impacted me with a story I’ve begged God to help me put into words.
Andrew led me into the house and I sat on the couch where he’d cleared a spot just for me. On the ottoman, he set a small plate of shortbread cookies. He then handed me a hot cup of coffee with milk which comforted me in multiple ways. There’s that magical feeling, of course, when you hold a hot mug in your cold hands. But there was more than that. The mug in my hands told me he’d noticed us and was willing to help.
My shoulders relaxed and I sank into the couch cushion. I wouldn’t have felt more honored if I’d been a guest in one of the mansions we’d seen in Edinburgh. It was as if God tapped Andrew on the shoulder and pointed out two stranded strangers who had no clue what to do next. Our heavenly Father worked through Andrew to provide the specific hospitality we needed. The cup could have contained hot water for all I cared. He anticipated my need and gave his time and resources to provide it. That was the true gift.
The hot coffee was hope in a cup.
Carol, who also lived there, greeted me with a hot water bottle covered in a sweater-like material. My mouth fell open. In a flash, I was a five-year-old girl, holding a hot water bottle over my aching ear. I hadn’t seen or thought of one of those since, as a child, I’d been comforted by one during my frequent ear infections. Still wearing my coat and holding that hot water bottle on my lap, I was warm all over.
Carol didn’t fluff cushions or apologize for her home. She didn’t rush around putting stuff in order. She wasn’t embarrassed there was no meal to serve us. Let’s be honest, I’d be scrounging through the pantry and whipping up whatever we had, because hospitality means you serve a meal, right? No. I needed her, not food.
Carol and Andrew may not share our beliefs, opinions or lifestyles but that had no bearing on the experience. Carol sat with me, focused on our problem, and tossed out possible solutions. She made a list of useful numbers for Tom and insisted he make calls from the land-line, which made all the difference. By 8:00 pm my forlornness and anger had melted. I watched how single-minded Carol was. I wanted to be more like her and not as all over the place as I can often be in a crisis.
The key element in hospitality is a person’s heart. Didn’t I already know that? I want to give of myself the way they gave to us.
When at 10:00 p.m. the breakdown service hadn’t come, Carol insisted she’d drive me to our next B&B. When I hesitated, she said, “I’m just glad we can help.” She filled the 30-minute drive to our place in Anstruther with fascinating stories about her life. Carol already seemed like an old friend. I couldn’t hug her hard enough or thank her sufficiently when we parted. I’m glad we exchanged contact information. Tom finally left the inoperative vehicle and took a taxi to our room at midnight.
For eight hours those Scottish folks put their life on hold to help two strangers who talked funny.
After a short night in the B&B, we were disappointed to have missed the beautiful coastal hike we’d anticipated, but grateful for an adventure we’d never forget. Bob the breakdown guy showed up to give us a lift back to our stalled car and on to a tire company. Our travels eventually continued.
God used a 24-hour interruption in our Scotland vacation to give us a new perspective. While we traveled, we asked Him to speak to us, and He did.
There is food that nourishes the soul rather than the stomach.
I’ll continue to swish toilets, bake cookies and wipe down the kitchen counter. Fresh flowers may be arranged on the desk in the foyer and, of course, candles will be lit. But I hope I won’t open my door to folks again without recognizing their true need. I know, more than the decorative touches, they need me.