What a difference of atmosphere when Sister Eva got into our train 1/2 way on our road! For she is a medieval-saint, stepped out into a glorious light & freedom. Diary 14 November 1908 (Between Berlin and Miechowitz in Northern Germany)
Doorbell rings. Package left on the porch. For me! I eagerly tear through the outer wrapping to unveil the contents therein: 2 lovely indigo-blue mugs with a raised iris design. The final winning, whimsical touch: a songbird perched on the handle of each mug. Lifted in spirit by the gift and the giver (my daughter-in-law!) I carry on with my daily tasks with renewed energy and joy.
Whether a tangible object delivered through the mail or a “random act of kindness” during the course of an otherwise ordinary day, the unexpected gift has dividends far beyond the particular offering – for giver as well as recipient. I think back on how “loving acts of kindness” have strewn my pathway since childhood: the maiden woman who built, for me, a library of hardback children’s classics. . . the adults who opened their homes for the youth of our church, providing food and hospitality. . . the woman who gave me a day of babysitting so that I could Christmas shop. . . the bowls of soup when sick. . . flowers to commemorate or celebrate. . . the friend offering a listening ear when what I needed most was to talk. . . a stranger insisting I go before her in a grocery line saying”I have more groceries than you.” The list could go on and on of simple kindnesses offered unexpectedly – and undeservedly – in the course of an average day.
At the end of a trip to Denmark and Sweden, 1908, Lilias was encouraged to visit a ministry founded by Eva von Tiele-Winckler, in Miechovitz – “a great mining district on the spur of the Carpathians, with the winds of all the Russias blown bitterly across it. . .” After a brief and unexpected introduction in Berlin, Lilias and Sister Eva planned to connect a few days later, on the train which would carry them both to their mutual destination. It was no surprise that “their hearts were knit instantly” thus beginning a friendship that would last their lifetimes. So inspired was Lilias by this remarkable woman and her comprehensive ministry to orphans, the infirmed, students and outreach missions to prisons and outposts, that she mentioned in her diary: “God, as is His want, has kept to the last His ‘best wine.'”
My interest in Sister Eva was quickened by Lilias and I was given, during my research, the biography, Sister Eva of Friedenshort, for further study. I was struck by many common denominators between Lilias and Sister Eva, most notably their privileged backgrounds which they relinquished to serve God in ways radical by any standard. Likewise, I was gripped by their almost unearthly ability to hold out a big vision, pioneering strategic ministries, without losing sight of the individual – even exalting in the small everyday kindnesses so easy to overlook when driven by “agenda.”
One story, in particular, stole my heart. It was a dreary rainy day, somewhere in Mecklenbury, and Sister Eva had taken a seat in the train awaiting its departure. As the rain beat against the window, the door was forced open by those who wanted to get on the train crowding in to the immediate protest of a chorus of voices: “There is no more room here!” Sister Eva sprang up at once, calling out “Here is room!” vacating her seat to an elderly woman who she wrapped in her own warm shawl. Friendly expressions began to appear, but still the people sat or stood, crowded and wet, in a mood of distant strangeness to each other, discontentedly putting up with things.
“Suddenly Sister Eva, reached into a bouquet of roses that had been given her before the journey, and gave one to a crying child on his mother’s lap. In short time all the roses had been given away to old and young people, to peasant and commercial traveler, men and women, all of whom were enjoying the scent and the colour of their roses. Outside the rain continued its dismal course, but within were sunshine and comfort. The strangers had drawn nearer, Mother Eva had long since had a seat offered her and was sitting in their midst, chatting in her natural and kind-hearted way, as if she belonged to them all. Love, in its secret triumphal march, had looked into the railway carriage, and had crowned Mother Eva as Queen. Such was the miracle of the roses, full of spiritual beauty and the sacred power of love.” (Sister Eva of Friendenshort)
One bouquet of roses made a dozen people happy, bringing an unexpected jolt of joy into an otherwise bleak day. Little things matter – positively or negatively. A harsh word by a stranger on a plane can cast a shadow inadvertently over ones state of mind. Conversely, a simple act of kindness can bring light – even hope – into an otherwise ordinary day. Like a cup of cold water, it can be merely refreshing but, for the truly thirsty, life saving.
We may not have the time, money nor energy to do even half of the wonderful things we would like to do for another person. But we all have it within our power to do simple things kindly – a single flower, figuratively speaking, can make a garden of difference to the recipient. Let us take into our souls the motto that inspired Sister Eva:
“I shall pass this way but once, any good thing that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Painting: Diary 1899