Hospitality and the Stranger at the Door – Rev. Patty Willis

When Lou and I were traveling in June, I often woke up in the middle of night with ideas and thoughts about this and that. Disliking having my sleep interrupted, I ignored this voice and tried very hard to silence it. I tried melatonin, lavender on my pillow and meditation and the harder I tried to go to sleep, the more persistent the voice became. One morning, an idea came to me: what if I listened to the “night voice?” From that night, when I woke up, I jotted down the ideas that were coming to me. Surprisingly, after writing, I fell quickly back to sleep. One of the ideas was to call our doctor in Salt Lake City and set up an appointment for a physical. It was during that appointment that our physician discovered what ended up being cancer. I am glad that I decided to listen.

When I spoke with my surgeon in our first appointment after surgery (which went very well!), I told her that I was trying to think of cancer not as an enemy but more like a stranger I wanted to befriend. The foundation of this new relationship has been to listen. I was resistant when my surgeon told me that I should take six weeks off to heal but after sleeping for a night and realizing how low my energy level was, I decided to take three and extend those weeks if necessary. Now as I’m entering my third week, I am feeling my energy return and I will continue listening as I go through radiation so that my ministry with you can be sustainable. I have also been learning that simple lesson of mortality. My mind and my heart knew a lot about death but now my realization of mortality seems deeper and life seems more fragile and more full of wonder.

As I return to be with you again, I am grateful for the hospitality you have shown Lou and me since we arrived here as strangers over five years ago. As a community and as individuals, we have gone through a lot: deaths of loved ones, illnesses, graduations, new births, marriages and divorce. I have listened to you in my office, on walks and on the phone and you have listened to us and all that has gone on in our lives. During the past weeks, your notes, chocolates, flowers, edible bouquet, emails, cards and much love have facilitated my healing. I will look forward to listening to you and the new people who have joined us. Together, we will talk about what we have learned, the strangers we have met and the lessons that they have taught us. What have you learned from the unexpected visitors in your life?