What if you were told you were dying?
My friend Pat is so inspirational that her friends call her Saint Francis. From early morning until she falls asleep each night, she devotes herself to helping others.
Before Pat moved to our town there was no such thing as an organized community-wide ministry to help the poor. When she moved here, she went to her pastor and said she wanted to start that ministry.
He backed her efforts and gave it the sanction of the church. But the work to establish the ministry was done by one woman.
To tell the truth, as I watched her efforts, I thought it was going to take much more than one skinny 5'2" woman to help the homeless, feed the hungry and establish a social justice program.
I was wrong.
Pat started by making peanut butter sandwiches, taking them to where the homeless congregated. Soon, others joined her in that effort.
Before long she started a kitchen pantry for the poor, giving out bags of groceries to those who often had nothing to eat.
She's right when she says people respond from the heart when they know there is a need.
That happened when Pat got the word out that some folks in town were falling asleep hungry.
Some had lost their jobs during the economic melt down. Some had hours cut and no longer qualified for benefits.
Some were widows trying to live on social security checks.
Some were young mothers struggling to feed their children after their husbands walked off. Some were fathers who cried when they had to ask for food.
Pat told those stories and put a face to the needy, letting us know about those who have fallen on bad times.
We don't live in a rich area. But you would never know that from the food baskets and donations people brought to the church.
Pat works at the food pantry every day of the week. Then she stays there at night because some people who need help are too ashamed to come during the day.
When temperatures dip below freezing, Pat opens the door to the church hall where she has cots for the homeless to get in out of the freezing temperatures.
She and a few other volunteers cook simple warm meals for the homeless on those cold nights. I can tell you with all certainty that some of the homeless look forward to temperatures below freezing.
"It's the only time I get such good meals," one fellow said as he enjoyed his brimming bowl of chili and homemade corn bread.
Oh, I could go on and on telling you stories about what Pat accomplished in building a community ministry for the poor.
But let me tell you why she does it. It's a question I've often pondered. Mostly, Pat answers my question by saying, "We're all called upon to help the poor."
This week she told me the story behind extraordinary motivation.
Like many other retired couples, Pat and her husband Tom moved to southwest Florida. But she never got to enjoy the beach because, as she puts it, "I didn't feel good. I had no energy and could hardly put one foot in front of the other."
At first, doctors thought she had the flu. But she kept getting worse. Finally, when she grew too weak to walk without assistance, she was hospitalized for testing.
After she was diagnosed with an embolism that could not be treated, she hemorrhaged to the point where she was near death. Doctors said there was nothing more they could do.
"It was then that I promised God if I recovered I would take whatever time I had left and dedicate my life to helping the poor. Whether I had hours or days left to live, I would spend that time in service to others," she vowed.
Here's the interesting thing. Doctors told Pat's husband she probably wouldn't live out the year. That was seven years ago. She's now 75 with the energy of someone 25 years younger.
Pat's husband died two years ago and her own personal circumstances would probably qualify her as one of the needy. With only one social security check instead of two, there wasn't enough money to pay the bills and the mortgage.
She lost her home to foreclosure and now rents a small apartment. When she tells others about how to make a week's worth of meals from a handful of groceries, they have no idea she is speaking from personal experience.
No one knows the story behind the smiling woman who is always there listening to their woes and trying to help them.
She's been my friend for years but it was only this week after some prodding that I learned about her ongoing serious medical condition.
"I work with the poor to give back to God for all the blessings I've been given. I don't know if I'll be here tomorrow. But it doesn't matter. What matters is what I do with today," she says.
Isn't that true for each of us?
Some people have near death experiences but when they walk away, the experience doesn't change them.
For others who realize the fragility of life, it becomes important to make every day count.
If you were told you only had a short while to live, how would you respond?
Would you live differently?
What do you do now to make your time count?