Every year, during the Advent and Christmas season – ever since this happened – I find myself remembering and reflecting, pausing and praying …
(Please can I encourage you to click on that link and read the back story before you read on? Otherwise, this post won’t make much sense!)
Even now, two years on, I still can’t quite believe what I witnessed that day at the local swimming pool. Even now, it fills me with wonder that Ed* encountered the healing power of Jesus, right in his moment of need. And even now, I am in awe at how God coordinated the conversations Ed was having with me, and with his school friend, so that they dovetailed together in impeccable timing.
So, what happened next … ?
That same year, the week before Christmas, while buying Christmas gifts, I make an online order on a Christian website. When I get to the checkout, I discover that, because my order has come to more than a specific sum, I am entitled to receive a gift Bible for free.
Immediately I think of Ed.
When it arrives, I wrap it up and write him an accompanying Christmas card. I wish him well in his recovery from the car accident, and suggest he might want to start the Bible by reading one of the four Gospels. I mention that Mark is pretty short, and Matthew and Luke are full of miracle healing stories, which he might enjoy.
He’s not on duty when I have my last visit to the pool before Christmas, so I leave my gift and card with one of his colleagues, who assures me that Ed will pick it up in time for Christmas Day.
Leaving the pool, I find myself praying. Not just that Ed appreciates the unusual gift of a Bible. But also that the stories in the pages speak for themselves. And, more than anything, that he meets with Jesus as he reads them.
A couple of weeks into the new year, I am back at the pool for a lunchtime swim, when I find Ed is on duty behind the reception desk. He greets me with a huge grin.
“Thanks for the Bible,” he says to me, watching while I sign myself in.
“Have you started reading it?” I ask him, looking up, as I place the pen down next to the signing in book.
“I’m reading the Gospel of Mark,” he tells me and then pauses a moment, as another swimming pool user walks in and over to the desk, where she picks up the pen to sign in. As she heads on through to the changing rooms, he continues. “I’m not much of a reader, and all the little numbers are a bit disorientating,” he reveals, “but the Jesus-miracle-healing-stories are kind of cool.”
“That’s great,” I exclaim, barely able to disguise my excitement. “Just ignore the numbers. They are there to help navigate the text, but it’s the content that counts.”
A conversation follows, in which he explains how his school friend is helping him when he has questions about what he’s reading.
And then he asks me about the Alpha course.
“Have you ever heard of it?” he asks me. He seems genuinely interested in my answer.
“Sure!” I respond, thinking of the promotional film, which was shown in church only last Sunday. “Alpha is a great course. You should definitely look to do it!”
It turns out that his school friend has invited him to go on the Alpha course at his church. Ed is unsure whether it’s really for him. Wow! I think, This is incredible! The church in question is full of young people. It’s a place where the Bible is preached and the Holy Spirit is at work. Of course he should do it, I think. It’s a no brainer!
“You’re bound to find some kindred spirits there,” I suggest tentatively, “and it will be a really safe space to ask all sorts of questions about faith.”
He nods thoughtfully, chewing over my words, digesting what I’m saying … and I leave him to it, as I head towards the changing rooms – and the swimming pool.
It is another six weeks before my path crosses with Ed’s again. He still seems well; his healing is clearly holding out.
“My girlfriend is disappointed that my compensation claim won’t be bigger,” he reports cheerily, “but I’d rather be fit and healthy, than have a ton of money.”
When I ask him whether he has accepted his school friend’s offer of attending the Alpha course with him, he breaks into a broad grin, and announces that he’s loving it. He’s so keen that, when his shifts at work mean he has to miss a session, he’s been catching up by watching it online afterwards.
I can’t believe it!
“Keep it up!” I encourage him, as I head home from the pool, out into the afternoon sunshine.
Unbeknown to me at the time, that is the last time I see, or speak to, Ed.
I ask one of his colleagues why he’s not been around. She informs me that, a couple of weeks after our final conversation, Ed had a dramatic falling out with their boss.
“He quit his job and walked out,” she tells me. “We really miss his cheery personality,” she adds, “It’s not the same without him around.”
I’m inclined to agree.
He didn’t work a notice period, so I couldn’t say goodbye.
Unless and until our paths miraculously cross again – and it would have to be a miracle, as I have no means of following him up – I will never know whether he completed the Alpha course; whether he made a profession of faith in Jesus; whether he finished reading Mark or any of the other Gospels. I will never know how his healing panned out over the course of time; how the court case against the other driver ended; how his compensation payout got resolved.
Instead, I’m left with unanswered questions …
… and a memory that is triggered every year, during the Advent and Christmas season – when I find myself remembering and reflecting, pausing and praying, wondering what happened to Ed …
*Name changed to preserve anonymity.