Opening a door for a woman the other day, and saying, “after you”, I was treated to an icy look rather than a nod of appreciation. I wasn’t suggesting that she was incapable of turning the handle, but just thought a good-mannered gesture might be welcome. I was wrong.
But I like people who open doors for others. Decades ago, my family relocated to a rather isolated area of America, a place where real men drove trucks, wore baseball caps, chewed gum and went deer hunting. We were bewildered, and felt very alone.
And then we met Milton and Barbara. They opened the doors of their home to us, literally. Needing somewhere to live while we located a house to rent, they gave our young family far more than a space in their home: their gift was a place in their hearts. Milton hails from Tennessee, and with his white moustache and gentle Southern drawl, he looks like a cast member of Gone with the Wind. We didn’t know any people in our new homeland, and so they opened up their friendship circle to us too. Their folks became our folks. We were family, and we still are.
Last week Milton discovered that he is going to see Jesus rather sooner than he had anticipated. An inoperable cancer means that he has very little time to live. He told his doctor, a mutual friend, to call us with the news.
Today, we chatted with him on the phone. That warm Southern tone is unwavering. We told him how much we love him, and gave him firm instructions that however much he’s anticipating heaven, we need him to hang on a while, and wait until we can get to see him and Barbara. A sumptuous farewell dinner is planned, a feast to celebrate his life before death creates his homecoming. And yes, we are praying for healing, but making preparations to say goodbye if healing doesn’t happen.
Before we made that phone call, I scrambled for words to comfort and encourage, which were completely unnecessary. “There’s no problem here, Brother Jeff,” he said. “We’re good, everything is fine. I’m going to a place where time doesn’t exist as we know it. That means that very soon, we’ll all be together again. It’s just that I’m getting there ahead of you. But don’t worry, I’ll be waiting, and I’ll hold heaven’s door open for you.”
I don’t know who heaven’s doorman is. Tradition has it that St Peter is parked at the pearly gates. I don’t think he’s nervous that Milton is after his job. But I do know that in life, Milton has been a door-opener, and now, facing death, he wants to continue in the job.
Rather than just admiring and celebrating my lovely friend, I’d like to follow his example, and be someone who opens doors for others, doors to joy, to opportunity, to laughter, to understanding.
In speaking to one of the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus said, “I have set before you an open door,” (3:8, NKJV). And in a way that none of us can ever fully grasp, at Easter we remember that at the cross, Jesus opened the door to eternity with God. Beckoning sinful humanity, he gestured with open arms, and whispered, “after you”.
So hold on, Milton, because we need to share one last supper. But if your home call cancels that party, we know that there’s a much bigger celebration to come, when the bridegroom finally welcomes the bride.
And I know just where I’ll find you, Brother Milton. You’ll be at the door.