When my husband was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, we received a packet of information from the cancer center. The large envelope included various forms, contact numbers, booklets on what to expect, nutritional information, and other resources for patients and their families. Among the papers, I also came across an offer of free parking for cancer patients at a nearby church.
At the time, the hospital and cancer center had waived all parking fees in their shared lot as part of their response to the coronavirus pandemic. So when I saw the offer from the church, I thought, “How nice, but not necessary,” and tucked the paper back into the envelope.
But when my husband started treatment and in the weeks that followed, some days I couldn’t find a parking spot at the cancer center. Even the over-flow lot was often full, with cars parked at the end of rows where they weren’t supposed to be. One day I found myself circling around and around looking for an empty space without success, and finally decided just to stop behind the last row of parked cars. I could always move at a moment’s notice if need be, but at least I could stop my endless searching.
Some said the parking problem stemmed from the waiving of the parking fees, because people would park at the hospital and cancer center for free, then walk across the street to the long-term care home and other residences where parking fees still applied. Whatever the reason, suddenly the “nice but not necessary” offer of free parking from the church seemed like a great gift.
So I fished out the church’s offer from our original information packet, added our licence plate number and contact information, signed the waiver releasing the church from responsibility in the event of any damage, and dropped the form through the church mail slot.
Instead of circling around and around the hospital and cancer center looking in vain for a parking spot, I could now wait at the church until my husband was ready to be picked up. It was a small thing compared to the enormity of my husband’s cancer diagnosis and the rigors of his treatment, but not having to struggle with the shortage of parking helped to relieve some of the stress for both of us.
My husband and I talked about how good it was for the church to offer the use of their parking lot. We talked about writing a thank you note and sending a donation to let the church know how much we appreciated their openness to the community.
I’m sorry that we weren’t able to do that together, for my husband died unexpectedly from cancer-related complications. Suddenly I was in mourning. Suddenly I was no longer driving him to the cancer center. Suddenly I was no longer parking at the church.
Now months later, I still grieve my husband’s sudden passing. Yet by God’s grace and the support of family, friends, church, and community, I am gradually finding my way forward. I’ve started speaking and writing again. I’m working on a book of sermons. I’ve taken on a new editing contract. And in my husband’s memory, I finally wrote that thank you card for the hospitality of the church parking lot.
I thanked the congregation for their generosity in offering free parking for cancer patients. I included a donation as a token of our thanks. I sealed and stamped the envelope with a prayer of gratitude for their generosity.
I still have more thank you cards to write, more donations I want to make in response to the kindness of so many people and organizations. “But you don’t have to answer each one,” I’ve been told many times. “People don’t expect a response.” That may be, but I want to respond even if people don’t expect it.
“You could sit down and write your thank yous all at once the way some people do for wedding gifts.” I’ve been told that more than once too. And I know I could do it that way, but for now there’s no rush, and I’d rather take my time.
So I’ll sit with this thank you for a bit before moving on to the next. In the meantime my book manuscript is calling, so I hope to spend the rest of the morning with it, then visit with friends this afternoon. May your day also be blessed with gratitude and a spirit of hospitality.
I started this article for Godspace as part of a series on God’s wild hospitality. For an alternate ending, please see Godspace: The Hospitality of the Church Parking Lot.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Where do you see the wild hospitality of God?
For more on writing and other acts of faith,