A memory of kindness spawns a ministry

It was a muggy night in Virginia. Inside, my friend lay dying. The hospice nurse didn’t know how much longer. The family was coming.

Outside, moths dive-bombed the porch light. The doorbell rang. I didn’t know her, but as she stood at the door, package in hand, she said sadly, “I didn’t know what to do — so I made yeast rolls.”

She was one of many who came bearing sympathy and gifts of food. As the family rolled in from afar, the food was a blessing. No one had to shop; no one had to cook.

I don’t think I ever knew her name, but I never forgot her gift. I thought about it long after the memorial service and after the ashes had been scattered in a quiet churchyard.

When St. Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), I always thought he was talking about some enormous task, like saving someone’s life or paying off a huge debt. Maybe he was. But maybe he was also talking about something small — something comforting — something like yeast rolls lovingly made to feed a grieving family.

My friend died in 1989. But the memory of that gift of yeast rolls lingered. And it spurred me to stop waiting to do the big things of life and concentrate on what I could do right now.

After the funeral I went home to California, where I offered to start a “meals ministry” in our church choir. It was a large choir — 100-plus people — and someone was always having a stressful, life-altering event. With a little organization we formed a corps of volunteers who took a gift of dinner whenever there was a family death or illness, new baby or lost job. It turned out to be such a blessing, especially for choir members who had no family in the area.

I also started writing again. Not an inspirational book or the great American novel, but resumes for friends who needed jobs.

And I found that “bearing one another’s burdens” is really not a burden, but a joy.

Sarah Demarest Guthrie is one of 13 contributors to the Faith Walk column. Reach her at

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