Finding Her Purpose

Finding Her Purpose

An inspiring story about the neighbor who taught her to live

I stared blankly at the stacks of papers that filled my elderly neighbor’s living room that summer day. What had I gotten myself into?

“I need you to be my eyes,” Ruth said. “I’m looking for a notebook with a picture of this teapot.” She pointed at a cabinet filled with beautiful porcelain teapots. “It’s here somewhere.”

I smiled nervously. “Do you remember where you last saw it?”

“Goodness, no,” she said. “But you’ll know it when you see it.”

This was what my life had come to. Even an 89-year-old woman with bad vision could see I had nothing better to do than hunt for a dusty old notebook.

I’d moved back home when I was 28, feeling like a failure at work, at love, at everything. I was constantly tired and achy—depressed. Nothing interested me. I’d always enjoyed crafting, but now I never seemed to have the energy. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt God in my life. Mom kept at me to get involved, to help others. But what could I offer? Tips on how to be a loser?

So when Ruth Thornton called, asking if I could “pop over for a minute,” Mom had practically pushed me out the door. “It’ll do you good,” she said.

Now I searched through a sea of paperwork. Ruth had moved on to a different topic, how she’d gotten started collecting crosses.

My head was spinning.

“I don’t think I can find it,” I said after an hour.

“That’s all right. It’ll turn up,” she said. “They always do.”

Her optimism baffled me. Maybe upstairs? I thought. There, wedged in a corner of a spare bedroom, I found it.

“Wonderful,” Ruth exclaimed. “I’ll use that in the talk I’m giving next week.” I looked at her in astonishment. Almost 90 and her life was busier than mine.

I found myself visiting Ruth several times a week. At first, I’ll admit, it was just to keep Mom off my back. But there was always something that intrigued me, a book she suggested I borrow, a pretty pattern in a teacup, one of the crosses in her collection on the wall.

One day I arrived to find Ruth sitting in her living room squinting at a piece of stationery. “I need your eyes again,” she said. “Can you read this letter to me?”

“Sure,” I said. I moved a chair next to hers.

“Dear Ruth,” I began reading, “I was thinking about the dig we went on…”

I looked at her in surprise. “Were you an archaeologist?”

“No,” she said, smiling at the memory. “It was just a hobby. But we’ve stayed in touch.”

I finished reading the letter. Ruth said, “Thanks. Now I better write her back.”

I busied myself organizing some of her books, but I kept glancing at Ruth, carefully writing. She was amazing, a puzzle. How had this woman, living in a tiny Iowa town, managed to live such a full life? She just never seemed to stop. Surely the letter writer didn’t expect an immediate reply. But there was Ruth, hard at work.

Soon, I realized that Ruth wasn’t writing just an occasional letter. Nearly every day there was a note for me to read and a letter for her to write. She had collected friends like she had teapots, and had stories to go with each one, stories of travel and adventure, but also of raising her three children and selling clothes in her and her husband’s store in Storm Lake. She had lived a life I could only dream of living.

Summer faded into fall. More and more Ruth needed me to be her eyes and even her hands. I noticed that she was falling behind in her cleaning and offered to do her dishes. Ruth asked me to do more tidying up, more odd jobs. Finally she offered to hire me as a part-time housekeeper. I hesitated. A housekeeper? Then I thought, What else have I got going on?