by Elizabeth Hunter–

“Jesus meets us in our spiritual hunger and thirst,” Bible study author Julie Kanarr says (p. 29), which perfectly sums up this issue’s theme. At the same time, Jesus invites us to ”come and see,” explains Susan K. Olson (p. 8), adding: “You’ve got to leave the place you are to see the thing that is new … And then, testify … Tell others the truth you have seen.”

Like Jesus, my childhood neighbor, Eva, was fully present with us. A kind, but gruff, 70-some­thing Polish-American woman, she terrified and delighted children when I was growing up. Eva, a radically ecumenical Catholic, stood out for her gor­geous garden (which she was always inviting people to see), her many dogs and her championship of a neighborhood priest who believed in welcoming all (even staunch Lutherans) to the communion table. Her belief in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist permeated her entire life. Yet most neighbors simply called her “The Dog Lady,” for her collection of stray dogs, abused dogs, sick dogs, all kinds of dogs-averaging six or seven dogs at a time.

Some kids were afraid of her. They occasionally threw rocks at her dogs. They made fun of her long, wild, white hair; her rough clothing; and the plastic grocery bags that lined her muddy rubber boots.

But my brothers and I loved her wholeheartedly. If we weren’t at our own house, we might be at Eva’s: playing with dogs who’d lived with her long enough to accept our affection; moving gently around brittle, snappish newcomers; obediently watering irises and lily of the valley plants; or listening to Eva’s stories of World War II, when she worked as a military telephone operator. Our parents trusted her completely, and she consid­ered us her family. “You’re my children, too,” she’d say, placing our scrawny dandelion offerings high enough so the dogs wouldn’t knock them over.

One year, Eva schemed with another neighbor to throw herself a Hawaiian luau birthday party and invite the entire neighborhood. Everyone, even neighbors who hadn’t been getting along, brought a dish to share. The feast-all of it delicious and differ­ent-included Hawaiian, Filipino, German, Puerto Rican, African-American, Mexican-American, Polish, Italian and Scandinavian foods.

But the biggest surprise was Eva, who had dyed her white hair flaming red and put on a gorgeous crimson sari and lipstick to match. She welcomed everyone with hugs and leis. They said what we already knew: how beautiful she was.

How beautiful it is that Jesus welcomes us ­telling us who God is, who we are, that we matter and that we belong; turning water into wine, skepti­cism into belief and despair into hope. Jesus is present in boundary-crossing conversation at the well (see cover image and p. 30); in the middle of the night at a nursing home (p. 13), in pastors who invite themselves to dinner and claim us (p. 16), in lifesaving bars of soap (p. 39) and in “the shift from scarcity to abundance” (p. 45).

It’s worth celebrating that there are no limits to God’s love, that God’s real presence is with us, that God just won’t let us go.

This article is from the January/February 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.

Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.