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Cleansing Feet; Cleansing Soul

Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit
Series III, Cycle C
Matthew and Mary Beth were at a trade show. It was a cold December day, but the event was heralded as a first of its kind in the northern region. They were excited to be there. Mary Beth took notes while Matt networked, talking to people at the trade shows about his business. He owns a company that makes buckets: big buckets, little buckets, paint buckets, catch-all buckets -- any kind of bucket that can be made, can be made at Matt's business.

The day was long but very productive. Matt left with many business cards to be added to his directory and several had inquired about his products. Mary Beth had gotten countless ideas from all she saw: displays, advertising strategies, and marketing ideas. She had spoken to several people at the various booths, asking questions and sharing information about Matt's company. She liked her boss and appreciated that he let her come. Although her title was "secretary" Mary Beth knew Matt leaned on her heavily for ideas and feedback. Matt was grateful for her loyalty and appreciated her skill at keeping him organized and aware of things.

It was almost seven o'clock when they started for home. The sky had been dark and cloudy all day, but it had not dampened the high spirits of the trade show participants. Still, when they started for home, Mary Beth was careful to tell her husband that he should expect them to be a little late on the three-hour drive home. She barely got to tell him how much fun she had before the battery went dead.

Matt's wife was out of town, showing off their new baby to her parents and friends. It felt good for him to be away from the office and talking to new people. He was excited to put some of his ideas in place. He and Mary Beth talked about some of the new concepts that would help their company as they ordered bottles of juice and sandwiches for the ride. They were filled with enthusiasm as they started for home.

Matt and Mary Beth chatted as Matt drove through downtown. But the drive quickly turned silent as Matt inched away from town toward the highway. The terrain was flat, and the wind was blowing snow across the road. It was getting harder and harder to see. Mary Beth was nervous, but she didn't want her boss to think she didn't trust him. She didn't say anything.

Matt was very uneasy at the low visibility, but he knew how eager Mary Beth was to get home to her husband and three teenage boys. She always spoke so highly of them -- even when one got his ear pierced for the third time!

Matt turned on the radio and the announcer stated that the highways were in no driving condition: those on the interstate were asked either to turn around and return to a large town, or to exit at a smaller town and stay put. The storm had taken a turn for the worse and was much more severe than had been predicted that morning. Matt turned to Mary Beth, not knowing what to do.

They knew they were an hour from the larger town and there was no way they could turn around. They would soon get to a small town, but they hadn't seen a sign for the last ten minutes or so. They continued north against the howling wind and blowing snow.

Finally, they saw a sign: Hilltown, three miles ahead. Hilltown? They were ten miles off the interstate. Matt must have taken an exit where he thought the highway forked. He apologized profusely to Mary Beth for the error. She told him not to worry, but she was very worried. They had strayed due north, way off course. But they couldn't be that far. They could make it to Hilltown. It was a tiny service town that didn't have residents, but offered gas and food for travelers headed to Canada. Something would be open to welcome them.

But the town was shut down for the night. The cafe light was off, the gas station had a lone light bulb over the door, and the bar looked deserted. They felt truly alone.

Mary Beth and Matt decided to park behind the gas station, out of the wind. They didn't have much in the car, but there was a blanket and an old sweater. Matt wrapped the blanket around Mary Beth, pulled on the old sweater over his designer sweater, and put on his jacket again. They would ride out the storm and hope for the best.

While they waited for morning, they shared stories about their childhood. Matt turned on the car's engine and heater every twenty minutes or so, reminding Mary Beth that they had to keep each other awake. They talked and ate their sandwiches and drank their juice, saving a bottle for the morning.

At about two in the morning, Mary Beth felt she couldn't sit still one more minute. She moved to the back seat to stretch out. Her feet were so swollen that her shoes were pinching her. She laid down on the seat, hoping to get the blood moving in a different direction. But it did no good: her feet were still very swollen.

Matt felt he had to do something: he carefully cut her shoes off and put her feet on the headrest in front of her. He massaged her calves, hoping increased circulation would help ease her pain.

Mary Beth was becoming distraught. Matt started the car, only to have it sputter in protest. The car had gotten too cold. The gas line must have frozen. Matt told Mary Beth they would be all right, although he didn't sound very convincing.

Matt took a rag from under the seat and poured some juice on it. He took Mary Beth's feet and rubbed the juice on it, hoping to cool her burning soles. Carefully, he massaged the balls of her feet. He took her toes and massaged them one by one. He saw Mary Beth relax and finally fall asleep. He was very worried about her as he eased her feet on the seat beside her.

He took off one of his sweaters, wrapped it around her feet, and stroked her hair. He knew she was afraid. He admitted to himself he was afraid too. Tomorrow was Saturday and there was no real reason for anyone to be up and around early. Especially after a storm.

Matt did math problems in his head. He read the business cards again, trying to memorize names and products, but he was getting sleepy. He felt he couldn't stay awake anymore. He took deep breaths as he listened to Mary Beth's even breathing. He fought off panic as he tried to focus on staying awake. At about five in the morning, he couldn't take it anymore. He fell into a deep sleep.

Suddenly Matt awoke with a jolt. He heard a voice yelling. Was it his imagination? It looked dark outside. He opened his eyes and tried to focus. Mary Beth was still asleep in the back, but her breathing was quick and labored. He felt a cold deep within him as he realized they might freeze to death.

The voice got more urgent. There was a banging noise. Someone was banging on the window of his car! A sheriff was telling him to unlock the automatic door lock. Matt almost cried in relief. The officer was very quick to pull Matt and Mary Beth out of the car and into his truck. He carefully threaded his way toward the next town north and deposited them at the hospital. He told them they couldn't have lasted much longer.

Matt and Mary Beth were treated for hypothermia and Mary Beth stayed in the hospital several days. Today they laugh about the juice foot rub that Matt gave Mary Beth, but they both know that the increased circulation the rub offered and unusual distraction helped save them from death to the cold. Matt, although the owner of a large, successful manufacturing plant, was not above helping his secretary. On that lonely night in the car, in the terrible storm, they were just two ordinary people.

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