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Column: Just do it

I wrote last week about fulfilling a promise I made to myself in ninth grade French class that someday I would visit Paris. Now let me tell you, as radio personality Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.”

I visited France for the first time when I was in 11th grade. When I graduated a year later, I returned to Orcas Island to work and spend the summer living with family friends before heading to college at the University of Oregon. The family I lived with own a beautiful hobby farm, containing fields, barns, horses, donkeys, sheep, geese, chickens, and even an emu or two.

Tish, the mistress of this menagerie — whom I have written about before — is the epitome of Mississippi hospitality (albeit transplanted into Washington State), who welcomes anyone and everyone and always has a pot of coffee on the back burner. At some point during that summer, Tish’s fields became the setting for an island wedding, where wedding guests arrived for the ceremony, stayed for the reception and the dancing, and celebrated long under the stars of the northern Washington night.

After the somewhat unconventional ceremony, I found myself wandering through the yard in search of anyone I might know. Unexpectedly, looking as if she was ready to slip away, I saw my old French teacher, Mrs. Parks.

I had last seen Mrs. Parks when I was a shy 15-year-old, sitting on the tall stools of her classroom, which doubled both as art room and French classroom.

I walked up to her, held out my hand, and smiled.

“Gretchen!” she exclaimed. “How lovely to see you.”

“Hello, Mrs. Parks. How are you?”

She paused a moment before replying. And in that moment I reflected on the fact that I’d heard she’d been divorced recently and that maybe my question had been less than prudent. But then, after giving a small smile, she asked, “How are you?”

“I’m really good!” I responded. And then, in a flash, I knew what I must say. “I thought of you when I was in Paris,” I blurted out. “I was in the Louvre looking at the Mona Lisa and I suddenly remembered making a promise to myself when I was in your French class that I’d see it someday and there I was, just a few years later, and I remembered that, and I thought of you…”

My voice trailed off, my inspiration gone. I felt a little foolish, truth be told.

Mrs. Parks, who had been focused on me as I spoke, turned her eyes past me, as if looking at something just over my shoulder, and I felt even more silly for saying what I’d said and wished I’d just stayed away. And then, suddenly, I saw in her eyes that she was crying.

She turned back to me ever so briefly, blinking away her tears, and spoke so quietly that I almost could not hear her over the crowd.

“Thank you so much for telling me that,” she said. “I’m so glad you got to Paris. It’s an amazing city.” She turned away, and disappeared into the wedding guests. I didn’t see her again; in fact, I never have since.

It wasn’t a big thing, what I did. It was the fact that I did it that matters. When we listen to those little nudges from God, good things will happen. He doesn’t always ask us to do big things, in fact, he more often requires little things. Little things like suddenly realizing that you need to tell a person they were thought of. And then doing it! Not just thinking of it and ignoring the impulse because it seems weird or random or embarrassing. But doing it. Stepping out of our comfort zones.

If God is nudging you to do something, you need to go ahead and do it. Because it could make a world of difference to someone else. 1 Samuel 3:9 says, “Speak, lord, for your servant is listening.”

Yes, the Lord speaks to us. It is our job to listen. And then do what he says.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is