The first email I read that Sunday brought me to tears.
Subject line: "About Christine."
"This is a real stretch but I read your article today about your card-sending friend named Christine," the text read. "Would Christine's last name by chance be Sponsler?"
"Sponsler." My heart leapt in recognition; I remembered immediately. Someone had recognized Christine, had known her from my description in my last column. Someone was going to make it possible for me to thank her.
Laura Carriker and Christine Sponsler were church friends.
"I just read your column and my thought was ... 'that sounds like the Christine I know,' and I wanted to see if it was the same."
I wrote to Laura. Laura wrote back to me.
"God works in mysterious ways," she wrote. "I was in a Bible study group the other night and we were talking about some of our older members and the homebound. I was thinking about Christine."
It seemed the two had known each other very well, but they had lost touch.
Laura met Christine at Rocky River Presbyterian Church many years ago. One Sunday Christine complimented Laura on her hat, commenting on the way hats had gone out of Sunday church fashion. Then she took Laura around the church to introduce her to other members.
Laura wrote, "She said, 'Dear, I want you to meet a dear, dear friend of mine who is just lovely,' and took me over and introduced me to my mother-in-law. Then she laughed at herself not realizing we were related and asked me if I'd been going to church there very long, and I believe at that time it had been at least 20 years.
"Christine was fairly new, but she wanted to introduce me to others. Isn't that sweet?"
I learned a lot about Christine from Laura's emails. I learned that she had volunteered to call and remind volunteers for Meals on Wheels about their route days.
Apparently, she was so endearing and charming that folks began to look forward to every call.
I learned that Christine had gone to a college in Virginia and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa academic honor fraternity.
Every card I ever received from Christine had seemed the very epitome of soft-spoken, understated elegance.
I had hoped, not really imagined, that I would somehow find Christine.
I had hoped to be able to thank her, to acknowledge that those cards had helped keep me writing all those years.
Christine had been a gentle certainty in my life. She was a little reminder, every now and again, that, although I was a transplant to the South over 20 years, my roots had taken hold and grown quickly, and that someone believed me when I said this was now my home.
My home is defined, in significant part, by people like Christine.
As I was thinking about that, an email sang its way into my Inbox.
"I just got off the phone with Christine," Laura wrote.
"We had a tearful reunion over the phone, and I've promised to visit her soon. She's 93 and lives independently....
"I told her about your article, and she remembered you. ... I read your article to her over the phone, and we both cried. I read our email exchange and we cried again. As I said, God works in mysterious ways. ...
"Who would have thought reading your article would have connected us in this way and facilitated a tearful reunion of old friends?" Laura wrote.
"I hope you get to speak to her soon. God bless."
I waited a few minutes before I picked up the phone.
Then, I called.
"I know just who you are!" Christine said.
I apologized for forgetting her last name.
"It's not an easy name to remember," she said gently.
Inwardly, I smiled. I don't think the name "Sponsler" even comes close to the name "Thiede" for being hard to figure out or remember.
These past days I have wondered about how we find each other, the way we serve a purpose in someone's life.
Maybe it's a short-term, one-time connection. Maybe more.
Christine, my heartfelt thanks for those cards, for your gracious self, for all that you gave and give to me and others.
I have been blessed, as many are, to have you in my life.