Unto The Least: A Man Named Richard

I remember him so well.  Richard……….nondescript, uneducated, stinky, and often unwelcome Richard.  Our paths crossed because Richard attended the same church where I grew up and where I worshipped.  Our paths also crossed because God ordained it to be so.  God ordained it to be so………so that I would learn a lesson.   It was a lesson best taught by the method that God loves to use – the weak things of the world confounding the mighty. 

Richard was a very short little man.  I often think that he was our version of Zaccheaus there in Princeton, West Virginia where I was raised.  Richard didn’t have much education and he was also very simple minded.  Today I’m sure he would be classified as being developmentally delayed, at the very least.  Yet he had served our country in World War 2, returning to Princeton when his time was up.  I remember hearing the story of how Richard wanted to help build the parsonage for our pastor at Johnston Chapel Baptist Church.  The men decided that Richard could dig the sidewalk, and so they used twine and little posts to outline the walkway that Richard should dig.  As Richard dug, his shovel cut the twine and it veered off to the side……..and Richard continued to follow the twine with his digging.  I’m not sure if the men let Richard dig anymore after that or if they found another safer job for him to do. 

I remember Mom and Dad loading us five kids into the old station wagon and then leaving for church.  We never missed a service unless we had a fever or were throwing up, or maybe if blood was involved.  This was in the day of services every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and anything in between.  This was also in the day of revival services that lasted at least a week, and sometimes longer if the Spirit led.  There were mission conferences, too, as well as other special services thrown in here and there.  The Kings did not miss church.  If Dad was working, then Mom loaded the station wagon and off we went. 

I loved going to church, but I always dreaded that drive up Thorn Street because often we would see him………..Richard, standing on one of the corners of Thorn Street, not far from his house.  Richard, standing there waiting for a ride to church from one of the church members that he knew would drive by in our little town and see him, and offer him that ride.  Richard, whom I was sure never, ever, ever took a bath.   The smell was just awful!  We kids would strain our necks to look ahead to see if he was still standing there, hoping against hope that some other family had come by before us and picked Richard up.  If we saw him, we would beg Mom or Dad not to stop for him………..to let someone else have that privilege on this day. 

But no……..Mom and Dad would always stop for Richard.  He would hop in our already crowded car and immediately we would be assaulted by that odor.  We girls learned a trick.  We would take a small purse-size container of perfume and try to hide it in our hand as we held it up to our nose.  Or at least have some perfume on our wrists that we could sniff in the hopes of blocking out that smell.  I’m not sure what John did to combat the odor but at that point it was each King for himself.   If no one was able to give Richard a ride, then he would walk to church, regardless of the weather……and that was probably a five mile walk.

Richard would talk, talk, talk.  He had a very fast, clipped speech.  I can still hear him make a comment and then say, “Isn’t that right?  Huh?  Isn’t that right?”  Then he would laugh and launch into something else, and ask again if that was right.  If he wasn’t talking, he was making a clicking sound with his tongue, as if he was getting food out from between his teeth.  He probably was, since I also doubted that Richard ever, ever brushed his teeth……….which just added to his unique smell. 

At church, Richard would lean up on the pew in front of him and talk to whomever was sitting there.  His eyes would dart between the people as he rapidly talked, and clicked his tongue, and laughed, and said, “Isn’t that right?   Huh?  Isn’t that right?”  The large church helped to spread his odor out some and keep it from being as strong……….unless you were the fortunate ones who were sitting in front of him and with whom he decided to engage in his mostly one-sided conversation.   Needless to say, when I was older and had the opportunity to sit in front of Richard……….I tried to find another seat.

Richard, though, was good at math.  I remember how that always surprised me.  On Wednesday nights, four men would count certain sections of church and then give the number to the pastor out loud as they were called upon to do so.  Richard almost always added those numbers faster in his head than Preacher Jimmie could do on paper, and he was usually right.  Amazing indeed!  And also amazing was the fact that Richard loved the Lord in his own simple way and was one of the most faithful church members that I have ever known.    I don’t remember seeing Richard carry a Bible and don’t know if he could read, but he knew his Bible.

Time marched on.  We King kids grew up, went to college, married and had our own lives.  Mom and Dad both eventually retired from their jobs.  They continued to be active at Johnston Chapel, enjoying the freedom to spend more time visiting the sick and those who were shut-ins.  Among those that they cared for, none stood out more to me than their continued care of Richard.  He had aged, of course, and time had taken a toll.  Richard was not only feebler, but was also dealing with the ravages of cancer.

I know that others helped with Richard, too, but Mom and Dad did a great deal for him in his old age.  They helped him find a better house to move into, and then helped him move his meager belongings.  They were shocked at what they found as they cleaned his house.  Such filth was hard for them to imagine!  And there in his closets and throughout his house were stacks of Christmas presents that church friends had given him over the years, still wrapped and unopened.   Inside were clothes and toiletries that he surely could have used over the years, but when questioned about it Richard said that he didn’t open them because he didn’t need anything.  Mom and Dad bought him clean clothes and new things, but Richard still preferred his old belongings and his old way of living.  Mom would take him home-cooked food and encourage him to eat better than he was.  She and Dad bought him a small refrigerator to keep his food from spoiling, but Richard refused to plug it in because he didn’t want to waste electricity. 

Dad helped Richard obtain his VA benefits, and then made sure that Richard started going to the proper doctors at the VA hospital.  He took Richard for many of his doctor appointments.  This was no easy task in many ways, but none more so than just the pure embarrassment of being in a public waiting room and doctor’s office with poor smelly Richard.  Mom and Dad tried countless times to teach Richard and to urge Richard to use better hygiene, but I don’t know that Richard ever took it to heart.  Dad would explain things to the doctor, but the people around them that they encountered must have wondered about Richard and about Dad.  Eventually Richard’s cancer became more complicated than what the local VA hospital could handle, so Dad took him to the nearest major VA hospital………..in Richmond……….a six hour trip one way.  Twelve hours confined in a car with Richard, as well as the time at the doctor appointments.  The smell……..the constant talking……….the clicking tongue.   Yet Dad just smiled and did what he knew that God would want him to do………..to take care of this little unwanted and unwelcome man. 

When Dad tried to see if Richard qualified for any other assistance such as Medicaid, it was discovered that Richard had money.  In fact, he had too much money to qualify for any government help.  Richard never offered to give Mom and Dad, or anyone else, any money for the things they did for him.  They wouldn’t have taken the money anyway.   That was not the motive.  A brother that no one knew about showed up at Richard’s death, and Mom and Dad walked quietly away from any further involvement……..but not before they gave Richard one of their burial plots since he didn’t have anywhere to be buried.

Mom and Dad didn’t want any public acclaim for what they did for Richard.  They just loved the Lord and they let the Lord’s love fill their hearts and direct their actions.  I know at times their service to Richard was tiring, was frustrating, was annoying, and very thankless.  Yet Mom and Dad, and the others who served Richard, did so because they lived out their faith and they believed Jesus when He said, “When you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me.” 

 

Dad is with Richard in heaven now.   I sometimes try to imagine it, the two of them together up there.  Both have new bodies and are totally equal physically and mentally.  Did they hug when they saw each other?  Are they ever beside each other as they sing and as they worship?  Richard doesn’t smell anymore and Dad doesn’t have to explain him to anybody, or be embarrassed.  I wonder if Richard still talks fast, and does Dad still smile patiently at him?  I doubt it, but it’s fun to think about. 


And we kids are left with not only memories, but more importantly, we are left with a real example of selflessness that my parents demonstrated.  They loved the unlovely in more than word…………they loved also in deed.  I know that each of us has taken this lesson to heart in our own lives in various ways.  But I doubt that anyone could be any more kind and any more patient than my sweet parents were to Richard.

I can’t wait to see Richard in heaven!  I’ll give him a hug……….and no perfume bottle needed!

Aaron Rates Politics

Aaron does not have a political bone in his body.  He doesn’t understand politics nor does he care to understand politics.  He’s probably better off that way.   Of course, since there is so much on the news now about the presidential campaign, he can’t help but notice.  And if Aaron notices something, he will talk about it………which all of you who read this blog know very well.  Aaron talks and I blog.  It’s never-ending!

Last night Aaron was in the family room during part of the GOP convention.  It was time for good old back tickling with the back scratcher.  Ann Romney had just begun her speech when we sat down.  Aaron wanted to talk, as usual, but I told him that I wanted to listen to this speech.  Aaron tried to be quiet, which is very hard for him to do.  As Mrs. Romney spoke, Aaron began making comments.  I have learned that when someone is giving a speech or is performing in some way, such as singing………..and if these people are animated with their voices or their facial expressions…………then it drives Aaron nuts.  He seems to want people to be calm……flat……inexpressive……..unemotional……….boring.

A political rally is not calm……flat……inexpressive…….unemotional…….boring.  Therefore, Aaron was becoming agitated.  He began muttering softly at first, but as Mrs. Romney’s speech progressed, so did Aaron’s comments.

“She’s dumb!”    Aaron, she is not dumb.  Ann Romney is very smart.

“She’s stupid!”    Aaron, she is not stupid.  Don’t say those things.

“She’s crazy!”    Aaron, you do not call anyone crazy.

“Tell her to shut up!”   OK, Aaron!  That’s enough!

I tried to get him to express to me just what his frustrations were, but he had a hard time with that – as always.  And then Chris Christie came on.  If Aaron thought that Ann Romney was crazy, he definitely believed that Christie was even crazier.  Oh boy………..here we go!

The comments started and so I stopped Aaron in his tracks.  He just listened for a short time, trying to figure all this speech stuff out.  Then he said, “It seems like they make up stories to make themselves BE one!”

How interesting!  I asked, “They want to make themselves be what, Aaron?”

He answered, “They want to make themselves look cool!”

Our very perceptive Aaron.  Whatever we believe about politics, every politician is trying to sell themselves…….and Aaron gets it.  And Aaron doesn’t like it – any more than we sometimes dislike this whole process of politics.

Aaron continued to watch.  Christie’s name came up on the screen………….Chris Christie (R).   Aaron looked at his name and saw the (R) – then asked, “What’s the (R) for?”  I told him that it stood for Republican.

Aaron’s response………..”Oh, I thought he was rated R!”

HaHaHa!   Maybe this whole convention should be rated R………..at least for Aaron.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind one bit if we restricted him from having to watch any more of it at all!

All of us probably wish that certain areas of politics could be restricted!  Aaron may have come up with something!

Car Salesmen

Aaron was walking through the family room the other night.  We had a football game on the television, but at this time there was yet another annoying local car commercial playing.  Aaron doesn’t like yelling………which is quite a mystery, since he doesn’t seem to mind his own yelling.

Aaron paused, turned toward the TV, and after a few seconds he said (with disgust), “That car salesman is a yell mouth!!”

And once again, Aaron has nailed it.

I Love Him!!

I took Aaron to the lab this morning for his routine blood work that he needed to have done before his Epilepsy check-up in a couple weeks.  Aaron knows the routine well………..and so do I.  As I check him in at the front desk, I am amazed as always that the receptionist doesn’t know how to pronounce any of his meds.  Seriously……….can she not even sound it out?  Oh well – I have other things on my mind as I gently oversee Aaron and his curiosity as we stand there waiting for her to figure out her pronunciations.  He loves the green Indian mask kleenex holder…….the one where the kleenex is coming out of the mask’s nose.  This is right up Aaron’s alley, believe me!  But he also has to pick up the little rubber bear and the hand sanitizer and a pen that is laying there………as I watch to be sure he doesn’t slip the coveted pen into his pocket.  I know his tricks!

The waiting room was empty, which is always a blessing………..so we were able to head straight back and let Aaron sit in the chair.  He stuck his arm out………the arm with his watch pushed halfway up to his elbow.  And I wonder what the tech thought of that watch………..and what she thought of the funny mouth noises Aaron makes………..and I realized that we are also blessed by the fact that Aaron has never been bothered by needles and tests.  He watches her carefully as she prepares the vials and then steps away to do something…….and I watch Aaron carefully as his eyes roam over the very interesting table right beside him, full of all the vials and the tourniquets and so many other interesting things……things that he will pick up to examine if I don’t keep an eagle eye on his every move.  She returns, and he watches every part of the process of having his blood drawn.  He rarely even flinches when the needle enters his vein, and he keeps a curious eye on each move that she makes as his blood is removed.

Soon we were on our way, and on this particular morning I told Aaron that we would go up the road to Wal-Mart.  Happy, happy Aaron!  He talked the whole way about this and that, as he always does, but was especially excited to tell me about a car he had seen the day before.  “Mom!  I saw a car yesterday with TWO policemen beside it.  It didn’t look like there was a wreck, but the car’s LID was popped up!”  So we talked about why car lids sometimes pop up and why the police were there…………as we walked into Wal-Mart and Aaron waved at the outdoor cameras as he always does.  Good morning, security guards!  Smile!

This was a trip for junk food, I will admit.  This made Aaron even happier, of course.  I told him to choose a drink and of course he said, “Can I have beer?”  He says this a lot, and he always laughs, and if I don’t laugh then he will repeat it until I do…….so I laugh and he chooses his flavored tea and off we go to the chip and candy aisle.  He carefully mulled over the selections, knowing that Mom has limits, and after choosing some Twizzlers he suddenly turned and said, “Mom, can I buy Dad something?  I love him!”  I wonder if the shock showed on my face.  Aaron rarely, rarely, offers up such sentiment………and without being prodded or reminded………..this was totally spontaneous from him.  This was a proud moment for me and I was hoping that the other shoppers nearby heard my son as he wanted to buy his Dad something…………his dad whom he LOVED!!  I have lots of moments with Aaron when we are out in public………..embarrassing moments and frustrating moments and tense moments………but not very many truly proud moments.  Of course, I was hoping that these same shoppers didn’t hear Aaron asking if he could have beer or hear him talking about how he likes to make funny comments about the women’s bras.  Let me have my ONE proud moment, OK?!

We went over to the beef jerky aisle as I looked for something that Gary would like in the line of meat or trail mix…….not candy for Gary.  Aaron looked over the selection quickly as he was in a hurry to go to the DVD aisle and being loving to Dad was taking a little more time than he wanted.  “Mom, does Dad like beef and jerky?”  And Aaron was off in a trot to look at DVDs as I chose something…………straight from Aaron’s heart……..but this is something else that we understand about our Aaron.

We looked at DVDs and Aaron had to rush over to ask the sales clerk for help even as I told him not to bother her.  This happens every time that we are in any store.  I wonder if the sales clerks all know Aaron and dread his arrival.  Oh well………I thanked her and once again told Aaron he didn’t need to bother her.  We chose a cheap DVD……….Chuck Norris – hopefully full of excitement but good values.  Soon we had paid and were heading out the door, where Aaron just HAD to stop at the ice machine.  There was a repairman on a ladder, with his head stuck in the open door of the machine and Aaron asked him if the machine was broken.  I wanted to be sarcastic and tell Aaron no, that this man was just trying to cool his head…….but Aaron doesn’t get sarcasm so I just smiled and hoped that nice man didn’t mind answering a silly question.

Soon we were home again, home again.  Aaron made sure he grabbed the bag with his DVD first and then helped carry in a couple more.  He ran downstairs to show Gary his new movie, and then ran back down to take him his turkey sausage rolls.  Then it was up to his room, where he turned on his fans and put on his headphones and began whatever it was he wanted to do on his computer.

I will probably hide the Nutty Bars, knowing that if I don’t then they may all disappear by day’s end.  I will have to delegate the Twizzlers, if I can stay ahead of Aaron on that.  And I will think of the blessings of life with Aaron on this day…………not that he had to go to the lab, which is a stark reminder of his Epilepsy and of seizures…………but that he actually enjoys the lab and that he loves a simple trip to Wal-Mart and that he’s not embarrassed to be seen with his mom.  And that I actually had a moment where I was not embarrassed by something Aaron said but was PROUD!!!

Little does Aaron know how many times I say to myself, “Can I do something for Aaron?  I love him!”

Lessons From the Dry Times

 

I was tired of looking at them……….the dried up remnants of my once bright and beautiful flowers in my two little flower beds off the back patio.  The extreme summer drought and heat had taken its toll on my flowers and had turned their former glory into black ugliness.  Long gone were the cheery yellows of the Black-Eyed Susans; the pretty pink of the Coneflowers; the stunning orange of the Tiger Lilies; and the soft purple of the Garden Phlox.  It was time to do some trimming………trimming that is usually left until autumn but was necessary now, in August.
 
 
Taking my pruning shears and my garden gloves, I headed outside and was soon filling up my pop-up container with the dry, dusty remains of my flowers.  As I clipped, I wondered if any of these perennials would return next spring, even as I noticed places that were already bare – where death had already sunk deep into the roots and destroyed the visible plants as well.  Two summers of severe dryness and burning sun had indeed claimed many flowers and trees and vegetables.  Even with what watering we did, nothing could replace refreshing rain and kinder, cooler temperatures. 
 
My garden shoes crunched over the brittle mulch as I bent over to cut away the deadness.  And as I clipped the useless remnants of my flowers, I noticed that even in the seemingly lifeless garden, some creatures and plants continued to live.  Here and there were weeds……..a chickweed growing against the brick border……….a clump of crab grass nestled in the dry mulch.  How do weeds manage to live even in the midst of such drought?  Around me I saw grasshoppers lunging up as I disturbed their hiding places.  As if my struggling flowers needed any other detriments to their growth, I thought.  Those ugly grasshoppers would eat any remaining life out of these poor flowers for sure.    The life that I was seeing in my flower garden was not the kind that I wanted to see at all!
 
 
Yet as my shears stripped away the dull remains of my flowers, I saw some color.  There, nestled amidst the blackness, was the welcome sight of a yellow Black-Eyed Susan; a bright pink little Coneflower; a softer pink Garden Phlox.  They were both a reminder of what had once been and the hope of what could very possibly come again next spring.   Dryness and death doesn’t have to be the norm, I thought.  There is always hope that the rains will come again; that the sun will be kinder; that replanting or reseeding can occur.  In the meantime, here and there a flower still grew, and the purpose of these seemingly dead plants was evident in the midst of awful circumstances. 
 
I’ve experienced dry times in my life.  We all have those seasons…………or will have if we live long enough.  Prolonged stresses and disappointments just suck the life and the beauty out of our very souls.  Days are long and nights are longer.  The heat of our worries and trials beats us down, blacken our outlook, and steal our joy.  There seems to be no evident end in sight………no welcome rain cloud to provide moisture or to shield us from the sun’s burning rays.  And in our weakest moments, we see weeds sprouting up around us………..weeds of worry, of bitterness, of anger, of blame, of defeat.  Or the hopping grasshoppers of our thought life, hopping to this conclusion or to that decision that is not in God’s plan for us at all. 
 
David experienced these desert seasons as he ran from King Saul.  Here was the future king of Israel, appointed by God, yet hiding in caves and running for his life.  He was falsely accused, thrust out, tormented, and unwanted – with no end in sight to his suffering.  In Psalm 63, David poured out his heart:  “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for you; my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”  What did David do in that dry and weary land in which he found himself?  Did he worry, complain, become bitter, or throw a royal fit?  No!  He sought God earnestly – and not for what God could do for him, but because of WHO God is.  He thirsted and yearned for God, “……to see Your power and Your glory.”

 

How did David seek God?  “Because Your loving kindness (grace) is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live;  I will lift up my hands in Your Name.”  (Psalm 63:3-4)   David took action!  He didn’t sit there and allow ugly weeds or grasshoppers to clutter his soul.  He used his lips to praise God and he lifted his hands in worship of God.   He opened the way for God’s beauty to fill his being even in the midst of a dry desert and a dark cave.  Just as my little blooming flowers shone in my ugly flower bed, so David’s praise and worship was a shining light in his own heart and to those around him…………a light to reveal the great God Who loves us and delights in our praise even in the dry seasons of our lives…………..ESPECIALLY in those dry seasons!
 
It’s up to us…………..will it be ugly weeds and destructive grasshoppers?  Or will we lift our hands in worship and open our mouths in praise in the middle of the heat and dryness of our prolonged trials?     (Psalm 63:5)

How Funny?

What a difference a day makes!  Aaron has been very happy today.  He and I have both laughed at some of his antics, and I’ve laughed at some of the things he has said.  I don’t know if it’s good night’s sleep he had; the seizure he had at 2:30 this morning that rearranged some of those neurons; looking forward to his trip to the mall today and the food fest that usually occurs; or a change in the weather that’s on the way…………but he’s been happy and lots of fun this morning.

It began when I went into his room to get him out of bed………..and his bed was empty.  He hasn’t played this trick in awhile, but I know what an empty bed and closed door usually means.  It means that Aaron is hiding from me, just like a kid would do.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that he was hiding in his closet because the door was slightly ajar………..and Aaron never allows the door to be partly open, even a crack.  So I opened the door and there he was, laying on the floor like someone in a crime scene.  He was very droll about this unusual sight of a grown man crammed into a little closet, laying on the floor, but he was also very pleased with himself for his brilliant hiding place.

He successfully drank his coffee outside as he sat in the mulch doing his “mulch thing.”  No spills today on his white shirt.  Yay!  Then on the way to meet his group, he said, “Mom, it was funny that I fell yesterday when I spilled my coffee.”

No, Aaron, it wasn’t funny.  It was scary that you fell.

And he said, “Well, it was half funny then!”

There he goes with that half business again, which makes him totally funny to me………..and I laughed and he wondered what I thought was so funny as I patted his leg………….and told him that HE’S the funny one.  No response, as usual, to that comment.

Talk then went to policemen and I have no idea why.  “Mom, there are different kinds of policemen, right?”

Right, Aaron.  “Well, which one is it that’s the country cop?”

The country cop?  So as I dropped Aaron off I’m still not sure if the country cop is the state policeman or the sheriff……………because Aaron hasn’t quite figured this out yet.

And as usual, I’m trying to figure Aaron out as well as country cops.  I have the whole day ahead to do this!  And that’s a good thing.

Throw ON the Towel!

Here we go again.  I heard it from upstairs…….the sound of the plastic containers full of coffee hitting the floor and then the thump.  My heart sank as I hurried downstairs to check on Aaron.  He was fine, although sprawled on the floor with spilled coffee all around him.   He jerked and dropped his coffee yet again………lukewarm coffee, thankfully.  And thankfully he didn’t throw his coffee containers as he has been known to do when he’s in a rage. This was a true accident, but messy and discouraging none the less.

I was frustrated with Aaron this morning over a couple things already and this didn’t help, believe me.  My compassion for him still hasn’t quite kicked in yet.  He has cleaned up and showered, and seems to be fine.  I hope he’s not bruised.

I just stood and looked at this mess………coffee all over the floor, the cabinets, on and under the frig.  UGH!  And I thought of how many times I’ve just felt like throwing in the towel.  We all do, don’t we, whether we are parents or not.  But we can’t quit.  God doesn’t and we can’t.  Especially as parents……….these children are given to us by God and He wants us to hang in there despite how tough it sometimes is.

So instead of throwing IN the towel, we throw ON a towel.  We clean the messes up step by step, bit by bit. We’ll see progress one day, even if it’s slow to come…………even when we just stand there and don’t know where to start.  God gives patience; and God gives us the same grace toward our children or others that He has extended to us.  We clean up the messes, whatever they may be, and we push forward.

The rest of the day is before us.  It’s up to me now not to mess up my reactions and my attitudes.  I’ll need to grab another towel if I’m not careful!