A Ruined Heart

I’ve written before about the special relationship Aaron has with Carl, one of our Meals on Wheels clients.  Carl has taken a special liking to Aaron and loves to give him things.  Sometimes Carl will even give me a small gift like a flower from his yard, or a picture. 

Carl loves to see Aaron’s delight and Aaron loves BEING delighted.  Carl asked me once if he was doing too much.   I told him that he doesn’t need to give Aaron things every week.   Yet most weeks Carl does have a little something for Aaron.

Today Aaron took a bag of dog treats that he wanted to give to Lucky, Carl’s dog.  I love it when Aaron wants to do the giving, so I agreed.  When we got to Carl’s house, he invited us in so that Aaron could give Lucky her treat.  Feeble old Lucky hobbled over to Aaron and happily took the dog bone from Aaron’s hand.  Aaron handed the bag of treats to Carl, happy as he could be that Lucky liked the bone and that he could give her more.

I could tell that Carl didn’t have anything for Aaron, and that was perfectly fine.  But then Carl reached down beside his chair and picked up a shopping bag in which was a can of Maxwell House Coffee.  He asked me if we like coffee and then wanted me to take the bag.

I did not want him to give me that coffee so I thanked him but said no.  I told him that I had just bought coffee, which was true, and that he needed to keep his coffee. 

Surprisingly, Aaron was quiet during our exchange.  He and I left, but as we walked to the car Aaron spoke very quietly to me.

“You ruined his heart,” Aaron softly said.

Wow.

That almost stopped me in my tracks.

Aaron kept saying that to me over and over as we made our last two deliveries and then headed to lunch.  We talked a lot about it and I believe that Aaron understands why I did not take the coffee. 

But still, Aaron felt so bad that Carl wanted to give us something and I said no.  Aaron wasn’t concerned about the fact that he didn’t get any gift today.

No.  He was worried about Carl’s heart…about hurting Carl’s feelings.

He knows that giving a gift is a good thing for the giver more than the one doing the getting.

I’m pretty blown away by that perception on Aaron’s part.

Blown away by the very insightful way that Aaron verbalized his thoughts.

Aaron loves to give things away, but I never realized that he has empathy and understanding toward others who are doing the giving.

He knows that the joy he feels when giving is also felt by others who are giving to him.

I can also see that the kindness of Carl…and of others like him in Aaron’s life…is causing kindness to blossom in Aaron.

Sometimes Aaron can be the very opposite of kind, quite honestly.  We talked some about how his words can ruin hearts.  But whatever is going on with Aaron and with his words and behaviors, I hope that I will pause and remember Aaron’s words.

You ruined his heart.

May that never be what I do to anyone, and especially not to this special son that God has given to us. 

Aaron’s Note

I have another funny note story to share.

When we were in Houston last month with our daughter and son-in-law, we also got to see our other son, Andrew.  He was in town because there was an NHRA drag race there, and he works on one of the teams.  

Andrew was able to come over to Kyle and Andrea’s one evening for supper.  While he was there, Aaron ran inside and came back with something for Andrew.  It was a pack of Juicy Fruit gum.  Random, I know, but Aaron loves giving things away and this is what he grabbed for his brother. 

This past Monday morning we got a text from Andrew.  He was getting ready to leave for the track in Richmond.  He sent this picture:

“Tell Aaron I’ve been chewing his Juicy Fruit every morning when I leave for the track.  I’m almost out.  Guess he needs to send more.”  😊

Aaron jumped on that in a flash.  He pulled out his three-pack of unopened Juicy Fruit gum and said he wanted to send that to Andrew.

“Mom,” he directed, “you put it in a box, and I’ll sign a note.”

The plan was made!

I got the box, placed the gum inside, and gave Aaron a piece of paper for him to write his note. 

This is what I later found. 

How I laughed!  But not in front of Aaron. 

Remember my last blog about the note he wrote to Cody?  Here was another note, this one to his brother, and this one also flat and factual with nothing personal added.  Nothing endearing.  Not even a “Love, Aaron” to be found.

Yet this note IS very endearing because it is so very Aaron.  I could have dictated to Aaron what to say, but then it wouldn’t be Aaron’s words from Aaron’s heart and Aaron’s unique ways. 

And those unique ways are what make Aaron endearing in his own right. 

Believe me, there are plenty of times that Aaron’s words and ways are anything but endearing.  But these moments that are totally Aaron are moments that make us smile and make us thankful that we can share in his very special ways.   

Here’s A Rose!

Once again, this year our friend Jody at our local Dillon’s store made sure that Aaron had a box of beautiful red roses to take to his day group on Valentine’s Day.  And this year, unlike last year, Aaron did stay at Paradigm (his day group) all day.  Special days are hard for Aaron – too many expectations on a day full of a party atmosphere.  It all drives Aaron a little crazy. 

My favorite picture of the morning was Aaron’s sheer delight after giving a rose to Antoine, one of his favorite staff. 

Antoine takes Aaron to QuikTrip on most days.  He is so very patient and understanding with Aaron, even when Aaron’s exuberance is a bit much. 

I captured pictures of Aaron giving a rose to Barb, our dear friend in so many ways.

And to Victoria, his very special friend.

Last week Jody saw to it that Aaron and I also had roses to hand out to our Meals on Wheels clients.  Look at the loveliness!

Aaron enjoyed taking a rose to each door and handing one to each of our sweet clients. 

I relish seeing the way Aaron loves giving those roses away.  These are memories tucked happily into my heart. 

Thank you to Jody and to Dillon’s for making those two fun days possible.  The kindness shown and the memories made are truly priceless!

Other’s Colors

Do you remember that old song, Color My World, sung by Chicago?  I’ve always LOVED that song!  The meaning of those lyrics takes on a different hue when I think of our life with Aaron, and how he most definitely puts his own color on everything that we do. 

For instance, on Sunday after church I took Aaron with me to our local Dillon’s.  The grocery store is one of Aaron’s very favorite places!  Every aisle is full of discovery to him.  And since those discoveries involve his taste buds, he is especially eager to go along if offered the opportunity. 

Sunday was a chilly day, but not a super cold day.  However, Aaron decided that it was super cold, no matter what I said.  So he walked outside to the van with his toboggan perched goofily on his head and wearing his thick winter gloves.  I could have insisted that he take them off, but after suggesting such, he still wanted to wear his arctic garb and so I just let it go.

We went in the store, and as I headed to the pharmacy, Aaron veered off to explore the candy and snack aisle.  No surprise there!  When I veered up the same aisle to join him later, I had to laugh at the sight of him standing there examining the selection of peanuts. 

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He did not think it at all unusual to still be wearing his hat and his gloves.  Nor did he think it at all unusual to talk loudly when he saw me coming toward him. 

“Mom!!”  he bellowed.  “I’m looking at the peanuts!!”

And with that update, he proceeded to bend over to examine the jar that he thought he wanted.

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And then he had to stretch his arm out to retrieve the perfect jar.

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“See, MOM?!” he continued to bellow.  “These are lightly salted!  Is that good?”

I assured him that this jar was a great choice, and off we went to the self check-out…where he proceeded to talk to the attendant there about his lightly salted peanuts, in his commanding voice and his even more commanding presence…hat and gloves still included.

Sometimes it’s easy to be embarrassed by Aaron.  He doesn’t need the funny hat and gloves to be noticed, trust me!  So on this day, as he was even more noticed than usual, I just smiled and tried to see Aaron through fresh eyes…to relish how unusual he is…and to enjoy the moment.

The colors of that moment could have been red from my red face, and maybe my face was slightly red some of the time.  But that’s OK.  A little red doesn’t hurt me one bit! 

Another aspect of my colorful life with Aaron has been the joy of getting to know other moms of special needs children and adults.  The special bond we share is a rare treasure.  It’s very encouraging to walk the same path with others, though none of us would wish our circumstances on them.  But here we are, together on this journey, and our shared experiences make us all stronger. 

One of those friends, Joyce, has a particularly rough path as she mothers two adult sons with very significant special needs.  I truly am in awe of what she must handle on a “normal” day, much less on the kind of days she has had lately.  One of her sons had his wisdom teeth removed.  Then sickness hit the family, including Joyce and both her special sons.  Intestinal…respiratory…fevers…seizures…many, many sleepless nights. 

Her world is most certainly colored right now with the colors of poop and puke and puffy eyes, to be honest.  So on Sunday afternoon, I called her and I asked if she might want to escape for a bit…go somewhere and catch a breath of fresh air.  Change the colors a bit.

“Yes!” she said.  And a short time later, when I pulled into her driveway, she strode out to my van with a big smile on her face.  I was amazed, though knowing Joyce, I shouldn’t have been.

“Look at your smile!” I told her as she climbed in. 

“Well, I know what I want to do!” she happily declared.

I was expecting her to name a restaurant…or a park…or maybe the mall. 

“I would like to go to Dollar Tree,” she continued, “and get five vases.  Then I want to go buy some tulips and take them up to Oxford Villa.” 

And again, this woman amazed me.  Oxford Villa is a senior assisted living center where her mother used to live.  Joyce wanted to take some vases of flowers there for some of the residents who might not have anyone who loves them and brings them flowers.

Wow!! 

Joyce, I thought, needed some color in her life.  But instead, she wanted to GIVE some color to others!  I was so touched by her unselfishness!  So impacted by yet another lesson taught to me by this dear friend!

Instead of sipping a coke or coffee while eating a piece of dessert somewhere, I watched Joyce buy pretty colored vases and then examine the beautiful colors of tulips at another store.  We realized that Sunday was not the best day to deliver the flowers, though, so that job will be completed another day.  I hope I can help make that delivery!

Sometimes the best way to mix up our colors in this all-too-demanding life of parenting special needs children…or any other part of life that is draining you…is to look beyond yourself and see the needs of others.  To reach out and help carry their burden while taking your eyes off your own for awhile.

There was joy for me in watching goofy looking Aaron find just the right jar of peanuts.

There was joy for me in watching Joyce’s delight in finding just the right colorful vases for some unknown, needy seniors. 

Looking beyond ourselves causes us to see so many stunning colors that otherwise would have remained hidden. 

It’s so worth the effort, even with red cheeks or through tired eyes!

Thank you, Joyce, for your wonderful and colorful friendship!

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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!