Story by Karen Harper DeLoach (Author)
I looked up from my desk and groaned. “Not today! I can’t deal with him today!”
Old Mr. Whiteside was limping up the driveway to our auto repair shop, cane in hand, wearing layers of not-too-clean clothing even though it was a warm afternoon. He’s not homeless, but a stranger wouldn’t know it from looking at him. Gruff-voiced and curt, he is a familiar fixture on this side of town. He walks from business to business and keeps all the guys apprised of the latest old-timers who have passed on. And he’s always looking for a handout.
Mr. Whiteside isn’t particular. Years ago when my husband Bill smoked cigars, he came by regularly to ask for a stogie or at least a stub of one. “You got any ends today?” he’d ask. He’ll take an unopened soft drink or finish drinking Bill’s. A piece of fruit, a donut, or a bag of chips, even if it is half-eaten, is always welcome. Bill gave him a floppy old sun hat one time, and he wore it all summer.
But when Mr. Whiteside comes straight to the office, he’s not looking for Bill. He wants to see me. I know what he wants. He wants to make a phone call. He doesn’t read, so he hands me the little notepad someone at the retirement home filled with the phone numbers of his friends. I dial, and he talks. He doesn’t talk long because, sadly, no one ever takes too much time to talk to him, but he will keep giving me names as long as I’ll dial the numbers. Over the years I’ve missed a few calls because he doesn’t seem to recognize the call waiting beep. Or perhaps he just doesn’t want to acknowledge it and miss precious seconds in his already short conversations.
Normally, I don’t mind making calls for Mr. Whiteside. But this particular day, I just wanted to be left alone. I was deciding which bills were most urgent, because business was slow and there wasn’t enough money to pay them all. The only phone calls all morning had been from salesmen. Not a customer in sight. Rain was in the forecast, but I knew that before I ever heard the weatherman say a word. My screaming knees and complaining knuckles had already warned me. Concentration on my bookwork was difficult. The faces of my children kept popping into my head. They were each facing major life challenges, and their worries and heartaches lay heavy on my heart. In the middle of my emotional chaos, Mr. Whiteside walked up.
I was tempted to stop him at the door and tell him to come back another day. However as I watched him hobble up toward the sidewalk, I knew the effort it took for him to walk with his arthritic knees. “Come on, Karen,” I thought to myself. “Who do you claim as your example? What would He do?”
There was no doubt in my mind what Christ would do. A particular example came to mind.
It was a heart-wrenching moment for Jesus. He had just been informed that someone close to Him had been brutally murdered. John the Baptist was beheaded and, compounding the tragedy, his head callously offered to Herodias on a platter.
Not only was John spiritually bound to Christ and the one who baptized Him in water, he was also Jesus’ blood kin, His cousin.
Jesus needed some time alone to grieve and pray. He went to a deserted place, no doubt hoping for respite from earthly demands. But the multitudes found out where He was and followed Him. Jesus’ heart was so big that when He looked on the crowd, He sensed their individual needs and was moved with compassion for them. He set aside His own hurt and ministered to the people. Not only did He perform miracles of healing, He also tended to their most basic needs and fed them (Matthew 14).
What does this teach me?
Somehow it seems easier to lay aside my personal burdens and concentrate on someone else’s need when the situation calls for spiritual help, maybe a prayer or a shared scripture verse. That includes the emotional needs of a hurting soul which require a word of encouragement or a hug. I must act when I see someone who is hungry, and I am able to offer food. But am I as willing when it comes to something like this? A phone call to someone who doesn’t really want to talk anyway? I just wanted to be left alone.
But wasn’t that what Jesus wanted when he went to the wilderness to pray? He could have said, “Enough! I’ve ministered and ministered. This is my time. I’m hurting. I need to be alone with my Father. Go away and come again some other time.”
Yet He didn’t consider the inconvenience to Himself when people came to Him wanting something. Their needs were important to them, and therefore He had compassion. Whether the person on the other end of the line wanted to talk much was not the point. Mr. Whiteside had a need. He needed to reach out and connect with someone, if only for a moment.
I thought of my shining Example, and put a smile on my face. “Have a seat, Mr. Whiteside. How are you today? Would you like a Coke? I bet you want to make some phone calls, don’t you?”
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