I'll call him George. He appeared on my doorstep one day out of the blue because someone told him we might be able to help him. No descriptions can do justice but he was tall and gangly with hair that seemed to go in all directions at once and huge, sad eyes. Probably because he was so tall, he slumped forward when he walked and looked down at the floor. His clothes were shabby and worn and nothing matched. It was obvious he had been beaten down by life and there wasn't any fight or gumption left in him.
It was an exhausting appointment. I had to drag information out of him. At the end I learned he had no job, no food, a lot of medical problems and lived in a dilapidated house that didn't have electricity because it had recently been turned off.
After spending some time with George, it was obvious he had worked hard all his life until he was no longer able due to sickness. That's when he lost his job and things went downhill. When I asked hard questions, he would look at his shoes and start to cry. My co-worker and best friend got involved when we tried to come up with some quick answers for his immediate needs. After a few phone calls we had appointments lined up to get him some medical help, electricity and food. She made all the calls and arranged all the appointments. So it was only right that I volunteered to take him to the grocery store to buy the food.
I've got to tell you that I was feeling pretty good on the way to the store. Okay, who am I kidding? I was feeling extremely good about what we had accomplished. Here we had taken this seemingly impossible situation and opened some amazing doors for a man that needed a miracle. He sat silently in the seat beside me staring off into the distance. You never really knew what he was thinking.
We pulled up in front of the store and I hopped out and helped him open his door. We grabbed a buggy at the entrance and started down the produce aisle. He followed me in his usual style, slumping forward, staring at the floor and dragging his feet.
I pointed out all the healthy fruits and vegetables but he wasn't happy about any of them. I think I finally persuaded him to let me put some bananas in the cart. Next we came to the cold cuts and he was excited to grab up the bologna, hotdogs and sausage. So far, our healthy outing wasn't going as I'd planned. Somewhere along the way, we ran into people I knew. I quickly explained what I was doing when they looked him up and down and looked back at me with questions in their eyes. I explained that it was really just part of my job and I had to hurry and get back to work.
On the next aisle he told me he liked tuna and sardines. I added a few cans to the cart and kept walking. That's when it happened. George stopped and wouldn't budge. I turned around and he was smiling. It was a huge crooked grin and it was the first time I'd seen him smile. He pointed toward the floor. I wasn't sure what he'd spotted.
"What is it George?" I asked impatiently. This was taking much longer than I'd planned and my head was starting to throb. "Pig's feet!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. I looked around quickly to see who heard him.
"Pig's feet?" I asked. "What about them?"
"I love pig's feet!" George chortled. "Do I have enough money to get me some pig's feet?" The throbbing in my head picked up tempo. "George, pig's feet really aren't good for you. You shouldn't eat them and we still have a lot of things to buy..." I trailed off because the smile was instantly gone and had been replaced by the sad eyes. He stood shuffling his feet and shaking his head. "I never had a big jar of pig's feet like that before. You know, all my own." Well, what was I supposed to do?
"Okay George. You can have the pig's feet. Just put them in the buggy." He reached for the huge jar with delight and clasped it to his chest. "Aren't you going to put them in the buggy?" I asked.
"No, I want to hold them," he informed me. So we proceeded down every aisle of the store. Me, pushing the buggy followed by this tall, gangly, wild eyed guy clutching a gallon jug of pig's feet for dear life. All my good intentions were gone. I rounded each aisle wondering who I would see next. We finished the shopping as quickly as I could fill the buggy and yes, he followed me back to the car with his treasured pig's feet which he would not allow the cashier to place in a grocery bag. In the car he put the seat belt around him and the pig's feet. It was nothing if not memorable.
As I said, I think of old George at this time of year. He's gone now. But he taught me some lessons in the brief time I knew him. First of all, he taught me that maybe I wasn't as "good willed" as I thought I was. Turns out I was only happy about helping when it was going my way. Once the pig's feet became part of the equation, I was through. I also remember how quickly I explained to onlookers that I was just "helping" him. I made sure they knew he wasn't a relative and I didn't even really know him. I wanted to make sure the association ended then and there. Finally, I was relieved when my turn was over and somebody else could deal with George the next time. After all, I'd done my part. Now let somebody else do theirs.
I failed that test. There have been others since then and I like to think I've learned from my mistakes. Maybe I've learned that it's not about me and what I want. It's about the other person. And if Jesus wasn't ashamed to reach out to people and be seen with those who looked and acted differently why should I? And if we can help somebody along the way, why don't we? Sometimes we get an exaggerated sense of our own importance. Not only that, we forget that without the grace of God, we could be in the same boat with the same needs. We haven't made it all the way through this life yet. If I have learned anything, it's because a guy named George taught me happiness can be a simple thing. The Bible says to be careful entertaining strangers because sometimes we "entertain angels unaware." Mine was particularly fond of pig's feet.