“Nothing is irretrievable with God.”
Thomas Erskine as quoted by Lilias Trotter 23 July 1906
Dave calls on his way home from his golf tournament in Georgia. “I had an interesting experience this morning,” he says, and proceeds to relate this incident. He stopped along the road for a quick breakfast at a Waffle House. While his waitress was taking his order the door opened and she immediately looked past his shoulder and with a smile calls out, “Hey Slim!” Soon other employees echo her greeting and ask Slim “How is it going?” and other welcoming words. Dave cannot restrain his curiosity and turns his head to view the object of their enthusiasm. Slim is an emaciated old man, poorly kempt and shabbily dressed. “The usual?” they ask. He tucks in a hearty breakfast and heads off, again with farewells as warm as the greetings. “Looks like Slim’s a regular customer?” Dave comments to his waitress. “Yup. He comes in here everyday. We think he’s homeless. We all chip in and feed him breakfast.”
Who were these people who gave with such loving constancy to this needy man? What was their motivation? Did Slim fully appreciate what he was being given? Did he express gratitude? We will never know the back story much less the answers to my musings. But this we know: they were kind-hearted. Through their daily act of kindness – to this one man – love was manifested.
Lilias Trotter came to Algiers with a big vision: to bring the light and life and love of Jesus to people who did not know Him. Yet much of her everyday life was made up of what appeared, on the surface, to be random acts of kindness: countless gestures of caring and devotion unobserved by others and seemingly undeserved. Were they fully appreciated by the recipients?
One such person was Almed. A person from their past, he showed up unexpectedly, clearly in need of help. Lilias observes: “Wreck as he is, there is something touching about him – something of possibilities yet undestroyed.” Despite his poor track record her heart goes out to him and she longs to give him “one more chance to get on his feet.” So they set him up with housing and a bit of work – and love – and a glimmer of hope.
What becomes of Almed? What becomes of their efforts on his behalf? He seems to fall off the pages of her diary much as he appeared – much as did many others in whom Lilias and her colleagues invested. Charia. . . Omed. . . Fatima. . . Aissha. . . Doudja. . . people come and go, touched by love – for a day, a week, a year – or intermittently for decades. Lilias does not give up hope. She does not stop loving.
This week our hearts have been focused on Texas and the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey. We watch horrified, from the comfort of our homes, as flood waters rise and engulf homes, roads, communities. We watch perilous missions as people are rescued by boat and plane from the waters rapidly rising in their homes. Stories begin to surface as the waters begin to subside and people return to assess the damages and begin to reconstruct their homes and their lives. Stories of bravery and sacrifice documented by interviews and fleshed out by film: individuals risking lives to check on neighbors. . . volunteers coming to the aid of complete strangers. . . people turning their spaces into shelters for the displaced or homeless. . . individuals giving sacrificially of personal resources – money, supplies, services – to help others begin to rebuild their lives.
There are poignant images etched on the public consciousness that reduce the scale of suffering, loss – and hope – to the intimate: a gentleman picking out a haunting melody on a piano submerged in several feet of water. . . the reunion of a son with his aged father. . . heartbroken reflections of a couple who have lost 3 generations of family in a car swept away by flood waters. . .
Our nation unites, if only momentarily, in a massive virtual hug as we witness the loss as well as the response. It touches something deep in all of us as we unite around our screens if not descend upon the scene. We breathe a mutual sigh of relief: maybe there is something decent in humanity that transcends the media negativity.
Back to Slim. We don’t know what motivated those kind hearts to care in such a practical way for him. We don’t know what became of Almed. Did he make good this “one more chance” offered him?
This we do know: acts of loving kindness bless the giver as much as the recipient. “Compassion,” wrote Henri Nouwen, “asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain.” When we enter others’ “places of pain” we become better people: more fully human. And who of us is without pain – whether hidden or obvious?
For the Christian, kindness is not an option. It is a mandate. Throughout Scripture, kindness is upheld as a requirement: for the benefit of the needy, for the wholeness of community, for the health of ones’ soul, and for the honoring of God.
Kindness can take a radical even costly form as in the cases of Slim, Almed and Hurricane Harvey responders. More often it finds expression in simple acts of thoughtfulness scattered throughout the day: a smile. . . a word of encouragement. . . a gentle response. . . a listening ear. . . a bunch of flowers. . . an email. . . a compliment. . . a card with a personal note. . . transportation to a doctor’s appointment. . . an errand done willingly. . . The list could go on and on. At heart, it lies in being attentive to the people whose lives we touch, profoundly or incidently, in the daily round of living. It asks no credit. It keeps no score. It measures no results.
Joe Stowell, in a Daily Light devotional writes: “In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf explains why he has selected a small hobbit like Bilbo to accompany the dwarves to fight the enemy. He says, ‘Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.'”
“Be kind and compassionate to one another. . . “