Editor’s Note: Following Jesus is a faith journey filled with stories of God’s intrusive grace, of lessons that change who we are, and of the journey from hate to love. We hope you enjoy this excerpt of Wounds Are Where the Light Enters.
Billy: The Ruination of My Thanksgiving
Gloria Ferguson worked for the Salvation Army. In that capacity, she served the poor, giving them clothes: peacoats, warm boots in the winter, a warm shower and a cot at night, milk and hot meals, whether in the Salvation dining room or else by carrying them to the homes of the hungry.
Gloria telephoned me. “It’s Billy,” she said. “He needs a little help. Says he hasn’t eaten for going on three days. It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I have my babies to tend to. Pastor, it’d be a load off if you’d take a bag of food over to his house.”
“I can do that,” I said.
“Billy’s ninety-seven,” Gloria said, “and a bit crotchety. Don’t mind his wordy stab-sticks.”
As a shepherd separates his sheep from his goats, so did the King of Glory divide the nations gathered before Him, the faithful to His right, the neglectful to His left. Even though the sheep didn’t know Him, they served Him. Therefore, He invited these faithful into the kingdom prepared for them. To the goats on His left he said, “I was hungry and you gave Me no food, thirsty and you gave Me no drink, a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and imprisoned and you did not visit Me.”
And the neglectful answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick and in prison, and we didn’t serve You?”
“Truly,” said King Jesus, “when you did not serve the least of these My brothers, even so you did not serve Me.”
Billy’s house was on Kentucky Avenue. When I arrived, I found the door standing open. The interior room was dark. I knocked on the doorpost. No one answered. I knocked again. Billy must, I thought, be home, or else he doesn’t worry about thieves. My grocery bag was growing heavier by the minute. I knocked a third time, then turned to leave, but heard a high-pitched yell. “Whad-ya wait’n for? I’m hungry! Git on in here!” So I did. I entered.
The salt-stench of urine twisted my nose. Waves of roaches rushed from my feet. My eyes adjusted to the dark. Billy’s ankles were sockless and spotted with dirt. His shoelaces were untied, his eyes bright, and crumbs were caught in a four-day’s growth of whiskers. The old man crouched in an overstuffed chair like a buzzard.
I said, “I’m Pastor Wangerin. Gloria Ferguson told me that you haven’t eaten in days.”
Billy glowered at me. I said, “If you want, I’ll heat a bowl of chicken noodle soup.” Without shifting his eyes or his posture, Billy screeched, “Kitty kitty kitty!” There came a crash in the kitchen. Three cats streaked into the room, saw me, stiffened their legs, and slid to a stop. Billy’s bright eyes twinkled with hilarity. He cracked his ribs with laughter. “Eee, hee-hee-hee! Ain’t lonely. Got me my zoo.” Here I was, a pastor well-dressed, clean and cleanly shaven, assaulted by his zoo of cats and ripples of roaches. My pride was piqued. “Rest your coat,” Billy screamed. “Set and talk awhile.” I kept my coat on. I didn’t sit. There was nothing to talk about. Billy kept his crouch, glaring at me, while his three cats menaced me by raising the fur on their backbones. I was beginning to regret my good deed.
Finally Billy shrieked, “Yer bag, boy. Carry it to the kitchen. I got some-pin to show ya.”
At the word “kitchen,” the cats turned tail and ran from the room.
The ninety-seven-year-old man had trouble getting out of his chair. In an effort to rise he leaned forward till his ears were between his knees. He rocked back, gripping the arms of his chair, then thrust himself forward again with a greater strength. Half-standing, he grabbed my suit jacket lest he drop to the floor.
“Cain’t fall,” he said. “Done fell too many times. Hurt m’ spine, ya know. Got to rubber ma-self to standin’. Whad-ya say you did? Worked at?”
“Never mind,” I said, yanking my jacket from his hand. I wanted to make haste to the kitchen and then be gone from this house.
Billy’s kitchen! It overflowed with food! A canned ham on an ironing board; cereal boxes and boxes of macaroni-and-cheese and a bottle of vodka in his cupboard; the kitchen table stacked with unopened cans of pork-and-beans, tomato soup, Beefaroni.
He pushed food aside to make a space on his counter. “Here,” he said. “Lay ma groceries here.” He went to his ice-box and opened the door and peered inside. “Less see,” he said. “Ain’t got milk but what’s gone sour. No butter. Cain’t eat bread with no butter. Cain’t eat Cap’n Crunch with no milk.”
Billy turned to me and screamed, “Get me milk and butter and cream!”
I’d like to end this tale by saying that my service was rewarded. That Billy had, perhaps, given me a nickel, even a candy bar in return, but that would be a sentimental lie. There was no thanksgiving from Billy to me. Nor did I return to his house. No milk, no butter, and surely no cream.
Why do you serve Me? Why do you allay My hunger with food?
There is but one right answer.
“Because You asked me.” That were enough to say. But better than that answer is this: “And because I love You.”
Excerpted with permission from Wounds Are Where the Light Enters by Walter Wangerin, Jr. copyright Walter Wangerin, Jr.
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This week we have a great opportunity to turn our thanks to Jesus into action… even action that gets us no thanks in return. And, we’ll be more like Jesus and show our love for Him as we do it! Where can you show His grace today? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily