“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
– Mt. 7:16-19
As Thanksgiving approaches, we should reflect on the many things we should be thankful for in our lives. This story is meant to do just that. Hopefully, it will allow you to step back and think of life through another lens.
Our story begins at the weekly Bible study known as the Men’s Connection.
As brother Richard recently spoke at our morning Bible study, he spoke of what it was to sacrifice, to serve without expectation of receiving. His dear, beloved Ann had passed earlier in the year, and he was leading us in a study of death and how we should face it. But more than the discussion of terminal illness, his message invoked the feeling of how we should not be more than we ought to think of ourselves – to be humble, with all gentleness in our servitude. On this last day of his series, he brought to light the importance of Spiritual Gifts and the Fruit of the Spirit. Again and again, those in attendance were moved by his message.
As Richard spoke, my mind began to drift to other moments reinforced by his words.
It was the middle of the summer, July 18th, to be exact. My journal recorded the event because of the profound nature of the encounter. It was an unseasonably warm day for Boone, which made me yearn for a cup of ice cream. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I took a break and made my way up to King Street to one of my favorite snack shops. Walking out of the establishment into the bright, sunshine a thought occurred to me, “How are you going to reach others when you came alone?” Usually, I try to find a student or faculty to walk and talk with, but there wasn’t anyone around that could go on this day, so I was alone. Feeling a bit guilty in my singular pleasure, another thought arose, “Why not head over to the shady spots on the hill?”
So, with these thoughts in play, my feet began walking toward the old, refurbished gathering place in the middle of Boone, The Jones House. It is a natural oasis in the middle of all the hustle of downtown. There sitting on a hill, girded by massive Oaks and Ashe trees, overlooking the comings-and-goings of the small town below, sits an old home with a wide front porch littered with rocking chairs that invite you in with welcoming arms. Usually, it is the headquarters for the Junior Appalachian Musician program, along with other Old-Time music and various music events in the community. But on that particular day, it was merely the quick stop for visitors looking for a public restroom or just a quiet place to sit and rest.
As I found my way up the steep steps from King St., it was there that the realization of my hopes to sit alone on the porch to savor my sweet treat was not going to happen. For there, in one of the rocking chairs was another person, seemingly well planted, for his belongings were comfortably resting next to him, and his phone was plugged into the outlet by the window charging. Beside him was an empty rocking chair that beckoned. The words came back to me as I approached the porch, “How are you going to reach others when you came alone?” Walking up the front steps of the porch, I asked the young man if the other chair was taken, to which he replied, “No.”
Thankful to find the shade of the large porch, I eased back into the weathered wood, that like a glove, embraced my weary soul. Looking out at the town below, through the whispering breeze that blew the leaves on the trees, we two strangers sat. For what seemed an eternity, we said nothing but continued to watch the world go by. Eventually, the calm overtook me, and I had to speak, so I asked, “Beautiful day isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” he replied, nodding as he spoke. His dreadlocks were a bungled flurry of contradiction. He was not of traditional college age. His eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses, so to fully grasp his demeanor was even more difficult. Trying to think of how to approach one such as himself, I surmised his situation. He appeared homeless and was using the porch as a temporary abode, but one shouldn’t judge others too quickly.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t introduce myself. My name’s Tim.”
“Are you from around here,” I probed, not trying to be too personal.
“Yes and no.” He then bent over from his sitting position, reached into his backpack, and pulled out a cheese stick. As he unwrapped it and began to chew on its sustenance, it became evident to me that my inability to share with him had manifested itself into his own realization of hunger.
Curious to understand what “Yes and no meant,” my questioning continued, like the seasoning on the meal before you begin to eat. “Have you served in the military?”
“Yes, in the Navy.”
“I was in the Air Force,” I responded, and he shook his head in confirmation. From there, it was as if a door had been opened. Adrian shared with me, in broken terminologies, of what the world around him had become. His life was dark and lonely. When I asked what he did in the service, he said he couldn’t tell me. Acknowledging that I understood, he continued on. He said that the “Eaters” are revealed to him in his dreams. When I asked for clarification, he pointed to the food we were just finishing. It was still unclear what he meant, for his mind seemed to drift in and out of consciousness. It seemed as if the soul in this man was battling demons that no one could see but him.
Thinking of a way to bring faith into the conversation, I asked a pretty bold question, “Do you read the Bible?”
“Do you,” he replied, almost in self-defense. Granted, I deserved his response, but it made me take a step back about my own attitude. How self-righteous of me to imply that he should read a book of my faith when in fact, he may belong to another religion entirely.
“Everyday,” was my answer, but now I was feeling almost guilty for putting him on the spot. Thankfully, he continued.
“I couldn’t go to church for ten years while I was in the Navy,” he answered. “Now they won’t even let me into their temples because I smell so bad.”
This was the confirmation that I had suspected of Adrian being homeless. It was then that I realized he hadn’t asked for anything, no food, no money. He simply needed rest and time to be himself. It was as if he had allowed me to join him in his home for that brief moment in time.
“You don’t have to go to a church to worship the Lord.”
At this, he looked at me over his sunglasses with a curious glance, then I continued.
“Jesus spoke of the temple of his body, and that after the great temple was destroyed, the new temple is now our own bodies, in which God can dwell if we let him.”
Before I left him, I asked if he had any prayer requests. He lifted with an outstretched arm, palm down, to the yard before us, as if he were calming the seas. I didn’t understand the gesture entirely, except to mean that he wanted to pray for everything and everyone beyond where we existed. Nevertheless, it touched me in a way that I hadn’t expected.
There, on a sunny afternoon, in what seemed like a wasted break from work, my world met someone of the world of those that fall through the cracks of our society. Their lives are a cloud of confusion and darkness. Most cannot find adequate help or refuse it for fear of being institutionalized. Instead, they live off the support of charities and the kindness of strangers. Me with my cup of self-righteousness, eating in front of a man that probably only got one meal every other day if he is lucky, was like those Pharisees who touted their own religiosity. In retrospect, it was very humbling.
From what brother Richard taught us, when we are blessed with gifts of the Spirit, we should learn to use them to help those in the world around us. If we do, we find that the fruits of the Spirit begin to manifest themselves. Without using those gifts, those fruits, those trees become barren. It is up to us to recognize those gifts and not let them lie dormant and waste away.
So, it was on that July day, there on the front porch, two strangers met. A world in chaos met another seeking to help those out of chaos – each wanting to find a way to the other.
Before I left, I asked Adrian if I could pray for him. He nodded yes. When we finished praying, God indeed was listening, for something quite unexpected, at least on my part, happened.
Adrian said, “Thank you,”
As we said our goodbyes, the feeling that God had just done something in spite of myself seemed to echo my departing footsteps.
C.S. Lewis said, “A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.”
As we go through our days, let us not miss an opportunity to reach out to someone in need. It isn’t always the material or the sustenance of organic goods that are needed, but simply the comfort and compassion of a loving heart are all that is required.
As the time of Thanksgiving approaches, once more, let us reflect on our many blessings. At the same time, seek those who are less fortunate in this world, those who need comfort, or those who just need someone to talk to. Share those gifts and give someone the fruits of your spirit.
It will make all the difference in the world.
Thanks be to God.
 Mere Christianity. Copyright © 1952, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1980, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.