His home is little more than a very small travel trailer. I mean small. Caring for his mother requires him to be close. She lives next door.
Travel trailers may be spotted with small propane bottles affixed to the frame. Heat for cooking and maybe for warmth draw from this very small resource. However, this little home gets its heat from a small wood-burning stove.
Each year the price of a rick of wood increases. Worse yet the size of wood found in most ricks would not fit the small stove. Caring for his mother keeps him close. He works to help keep her assets in good working condition as they create her ongoing income. There is little time for him to work a normal job. The cost of elder care is prohibitive.
We stood talking one evening in the early Fall. It would not be long before the little place he called home would be cold. He asked, “Do you all have any shredding here at the church?” I replied, “We shred some things. But, not much. Why do you ask?” He shared that he has a device that takes paper shredding and turns it into small paper blocks suitable for burning in a small stove.
I told him we would keep our small bit of shredding for him. I also told him I knew of another source for shredded paper and I would be sure to stockpile it for him. I admit to questioning the viability of such a process.
Week after week he would come for a box of food, one for his mother and one for himself. He would then retrieve the shredding. He did not expect me to get it from where I stored it. He would get the bags of discarded paper turned small threads by a commercial spreader and put them in his car.
Would it work? Does it work? I have not seen the device. But, last week he came back in after getting his food boxes and checking the place for shredding. In is hands were two small paper blocks. He wanted me to have a couple of them to see just what he was talking about. Fascinating!
He then said, “I have just about enough to last me the next two years.” Two years! Those reading this blog do not heat their homes with small wood-burning stoves. Instead we have heaters that put out large numbers of BTUs. Our supplies are gas lines, propane tanks, or electric heaters. We do not look about for shredding. Paper. Someone else’s trash.
Our friendship began when he needed something for his mother he did not have, a wheelchair. Initially he was standoffish to those who gave up their Wednesday evening to serve those in our community. Some even reported that he came off quite unappreciative. The truth is his heart and mind we burdened. He had no one with whom he could talk.
One evening at the end of his tether we talked. In tears he described his life and experience. He longed for the hurt to go away. To this point he was doing all he could to present a very firm, solid exterior. He was Facebooking all of us. That is, he was presenting the best image of himself to others until he did not have the energy to continue.
I recall that evening and a few successive evenings. We talked about Good News. Yes, we talked about Jesus. At one point he indicated he understood and things had changed for him. Not quite the traditional way to confess faith. I sensed his skepticism. It was as if he had been down this road before. Promises of radical changes and an all’s well future may have been the stock and trade previous conversations partners presented to him.
What he seemed to be waiting for were those accompanying actions that made our conversation more than about me announcing, “We got one!” In fact, we do not get one. Over time his demeanor changed. No longer presenting as unappreciative, he thanked those who served effusively. His attention turned to ways he could help others. Something of a pay it forward.
We tend to eschew those descriptions. They are not exact enough for us. But, I am left thinking my new, old friend is slowly working his way in faith. I thought about some of the ways he has sought to express his thankfulness. It was not the lengths to which Zacchaeus went – paying back up to four times what he had wrongfully taken. But the impulse was the same. I must do something.
He never thought what he was doing came close to repaying. He did not convey his actions were an attempt to get him in continued good graces. Instead, in the simple, even kitschy, way he offered thankfulness moved beyond what we normally see when assembling to help others.
My new, old friend received from the abundance of someone’s excess shredding enough paper to create warmth for the next two years. The energy to create such a possibility could not even be described as minimal. It cost nothing. It is the same commodity all we who claim Jesus possess – friendship.
The real Gift is the one received without the hint of being put in debt to the Giver. Were we to consider that sort of friendship, we may re-evaluate the “with whom may I be friends” and flip the script to include a better possibility, “with whom may I not be friends.” The pattern of Jesus with Zacchaeus seems to eliminate our filtering out others in our pursuit of the radical friendship of Jesus.