Each morning during my walk, I pass by the house where we used to live. Of course, this also takes me past my former next door neighbor's home. Mr. Schaeffer was an elderly gentleman possessed of what seemed to me a gruff exterior. I tried to be gracious and polite to him, but for some reason, we never seemed to connect as friends. Until...
Until one fall, when our eldest children Marie and Noah were little. Mr. Shaeffer's pecan trees shed a bumper crop that year, and many of his limbs hung over our driveway and portions of our backyard. He knew this, of course, and I remember seeing him peer through the bushes at the thousands of choice nuts that might have fallen from his trees, but which were legally our possession because they fell onto our property. One morning, I stepped out onto my backsteps to see a gentleman - a friend of Mr. Schaeffer's - picking up pecans in our yard and placing them in his coat pockets. I know what was going on, and called out to the man, "Sir, can I help you?" I tried not to sound peeved, but I was. He looked at me as if he had been caught doing something he shouldn't have. "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm in the wrong yard" he said with a not too convincing voice. "I thought I was next door."
Sure you did, buddy! I didn't actually respond with those words, but I wanted to. I was peeved, put out, perturbed, and determined then and there that Mr. Schaeffer and his henchmen were not going to get MY pecans. I came back into the house, where Frances and our children were sitting together. "Frances, you're not going to believe what Schaeffer did! He sent one of his buddies over here to steal our pecans. The guy told me he had mistaken our yard for Mr. Schaeffer's. Likely story! He was sent over here, and was taking that which is rightfully ours! Can you believe it???" I stopped talking in order to allow myself to fume a bit. Then the inspiration hit. "You know what we're going to do, Frances? The kids and I are going to go out there and pick up all our pecans so Mr. Schaeffer can't get them, or send over his friends to do his dirty work! Because the pecans are ours, they're rightfully ours!"
I will never forget the Lord's interruption of my journey down Carnality Lane. Somehow the thought came to me of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of how very differently He handled His earthly life's situations and relationships. I realized He he had never acted the way I was acting, and that, in fact, He had willingly given up the glory He so richly deserved in order to redeem us unto the glory we don't deserve. "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). It hit me like a ton of holy bricks cast into my unholy looking and acting face. I realized the horrible example I was setting for my wife and children, and the misery of selfishness and bitterness I had allowed to envelop my heart (and that would have poisoned theirs). Most of all, I knew the Lord was reminding me of the price He paid on the cross of Calvary to redeem me from such a fleshly and destructive attitude. And, I knew what I had to do.
First, I repented to the Lord, and thanked Him for His forgiveness and redirection of my waywardness. Indeed, as you read this, please understand that if the Lord had left me to myself, my family and I would have enjoyed a belly full of pecans that autumn, while suffering from a heart devoid of His joy and peace. God mercifully saved us from such a fate by saving me from my fleshly insanity of selfishness. I confessed to Frances, Marie, and Noah that the Lord had showed me the wrong of such an attitude for one who professed Christ and the calling to communicate His Word. "I was wrong, and I am sorry. There is no excuse for what I said and how I behaved." I paused for a moment, and then a thought occurred to me. "Come on, kids, we have some pecans to gather up."
We filled several bags with the choice nuts. We made our way to Mr. Schaeffer's back door, and knocked. He took a while to come out, and when he did, his initial look seemed to be one of suspicion. "Mr. Schaeffer," I said, a bit nervously, but with a smile, "Your pecans have been falling in our yard and driveway. Marie, Noah, and I picked them up for you, and here they are." We handed one bag to him, and set the others on his steps. Suspicion gave way to shock on Mr. Schaeffer's face, and then his countenance softened into the kindness I would see on the man's face every time I was with him during the duration of his life. In that moment, and always thereafter, I discovered a hidden vein of richness in Mr. Schaeffer. He couldn't do enough for us, and frequently invited us over to offer us food, or give toys to the kids, or just to talk. Moreover, not long after the episode, Mrs. Schaeffer became terminally ill. We walked with Mr. Schaeffer through that trying time. And not too long after, Mr. Schaeffer himself passed away.
I served as a pallbearer at his funeral, held with military honors. You see, Mr. Schaeffer had served in World War II, where he had been a part of a hellish ordeal known as the Bataan Death March. I can only imagine what he experienced in that terrible time, but I did come to understand at least a bit of why you had to get to know Mr. Schaeffer before the real person stepped forth. I'll always count it a great honor to have served in Mr. Schaeffer's homegoing service. We recently passed by the church where the funeral was held, and I reminded Frances of that long ago farewell. She remembered, and we both smiled as we thought of our friend.
We serve a faithful Lord, one who often saves us from ourselves. Indeed, left to me, our family would have missed a rich blessing in lieu of a few bags of nuts. The Lord didn't leave me to myself, however, and blessed me with a gift that still brings joy to my heart and tears to my eyes. Mr. Schaeffer's pecans. I love telling or writing the story because it reminds me of our friend - and of our Friend.
"So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel."
Weekly Memory Verse
Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness; and Thy paths drop fatness.