So many precious memories!
Another long time friend has gone on ahead of us all. I’m talking about my good friend, Earl Owens, who I visited for so many years in the several nursing homes that he resided in.
To be sure, Earl was quite a “character.” He had a pretty severe case of OCD, or 0bsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychology Today defines OCD as an “anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations (obsessions) and engage in behaviors or mental acts in response to these thoughts or obsessions. Often the person carries out behaviors to reduce the impact or get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only brings temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety.”
But since I view myself as quite a character with my own set of “quirks” it wasn’t too hard for us to relate. In fact, we seemed to understand each other only too well.
Earl was “big” guy to say the least… and he liked to eat! And he would quite often complain about the quality and the quantity of food that he would be fed at the many nursing homes he was “shifted” around between. And so, it wasn’t surprising when he’d repeatedly ask me to bring him as much food, cooked and uncooked as I could on my visits.
Since I’ve worked at our Cornerstone Outreach for so many years, I had easy access to much “extra” food that we would regularly receive, which included pizza, sub-sandwiches, fruits, cookies, chips, soups, drinks, and on occasion various meats.
At one nursing home they even had a grill in their outside “rest” area. And Earl was in his glory whenever I brought down all sorts of meats, including steaks, burgers, and sausages… for he showed me and many others how much of a “grill-master” he was. And we readily shared our abundance with other clients and staff.
Now, of course, I have to admit that not every nursing home staff was happy to see me whenever I’d come to visit Earl… with my box or two of items. But most of them didn’t really object to my actions… they knew that it brought a lot of joy to Earl.
But our relationship was not only about food. We’d always get into deep discussions about my work at the shelter, and how best to carry out my duties. And the following admonitions are the ones that he‘d repeatedly tell me.
- “Chris, don’t feel you have to “jump” whenever someone requests a few “extras.” Instead, you tell them to wait and say, ‘I’ll see what I can do a little later.’ Then you’ll find out who really needs these things, and who doesn’t. Because the ones that don’t will not wait around.”
- “Chris, you need to delegate much of your work.” And I’d respond much of the time, “Yeah, who am I going to delegate to?” And then Earl would say, “You just need to trust God, and you need to let folks help you a lot more than you do. Because don’t you see, these folks want to help—you’ve just got to let them, and don’t worry so much.”
And I’d take my good friend Stewart along with me to visit him for time to time. So he got to know Stewart (who’s so friendly, caring, and childlike) very well and he’d always ask how Stewart was doing. And I’d say, “Oh, he’s busy doing so many other things. He does so much on his own, now. And he’s got so many friends in our community and the shelter that he’s always on go.”
Then Earl would just smile and say, “Wow, that is so great. Wow, you must be so proud to have played such an important role in his life. He’s just “taken off” (carved out a life of his own) right before your eyes. You see how God works.”
And I’d have to admit these insights still ring true to this day!
Still, there were plenty of times that Earl would have to rant and rave about how his doctors, caseworkers, and nurses didn’t understand him, and were out to make his life “miserable.”
And I’d have calm him down (or at least try to) so that he could “sometimes” admit that his perceptions were “a bit harsh” and overstated.
And many times that I’d get so frustrated with my attempts to talk some “sense” into him that I would end up saying, “You know, Earl it seems like you aren’t even willing to listen to a thing I have to say.”
But then he’d surprise me from time to time by saying, “No, Chris, I do listen to what you have to say. You have no idea how much your friendship and your viewpoints mean to me.”
So, my friend Earl and I have had many great times and visits and laughs together over so many years. And to think our relationship simply started by our getting to know each other at our “Dinner guest” program about 20 years ago.
I will miss Earl. It still seems strange that he’s gone. He seemed to fight through and always come out the other side of so many health and psychiatric problems.
But I know now—he’s at rest. His journey is over down here on earth. But it’s only just beginning up in heaven!
Oh yeah, and I know what Earl would say to me right now. He’d say, “Chris, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. But don’t you ever forget that there are so many lonely and needy folks out there, and they’d be thrilled to have you as a friend.”
Thanks, Earl, I’ve been fortunate to have you as a friend all these years. Rest in peace, my friend. And oh yeah, if it’s not too much trouble can you save me a spot at the Lamb’s wedding feast? (Rev. 19:6-9) I’d be honored to sit by you. Your friend, Chris.
This story is about Earl -who I had named Charles in the Discovering Jesus in the Least book -to protect his identity at the time.
You’ll Be Alright
I periodically find myself examining my performance before the Lord. Am I really doing all that I should be doing? Couldn’t I be doing more? Shouldn’t I be doing more? Is Jesus really pleased with me?
One evening I was visiting my friend Charles in the nursing home that he lives in. Charles is a rather large man who is confined to a wheelchair, and in a lot pain. He has a myriad of health problems.
I had first gotten to know Charles about fifteen years earlier. He was walking then, and he’d stop by our dinner guest time quite often. He always seemed to have a word of wisdom not only for myself, but also for the many youth groups that came to serve.
He would be “in his glory” whenever a few young people surrounded him, hanging on every word he uttered. He loved to tell stories of life on the streets, and he was good at it.
Charles and I became friends over the years. We just seemed to hit it off. We would easily get into discussions about life in this 21st century and how it related to our work with the poor. I say “our work” because Charles was always so proud of the fact that he too loved the poor, and would share whatever he had with those in need. There was just a level of respect between us, a depth of understanding, such that we easily became friends, and even confidantes.
It just so happened that on this visit I was in one of my more introspective moods. And so, I shared my self-examination with Charles, not really expecting much of a response. But I was wrong.
“You’ll be alright, Chris,” he said matter-of-factly. He was calmly affirming me and my service to our Lord. He was reminding me of God’s love and care for me, particularly when I find myself debating my own sense of value and worth in God’s eyes. He was reminding me of something I need to hear often.
And so, on this visit, instead of me bringing love and support to Charles, it was he that was dispensing the love and understanding to me.
I’m just glad that Jesus still knows how to get through to me. I guess having a friend like Charles is a good thing—for me!
Thanks for stopping by. Chris
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