All I wanted to do was to take my family out for dinner. That’s how these things start.
It was a bad week for allergies here. My wife takes a particular medication for them, and we tried OTC solutions to no avail. We would have to bite the bullet because the longer her allergies persisted, the greater the likelihood she’d wind up with a sinus or ear infection. (With it being ragweed season, just about everyone we know is suffering to some extent.)
I priced the medicine last month: $65 for one month. So I swallowed hard and walked into the pharmacy only to have them hand me the pills and say, “$88.99.”
“Excuse me?” I said, my heart suddenly pounding. “Last month they were $65!”
“That was last month,” the woman said.
Kiss dinner out goodbye.
The drive home was a case of the grumblies. And trust me, I can grumble with the best of them.
By the time I’d gotten home, though, I’d found a solution. I’d received a $25 gift certificate to my son’s favorite restaurant a couple weeks ago. We would just spend that gift certificate. Problem solved.
Or maybe not…
Our church sponsors an appreciation picnic for all the church volunteers. As part of the worship team, I qualify, so my family had fun being served by the elders and pastor. A nice time.
Someone arranged a puzzle game at the picnic that required people to match some visual presentations of objects with well-known phrases. A boy I’ll call Nate came running up to me, saying, “Dan, I want to be on your team. Can I be on your team, please?”
I told him it wasn’t really a team event. Since the first person to complete the puzzle won, working as a team defeated the whole idea. I couldn’t help him and still win.
“But I want to win,” he said. “I’ll be on your team. You and I are a team.”
“I don’t know that I’ll win, Nate,” I said. “A lot of people are playing.”
“I really want to win, Dan. I know you’ll win.”
While I appreciated his faith in me, what could I do? I thought if I just ignored him a little, he’d forget about the whole thing. That failed miserably. I then tried convincing him of the truth that neither of us would win if we tried to solve the puzzle together. He’d wind up losing anyway.
“Why don’t you try doing the puzzle yourself,” I said.
“But I want to win,” he replied, already looking crushed.
Now the thing you need to know about Nate is that he doesn’t have a dad. He’s got some other siblings, too, and his mom’s had some tough times. I’ve tried to be there for them as much as I can, but I never feel as if I’ve done enough.
“You’ll win, Dan,” he said as the game was starting. “I’ll be on your team.”
About five minutes later, I raised my hand. “Done.” The gamekeeper checked my answers and handed me the $25 restaurant gift certificate.
“We won, Dan,” Nate yelled. “We won!”
He went over to the gamekeeper, his round face beaming, and asked, “What did I win?”
“Nate, honey,” she said in as comforting a voice as she could muster,”I think someone else won. I don’t have any other prizes.”
“But I’m on Dan’s team. Don’t I get anything?” You could wring the angst out of his words.
I can’t stand to see kids crushed. Even though I know life runs roughshod over us all, there’s something about the pain that kids feel that turns me to mush.
I called his slumped-shouldered self over.
“Hey, we’ll take your family out and we’ll all eat together, ” I said. “How does that sound?”
If Van Gogh had dabbled with florescent oils, he could not have painted a brighter countenance than the one that shone on the face of that kid.
Holding that bottle of pills that cost me 40 percent more than I’d anticipated, that bottle of pills I knew cost about $1.50 to produce, that bottle of pills that wiped out my dinner plans and the hope that I had to be alone with my family that evening, I stared at the gift certificate and said to myself, How would Nate know if I spent this right now? He’s a kid. He’s probably already forgotten what I said.
So I seethed. I thought about all the times that I’d canceled my plans so that someone else could benefit. I considered that other families go on vacation all the time, but we didn’t because we were always saving our money to help someone else. Someone who can’t pay her electric bills. Someone who can’t pay for his medicine. Someone who can’t pay the mortgage this month. Always some sick, elderly, homeless, fatherless someone needing something else.
And what about all those people who go away to their vacation homes or who have season passes to amusement parks? Those people with kids who never seem to disappoint them because they don’t have to say no when little Johnny or Janie says, “Dad, let’s go to Disneyworld!” What’s their deal? They get to do all these fabulous things while we never do. Why, again, don’t we?
Then that awfulness rises up inside me. I wish they’d all go away, every last one of them. Those that have and those that have not. Lemme have my stuff. Even if it’s not much, I want it to be mine and not someone else’s. And I hope all those folks who seem to always have money to burn likewise burn in hell for it.
It’s all too easy to hate, isn’t it?
The thing about being an S.O.B. is that it runs to the core of who one is. Welcome to Jerkville, population me.
I looked at that gift certificate in my hand, then tucked it back in the drawer for a time when Nate and his family could enjoy it with us. We ate a frozen pizza that night.
And when I think
Of God, His son not sparing,
Sent Him to die,
I scarce can take it in
That on the cross,
My burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died
To take away my sin.
Who am I? Who are you? Do we realize what we’ve been given?
I know I don’t always get it. These days, it’s hard to see what the future holds, so I want to hang on to my little kingdom more tightly than ever. I don’t want to receive e-mails from people telling me that they’re about to go down unless someone, anyone helps—only to look around and see me, alone, standing in the on-deck circle. Me. You know, the one with the supposed home-run swing for the little girl dying of leukemia, or the old lady who needs someone to look after her because her mind is slowly fading along with her carpeting.
Here’s a depressing truth: I’m not the only one populating Jerkville. It’s not God’s ideal resort location, but it sure seems that a lot of people cool their heels there. Sadly, some never wise up enough to catch the Gospel Train out of town. Worse, some permanent residents consider themselves future inhabitants of heaven. I pray they’re not disappointed.
When I think of what Christ did for me, how can I say no to the Christ who shows up in need on my doorstep, to the Christ in the neighbors who lost a child and need someone to grieve with them, to the Christ in the little boy without a dad who wants to win this time because he’s lost so many times before? I may not have the perfect solution to their needs, but I’ll at least try to help because I have been given so much.
God help me, I’m slowly leaving Jerkville. There’s no life there and never has been.
I hope I’m not the only one getting out of town.