Wednesday, January 04, 2006


In the mens dorm at college, there was always a spirit of revenge in the air. Someone was always playing a prank or making a joke at someone else's expense. Just good clean fun, mostly. And the victim couldn't wait to find a way to exact a little vengeance. "Paybacks are hell!" was the cry, yet they never seemed to achieve eternal punishment status. But each new trick needed to be a little bit more nasty or embarrassing or original than the last. Prank was repaid with prank. Joke for joke. It's a good thing we liked each other or it could have been horrible because no one wanted to skip their turn to give a payback.

That seems to happen a lot in this world. Evil is repaid with evil. A Palestinian terrorist blows up a bus in Tel Aviv and the Israeli army blows up something in Palestinian territory. Payback. It's how the world operates. Never mind the whole "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" thing. We want to exact our own pound of flesh and reap the temporarily sweet victory.

But paybacks also come in another form. We payback with good. We're instructed to repay good for evil, which is really just off the charts when it comes to the world's definition of common sense. But sometimes it's even hard to repay good for good. This morning I walked into a church building. The entrance had two sets of doors -- one to get out of the cold, the next to get into the main building. As I entered, I held the door open for the gentleman behind me and allowed him to go first. He then came to the next set of doors and held one open for me, allowing me to enter in front of him. Payback. We're even. No worries there.

However, the reason I was going into this church was for a funeral. My neighbor, George was being laid to rest today. I talked a little about George earlier this week in the long meme. George was a man who would do whatever he could to help out. I cannot count the number of times George bailed me out of bad sitations. And I'm not alone. I heard more stories today about George sacrificing his own time -- once, even his own Christmas Day -- to help out someone who needed it. If I needed to replace a belt on my lawn mower, he'd walk over, pick it up, fix the belt and while he was at it, sharpen the blades. My driveway (as well as a dozen other driveways around here) were plowed clear of snow almost as soon as the last flake fell to earth. An extra bag of sweet corn always made it's way to our porch when his garden was ready. We were encouraged to go for walks back into his woods, and more than once I saw George driving his loader into my back yard to dump a load of firewood for us, cut right out of that woods. Now tell me, how do you repay someone like that?

We tried. But to me, it seemed that everything we did for George were just hollow gestures. I tried to make sure I went over to visit for no reason, not just when I needed help or a little advice. We would talk about his late wife or his current wife living in a nursing home with Altzheimer's. He'd show me the latest tractor he was working to restore. Last year, I stopped to visit him at the regional hospital once I found out he was there. I visited at the same time as his pastor, and George was happy to have two ministers there praying for him and checking on him. But in the last month and a half of his life, I never made it to the nursing home to see him; not even knowing which home he was in until mid-December. I was planning on going to see him this week, but he died New Year's Eve. No more chance to pay George back for all he did for my family and I.

Besides being at the hospital, there was only one other time when I knew that we had done something which had really touched George's heart. It seemed like such a small gesture. It was summer and George was mowing his lawn. Realize that George fixed mowers as a hobby, so he seemed to always be mowing! But as George's mower buzzed in the background, we were grilling cheeseburgers. In the summer the majority of our meals come from the grill and cheeseburgers are quick and easy. Having plenty of burgers cooked up, my wife took one hot off the flames, put it on a bun and wrapped it in foil. She then gave it to my son and told him to take it over to George on the mower. I watched as the boy flagged down George and gave him the surprise. He took a few bites, then started the mower rolling again, eating the rest as he cut the grass.

A week or so later, I was over at George's place and he stopped in mid-sentence to tell me about that cheeseburger. He said that he doesn't usually eat cheeseburgers, but that cheeseburger was hot and cheesy and tasted about as good as anything he's ever had. It was a perfect meal right at the perfect time. Even the next time I was there, he thanked me again for that cheeseburger. I could tell that this small thoughtful gesture had paid him back in kindness. And all it was was a cheeseburger, delivered at just the right time. It wasn't a complete payback in my mind. Not by a long shot. But I'm glad that our family was able to do something for George.

I cannot payback my Savior for all He has done for me either. Of course He isn't asking for a complete repayment. He knows I can't do it. But what He wants is me. That isn't too much for me to give. I'm just a lousy cheeseburger, hoping to touch the heart of the Master. And I know that's the perfect gift.

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