Each of us have choices to make each day. Do we help someone in need? Do we do nothing but protect ourselves against hurt and needing help? Are we self-absorbed at the expense of others who need us?
The Apostle John says that how we make this choice determines whether or not God is recognized on earth. "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is completed in us" (1 Jn. 4:12). This is the story of how a college classmate helped bring God to life for me. I think what gives this story its appeal is the longing in each of us for kindness in a world in which it is in short supply. Christ came to earth and showed us kindness and this story says the lesson was taken to heart by a few among us. Perhaps you will read it and discover what a lasting difference you can make in someone's life. I have updated the story a bit to take into account events since I first shared it the Thanksgiving week of 1999.
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The portrait of Christ drawn on the sheet of our life experience is an outline something like those dot-to-dot books parents give their children to keep them quiet in church. What connects the dots is Christ's hand moving with a variety of instruments such as prayer, worship, forgiveness, healing, friendship, suffering and solitude. Sometimes we look back and glimpse what is taking shape and ask ourselves, "How did that line get filled in? I didn't even know what was happening at the time."
God frequently uses his other children to sketch his face for us with an artistry so subtle that each dot connected is not recognized as an essential element of the whole until long after it is drawn.
It is good to think about how the dots of our lives have been connected in grace. It is a blessing to come to the Lord in prayerful gratitude and remember with him the people he has empowered to draw his portrait on the canvas of our lives.
In this spirit, I share with you the story of a businessman from southern Colorado. Long before he was a business success, a husband, father and grandfather, he was selected by Christ to draw a crucial line in the picture of my life. With thanksgiving, I acknowledge what this friend did to reach out to me in a dark moment of brokenness and pain that threatened to destroy me early in my adult life.
His name (his real name) is Don Kanen. He was my classmate and fellow history major at La Sierra University (then Loma Linda University-La Sierra). We lived in the same dormitory as sophomores and I became acquainted with him as a hard working, hard playing guy with a ready laugh and an intense, direct approach to life. He was creative and a good photographer. When I was elected to be the editor of the student newspaper, The Criterion, in my junior year, I selected Don for the difficult task of layout editor.
Don and I liked each other and worked well together, but each of us had our own circle of closer friends. So we went our respective ways most of the time.
My childhood sweetheart and I became engaged two weeks into our junior year. We accepted a call to be student missionaries overseas the next year. On October 19, we drove the 400 miles home to tell both sets of parents that we were engaged. On the way back to school the next day, I drove over a rise on the interstate. On the other side of the hill was a stalled car. The collision killed my fiance instantly and left me with torn legs and a broken heart. The next few weeks were a blur of surgery, funeral, tears, condolences, and numbing despair. I went back to school out of an instinct for survival.
Persistent pain led to the discovery that the damage to my left knee was more severe than initially thought. I needed another major surgery to have any chance for the normal use of my leg. This left me wheelchair bound with a massive cast on my leg.
My parents drove me home from the hospital for the Thanksgiving holiday. None of us knew what the future held or even how I could possibly complete the rest of the school year.
La Sierra University has a beautiful, hillside campus, but in 1973, it was not really wheel-chair accessible. There were many steps and stairways. All my classes were on the second and third floors of buildings. I roomed alone as a resident assistant in the dormitory. The cast would be on my leg for many weeks followed by a difficult period of rehabilitation. My immobility was a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to my returning to campus.
The ravages of loss, shock and grief left me reeling. It was overwhelming to think how I would get through the next hour. It was impossible for me to figure out how I would be able to function on campus.
The phone rang early on the morning of Thanksgiving. It was Don. He wasn't just checking in to see how I was doing. He asked if he could come to my house for the weekend. I asked my parents. They said, "Yes." So I told him that he was welcome.
His coming to my home was no small feat for him. Not only was he giving up his Thanksgiving with his family, but he had to drive a long way to come to me. I lived in Soquel on the Central Coast of California. He lived in Bishop on the eastern border of California. Between us was the Sierra Nevada mountain range, impassable with snow in late November. Travelers wanting to go east to west must either make a long detour through the Mojave Desert to the south or around Lake Tahoe to the north. Don drove his little Datsun B-210 sedan on the southern route. He arrived on Thanksgiving evening.
I was glad to see him. He got along well with my family and we enjoyed visiting. The next day, he loaded me up in his car and took me for a ride. While we drove up the coastline, Don told me, "I've come to get you to take you back to school."
"I don't know if I'm going back," I said.
"Yes, you are," Don replied.
"If I do go back my parents will take me."
"I can take you," insisted Don. You need to be with your friends and I'll get you there."
He talked to my Mom and Dad about it. They weren't sure, but Don was. He told them that he would look after me. They finally told him that it was up to me.
I didn't know what to think. Here was this guy, who didn't know me all that well, appearing out of nowhere to pick me up and literally carry me back to school. And what then?
I told Don my doubts. He had a gung-ho answer for every one of them. He told me that he had prayed about this and God told him to come pick me up and take me back to La Sierra.
On Sunday, Don packed our luggage in the car. He refused my dad's offer of money for gas. My mom and dad prayed as my family and Don stood around my wheelchair holding hands. He helped me in to his faithful Datsun, propped my leg up with pillows, and we were off.
It was a somber, overcast day. The radio news was devoted to Richard Nixon's announcement of gasoline rationing in response to the OPEC oil embargo. We drove down the San Joaquin Valley, over the Grapevine, around Los Angeles and out to Riverside and the campus.
Don helped me out of the car and into my room, unpacked my clothes, and then took me out for a meal of Del Taco burritos. When he brought me back to my room, he answered a question I hadn't dared voice yet. "I'll be here at 7:00 a.m. to help you dress and take you to class."
I couldn't figure out what we would do about my classes. The classrooms were upstairs. My cast weighed nearly 60 pounds and was made to keep my leg in a bent position. This all made me very heavy and awkward to carry. My wheelchair was a necessity. Because my hip had been dislocated on the right leg in addition to the left knee injury, I was warned to use crutches as little as possible to keep pressure off my joints. With these worries in mind, I dozed fitfully through the night.
Don was at my door on time. He helped me into the wheelchair, put my shoe on my one good foot, set my books and paper in my lap and off we went. He pushed me to a ground floor classroom where I received another surprise. Each of my teachers had moved their classes to the first floor to give me access. Don had arranged this with the faculty. He also enlisted other friends to take me places when he had to be in class.
Each afternoon, Don would come to my room, and push me up the hill to his dormitory where he also worked as a resident assistant. His room had a suite with a bathtub. There were only a few of these in the whole school. Don would help me undress and carefully help me into the tub so I could bathe and wash my hair. He did all this for three weeks. This allowed me to keep up with my classes and continue editing the paper.
What Don really did was allow me to maintain my fragile grip on sanity. There was no such thing as "normal" for me anymore. I was a physical and emotional mess. Taking care of me took a lot of time that a busy college student did not have to give, but Don gave it anyway.
Don never asked for anything from me before or afterwards. He never complained. He was never late nor did he ever forget to come for me. Somehow he made the whole episode seem natural and routine when it was anything but those things.
This young man loved me as his friend and brother without pre-qualification, condition, or reward. Don was the living Christ for me in those dark winter weeks. His compassion built a bridge back to life for me.
Don and I went back to our separate routines the next quarter. I began physical therapy and went golfing with other friends even before I could stand without crutches. (One day we were "horsing around" and started to roll a golf cart over. I found out in a hurry that I could not only walk, but run again.) Don, pursued other interests and friendships. After graduation, he married Sue, another friend of mine from high school days. We lost touch with each other for a while.
Don showed up at my law office 17 years later. He owned a number of business enterprises and needed help with the sale of one of them. I was glad to talk over old times and the in-between years and help him. Don and Sue had a good life together and were raising a family in Colorado. They still live there, but their house is full of grandchildren now. Christ still leads Don and Sue to serve others in good cheer and they follow. Don still takes on the challenges of life with both hands.
When I lost my future and my hope and could not even stand or dress myself, Christ came to me in Don.
When Jesus comes and tells Don what Don did for him, I imagine Don will ask, "When did I do that for you, Jesus?" (See Matthew 25:31-40). I will be one of the answers.
Only Christ sees all the dots that need to be connected for us. But once in a while, he graciously lets us look back at the "How?" and the "Why?" and the "Who?" When I pause and remember what the Lord has done for me, one of those shining through my tears is always Don Kanen.
I've thanked Don often for what he did for me. Once he wrote me that "While Christ was using me to help you, he was saving me by pulling me out of my self-absorption and showing me what I needed to do for others." Mostly though, he just brushes it off with a "It was no big deal."
But it was a big deal and continues to be! Help one person and you help many persons. Other people, starting with my family and those who God has allowed me to help and encourage, are thankful too because of what Don did for me. Reading this, you may be encouraged to let Christ pick you up and use you to sketch a vivid portrait of his love on the torn page of another life. This is my prayer.
It is the season of harvest and Thanksgiving. I am thankful. I hope that all of you are thankful for your own reasons of grace.
"O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him" (Psalm 34:8).
Kent Hansen is a business and healthcare attorney from Corona, California. This story is a chapter in his book, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places (Review & Herald: 2002). It first appeared in his weekly email devotional, "A Word of Grace for Your Monday." Kent's devotionals can be read on the C.S. Lewis Foundation blog at www.cslewis.org.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6452