My wife and I were at a time in our life some 20 or so years ago when we were struggling in many different areas of our lives together. We were advised that we needed to pray for someone to come into our lives who we might care for yet, “be careful what you pray for.” We prayed.
One day we were at an afternoon gathering of friends. The only thing out of place with the setting was the presence of a middle aged black man, hunched over and disheveled, sitting in a distant corner of the room. My friend Brian introduced me to “Jerald.” This guy STUNK!…I mean STANK! I shared a few surface niceties with Jerald and then quickly meandered off into the crowd, delighted to escape the stench.
As the gathering was about to break up, Brian asked me to “do him a favor.” He indicated he was going on vacation for 2 weeks. He had been providing Jerald with a ride everyday from a convalescent center to his doctor. Brian asked me if I would do so for the next two weeks while he was away….I looked over at this guy Jerald and said to Brian, “you’ve got the wrong guy.” I attempted to walk away. Brian grabbed me by the right upper arm and took me to the side and looked directly in my eyes and said “it’s about time you did something for somebody else without expecting anything in return.”…and a few other choice phrases.
That evening, I drove Jerald back home to the convalescent center. I was ticked as I was really cooperating with all this against my will. Jerald said “thank you,” as he shifted clumsily in his seat to exit the car. He found the interior door handle with his right hand and asked “you gonna pick me up tomorrow?” I said, “yes I will.” I picked him up the next day and took him to the doctor. I drove him back to the convalescent center afterward. This went on for two weeks. The inside of my car began to smell like Jerald…even when he wasn’t in it.
Something amazing happened to me during those two weeks. The “hardness” that inhabited my heart began to melt. The time I knew I didn’t have to give to this man seemed to appear “out of thin air.” Jerald and I began to call each other by name. I made him laugh. He made me smile. We didn’t go directly back to the convalescent center from the doctor anymore. We stopped for meals and chatted with each other. I began to introduce him to my friends. I started to develop a deep affection for this guy. I began to schedule my worldly affairs around the needs of Jerald.
Brian returned from vacation and asked me, “How did it go with Jerald?” I said, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to continue to assist him for a little while longer.” Jerald and I were on our own. I introduced him to my wife Jacki, our children Liz and Andrew, and our Black Lab Seymour. He loved my family and was very much a gentleman around them. Jerald adored Seymour and it was reciprocal.
We learned that Jerald had become “warehoused” in a white, upper-middle class convalescent center through a special grant available through the Department of Social and Health Services in the State of Washington. Jerald required daily medical monitoring and daily medication. He had seizures quite regularly and couldn’t drive. He wobbled when he “walked.” About a year earlier, a city bus in the skid road district of Seattle had hit him. The accident had left him with head, leg and back injuries; from which he would never recover. He had no living relatives or friends or family that he could recall. We incorporated Jerald into all the activities of our family. He couldn’t even read. I taught him.
One day, I picked up Jerald and he was obviously very sad. He told me that his residency was about to be “up” at the convalescent center and he would be moved to another facility, “somewhere.” Jacki and I spent the next several weeks obtaining the authorization for the state to release him into our care. Although the State said this was “impossible,” within three weeks, Jerald was living with us.
Jerald became a member of our family. The relentless seizures he suffered from, arriving home to find him unconscious, sprawled out on the floor of our living room, having lost control of his bowels and vomited on himself, became just part of living with Jerald. Seymour would always be lying right next to the unconscious form of Jerald, guarding his lifeless form until we arrived on the scene. Our family worked together to clean him up and get him back on his feet.
To this day, the scent of Jerald is indelibly inscribed in my senses. God used Jerald to perform a heart transplant on a guy who suffered from a debilitating case of self-centeredness, clogged arteries, and a critical case of hardness of heart…that guy would be me.
Lessons From The Scent of An Angel
Jerald taught us so many enduring lessons that we couldn’t possibly enumerate them all. Here are a few:
Summary – The Nostrils of God
I went on from this time in my life to become a senior executive at some of our nation’s largest companies. We find it interesting today to be able to tell you truthfully that Jerald was one of the most powerful, life changing human beings that we have ever had the privilege of interacting with in any realm of our lives to date.
We hope you think about this the next time you see somebody socially, economically, developmentally, psychologically, medically and/or physically disabled. Somebody who “wobbles” when they walk, slurs when they talk, looks different than the “rest of us,” might smell distinctly “different” as well, spills coffee as they attempt to lift the cup to their mouth or is unable to drive because of a medical condition…somebody unable to read because nobody took the time to teach them due primarily to their appearance.
We’ve got news for you… if you get close enough to know these folks, you’ll find that there are a bunch of very powerful messengers of the Lord disguised “just like Jerald.” We promise you, He will change your life through them.
Who do you think really stunk to the nostrils of God in this story? By the grace of God through Jesus Christ, the aroma of the human condition cannot prevent the penetrating power of the Almighty to transform the hardest of hearts.
To receive the abundance of His blessings, we have to change. “As Christians, by the grace of God, let us act upon what we say we believe.” 1
1 Schaeffer, Dr. Francis A. True Spirituality, Tyndale House Publishers 1971, pg 125