“I have something for you! I want you to take it for yourself.” Ricky extended his shaky hands, his fingers stained from cigarettes, his nails long and unkept. He barely resembled the picture of himself that hung on his wall in his assisted living room that he shared with another resident. The picture, faded by the sun, showed an impressive and proud young man that served his country in the Vietnam War. It was a far cry from his present frail condition, the weight of PTSD and physical ailments ravaging his thin and weak body. I had never accepted anything from any of the residents that I saw weekly over the past few years. I, along with a team from my church family, visited them weekly and took supplies of various toiletries and snacks that were unavailable and unaffordable to them otherwise. This day, however, Ricky wanted to offer something to me. Voicing a little reminder that what we gave was free, he insisted all the more that he wanted to give something.
When I opened my hand, he placed in my palm two pink packets of generic artificial sweeteners. The packets themselves were well worn, wrinkled, and soft to the touch. They were treasures that he had obviously carried with him, not even trusting to put them on the simple nightstand where other prying eyes might covet them. “You’re not going to believe this, “Ricky said,” but these make anything you drink that isn’t sweet, sweet!” He continued, “If you have some lemon in water, it turns into lemonade. Really! And if you have unsweet tea, it changes it. It’s like magic and works on anything you drink.” Ricky’s eyes danced with excitement at the opportunity to share his wonderful gift. “That is so great, Ricky,” I said, “but you might need them for something. Don’t you want to keep them for the next time you need them?” He lowered his head slightly at the thought of me rejecting his magnificent gift. “I want you to use them,” he answered. Catching him eye to eye one more, I told him that I was so honored to accept his precious gift. Gratitude covered his face, a renewed flame of worth and value reentered his eyes, much like the expression in the faded military picture. Ricky needed to know that he had something to give in gratitude. He needed to feel self-worth, important. It was not merely two worn packets of artificial sweetener that he was offering, but something of himself.
Ricky taught me something about the stewardship of giving of ourselves and the need to do so. He presented a blessing that he needed to be both offered and received. I did not fully understand at the moment, but it was something that I needed to accept, not just for his sake, but for mine. What I received was a token of friendship, one of gratitude and affirmation that we were important to each other. It refocused me on the truth that all of God’s children have something to offer and a need to give of themselves. I still have the gift with my other reminders of grace. They own a place of honor beside my crosses, chalices, and other works of art. Two pink packets of generic artificial sweeteners constantly remind me to see the image of God in unexpected places and within all people.
Pastor Tony Matthews is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church located at 201 East Main Street in Historic Downtown Lincolnton, North Carolina. To contact Pastor Tony you may reach him at the Church at 704-735-7489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org