Frank and Ace

It’s been an honor to share with you this semester.  Thanks for reading.  I wanted to leave you with a Christmas thought for this final entry.  Blessings to you all.  Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

 

I’d just marked Thanksgiving off the calendar when suddenly Santa Clause and reindeer and wise men and shepherds marched into my neighborhood.  A plastic Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus even showed up across the street. But on this particular morning, none of the good cheer or “peace on earth, good will toward men” could penetrate my Scrooge-like armor.  This may have been because I’d just finished teaching Sunday school, and my wife was dragging me to Target to buy a gift for a bridal shower she was attending later in the afternoon.

I was hungry.  But Sharon was ready to shop. I feared lunch was going to be a long time away.

We entered the store and headed to the gift registry computer where Sharon typed in the bride’s name.  The machine spit out seven pages of possible gifts.  In situations like this, my buying strategy is simple. Get the list.  Locate the cheapest gift.  Buy it.

My wife’s approach is, of course, profoundly different.  First, Sharon examines the list and comments on the various items—“Oooh look, she wants sterling silver flat ware.  And steak knives with cherry wood handles.  Oh, and look at this, a Hamilton Beach blender . . . and she wants a red one!”

After commenting on each possible purchase, the browsing begins.  “We’re shopping,” she explains, “not hunting.”

I picture myself hunting.  I picture myself in the great outdoors cooking lunch over a campfire.

My wife’s voice pulls me back to reality.  “We’re looking for the perfect gift,” she reminds me.  Then she asks if I can hold the seven page printout and mark off the items we’ve examined so far.

About an hour into our excursion, my Sunday morning just-taught-Sunday-school smile was beginning to fade.  And when we finally approached the check-out line with our gift selection, I had only two thoughts left in my head: How much is this going to cost me and where are we going to eat?

We left the store and headed for a cafeteria down the street. We entered the restaurant only to confront a line winding around the aisle dividers reaching all the way to the front entrance.  I was not in a good mood.  A family near the front couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted their fish baked, grilled or lightly breaded.  My stress level was escalating.  And then I heard a voice behind me.  I turned around and saw an older gentleman wearing a powder blue jump suit.  “I was trying to beat the church crowd,” he explained, “but I don’t think I made it.”  I acknowledged his comment by mumbling something indecipherable and then refocused my attention on the slow-moving line.  My plan was to ignore the man in the jump suit.  My wife, however, had other ideas.  Sharon turned around and struck up a conversation.

I listened half-heartedly.  And after about five minutes, Sharon asked the question.  She voiced it suddenly and without warning.  And it went something like, “Would you care to join us for lunch?”  Those eight words lined up like the box cars of a swiftly moving freight train, and before I could derail them, they rumbled over the tracks right past me.  But then something extraordinary happened.  I watched as the man in the powder blue jump suit grabbed each one of Sharon’s words and held onto them tightly.  The invitation was a treasure to him—a precious gift.

His name was Frank.  He’d been married twice.  He lost his first wife to cancer after 25 years of marriage.  And his second wife of 34 years had just passed away.  Her death had left him reeling.  I asked him if he went to church, and he said that he didn’t anymore.  He was having a rough time making sense of the loss.  And he was having a rough time making sense of God.  Then he said quietly, “You know, my boy—my only son—he told me the other day, ‘Dad, you just seem mad at the world.’”

I looked at Frank and wondered what it would be like to be 84 years old and suddenly alone, and during the Christmas season, no less.  The sadness that settled in my chest tightened its grip.

But then the conversation brightened.  I looked up and Frank had a smile on his face for the first time.  Sharon had asked him if he had any pets.  He did—he had Ace—a white miniature schnauzer.  “In fact,” Frank explained, “Ace goes everywhere I go.  He’s in my truck right now.  I leave the engine running with the air conditioner on to make sure he stays comfortable.  It eats up all the gas, but it’s worth it.”  The tone of his voice seemed almost cheerful, and his eyes danced a bit as he talked about his little white dog, the only companion he had left.

After lunch, we all walked outside, and Frank invited us to meet Ace.  When we got to the truck, he opened the driver’s side door.  There, with feet planted firmly on the leather seat, stood the little schnauzer.  Sharon reached out to pet him and Ace snapped at her hand.  She screamed and we all laughed.  Frank dared me to try.  I approached Ace with my hand outstretched in a non-threatening manner, the back of it turned toward him.  Ace sniffed my hand.  I felt smug.  But when I attempted to stroke his head, he went for me too, with bared teeth and a gutsy growl.

The little thing was protective.  But it made sense.  After all, Frank needed protecting—he’d been hurt and was suffering deeply.  As we said our goodbyes, Frank climbed into the truck, and Ace settled onto his lap.  Sharon smiled, waved gently, and said, “Merry Christmas, Frank.”  He looked at us one last time, and softly closed the door without saying anything.  I watched Frank back out of the parking space and drive away.  Suddenly I wanted to run after him—I wanted to yell out—“God loves you Frank.  No matter how mad you are.  No matter how far or fast you run, God’s love is running after you.  God’s love wears sneakers Frank, and that love won’t rest until it catches you.”  Sharon and I both stood in the parking lot until Frank’s truck was a distant speck on Loop 281.  Finally, Sharon took my hand and we walked quietly back to the car.

On the drive home, as we passed Christmas lights and nativity scenes, I thought about God—the giver of gifts.  And I pictured God commenting on each item on His gift list—meticulously choosing the best ones for us.  I pictured Him as a shopper, not a hunter. And I thought about that first Christmas 2,000 years ago when God gave us the ultimate gift—not under a tree but in a manger.  Not wrapped in red and silver paper but in swaddling clothes—“good news of great joy for everyone” (Luke 2:10).

So, Frank, if I could see you again, I would tell you, “God is so in love with you.  Accept His gift this Christmas.  Open it.  Embrace it.  A Savior.  The Lamb of God.  The Wonderful Counselor.  The Prince of Peace.  Peace, Frank.  Real peace.”

 

skc

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Stan Coppinger

Professor of English at East Texas Baptist University

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One thought on “Frank and Ace

  1. My how I have grown accustomed to your [face] voice. Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your life this semester, friend. I’ve been glad for the glance. And, God wears sneakers for Frank? Probably the most poetic image I’ve encountered in quite some time.

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