I wrote this the day before Thanksgiving a few years ago. It’s not directly connected to our scripture reading for today (Psalm 95 and John 18:33-37) but it is a favorite story of mine and it always comes to mind around this time of the year.
I was asked to conduct a funeral the other day. Some “preacher” stuff is hard to get away from. Dug out my trusty black suit. Shined up my black loafers. Put on a nice, freshly pressed white shirt. (Thank you, Doris.) And pulled out a nice, appropriate tie. That’s when it happened.
All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Delmar Adkins. Whoa! Where did that come from? I really began to tear up thinking about this man that was a part of my life a very long time ago. The emotion of thankfulness was as powerful and it was surprising and I had to wipe a few tears to see clearly enough in the mirror to finish getting ready.
I was a young pastor at a great church in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. 28 years old and facing the challenges of feeling very inadequate for a wonderful congregation. I was the associate pastor that was following THE ASSOCIATE PASTOR. David Wine was loved, gifted, and rightfully known as one of the very best leaders this church had ever had. Now, pipsqueak me, from Augusta, GA comes to this huge, university church. I felt outclassed, ill-equipped, and about 4 stages above my pay-grade, a very little fish in a very big pond.
I was in my office just a few days after arriving, trying to figure out how to look distinguished and invisible at the same time. I was tying my necktie the way I had always tied it. Don’t ask me for the details, I only know the fox only chased the rabbit around the tree once and the knot was always a little skimpy on one side.
Delmar was the handyman at the church, fixing leaky faucets, hanging pictures. He walked by my office that still had boxes unpacked sitting on the desk. He stopped for a second while I struggled with my tie and then he said, “Do you mind if I show you another way to do that?” The next thing I knew those rough, calloused hand were at my neck and he was tying the most perfect Windsor knot I’d ever seen. He got it just right, then pulled it apart and said, “Now, you try it.” Rabbit goes around two trees before he ducks through the hole. Simple as that I’m an expert knot tier. And Delmar has made a lifelong friend.
Mamaw and Papaw Adkins, as we came to call them, became surrogate grandparents to us. They babysat Josh, had us over for Thanksgiving, taught us to play cards, and cried over us when we moved. Until he died a few years ago, Delmar was still Papaw Adkins to our boys.
It was a necktie and it was 30 years ago. And it was a kindness that still impacts me emotionally and spiritually every time I think of it. Two questions this Thanksgiving week. Who do you need to go back and thank for some moment of kindness? And whose tie can you help with today? Delmar’s knot works pretty well.