This is Bill—we met in Mr. Fixit’s Appliance Shop in downtown Overland Park. Since Jon and I spend most of our time thinking about people and the meaning of life, we often forget practicalities—like measuring cabinets or checking on the status of a 50-year-old water hook up when ordering a new fridge. So after a week of walking around a massive fridge that didn’t fit in our little kitchen, and visions of running to the basement fridge fifteen times a day for the next six months, we set off on a desperate search for a replacement.
When we walked into Mr. Fixit’s shop, Bill was leaning on a carved walking stick beside a row of dented appliances, his overalls and straw hat reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie. Mr. Fixit, the red-headed shop owner with gold chains round his neck and hemp round his wrists, let us know, “Everythings sold out, but maybe in a week or so I could fix you up something.”
I sighed, then turned to Bill, whose blue eyes twinkled between layers of crinkles, “You look like you belong here somehow, are you his boss?” Mr. Fixit laughed, “Bill’s a long-time customer . . he just lost his wife of 69 years last week . . . she was sick and he spent about three hours a day feeding her.”
“Well, yes,” said Bill, flashing a smile and a bottom row of all-to-perfect teeth, “It took me three hours to feed her breakfast and then another three for lunch. She cared for me my whole life, so I cared for her till the end of hers.”
Mr. Fixit added more, “He writes tracks too. Lots of them!”
“Tracks?” I asked.
Bill reached deep into his pocket, pulling out a stack of mini-books, “When the doctors told me back in 2008 that my wife wasn’t going to get better. I went into a deep depression. She’d been sick her whole life, but this time, it wasn’t going to get better. You see, when my wife was fourteen, her school bus—they were more like little vans back in 49’—got run over by a gasoline truck. She was crushed from skull to toe. She survived but had health problems her whole life because of that accident.”
“In my dark depression I realized I needed to try to encourage someone. I’d been writing devotionals for my wife, Elaine, and I, for years. She was my sounding board, my help . . . . So, I decided to write again and asked a pastor-friend to be my accountability.”
Jon and I leaned against an old washer-dryer set, our fridge search forgotten, as Bill shared how he grew up in a family that hated religion and he went to church for the first time because he thought it’d be a great place to make business connections with honest folks. (I laughed loud, told him it wouldn’t be the first or last time someone used religion to make a buck.) He told how he felt the preacher preached every sermon just for him, and Jesus pursed him until he couldn’t resist.
“Jesus, he just kept after me and after me until I said, ‘ok’ I will follow.”
Then he spent years “making restitution” for money he’d swindled in business, worked for Hallmark, ministered to Native Americans, and spent a lifetime pastoring small, poor churches who couldn’t afford to pay a preacher.
As the minutes turned to an hour and we realized our poor kids (who don’t have cell phones yet) might think we were lost or dead by now, Bill took off his old straw hat and prayed for us in the middle of Mr. Fixit’s shop—he prayed that our kids would know Jesus, that we would have Christ’s wisdom in counseling, and that we would ask Jesus for help in every decision, no matter how small. Then he shooed us out the front door with his straw hat saying, “I see the joy of Jesus in your faces. Hold firm to Him. Just hold firm.”
Jon and I walked slowly across the parking lot to our mini-van, marveling anew that life-long beauty is found in trusting through the good and the bad:
His forever, only His.
Who the Lord and me shall part?
I am His and He is mine;
In a love which cannot cease,
I am His and He is mine.
(George W. Robinson).