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I need you to help me fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. . . . Maybe it’s most of what makes us human and makes us brothers and sisters.
—Frederick Buechner

My daughter Mariah and I wanted to take in the annual Cesar Chavez parade. The parade honors the late civil rights leader who fought for immigrants’ rights in the southwestern United States. Children from the three local schools and throngs of politicians carried flags of Central and South American countries while marching up the street. We wanted a good seat to watch. We parked ourselves along a concrete stoop only a half-block from our house. We knew there would be people we’d know. As the parade snaked toward us, energy filled the air with anticipation.

About halfway through the parade, my always high and never sober friend Tom (not his real name) was coming up the street. He carried a black backpack on wheels. He wore a black T-shirt with faded words. His head was topped with a dingy brown cap with letters that were no longer readable. Tom usually stopped by my house asking me to give him money or things to sell for liquor.

In high school he’d been a golf prodigy. The top golf awards on the living room mantel of his former home—foreclosed on three years ago—had his name on them. These days Tom searches for items to get him the next drink. I knew what to expect from him on a partly sunny March day. I was pretty sure he wanted something from me.

Once he spotted me, he gave out a hearty laugh. He was thrilled to see me. I asked him how he was doing. He said it was a good day and drinking whiskey was here to stay. He told me that he had something for me. Then he reached into his backpack and pulled out four things that made me laugh—and ponder anew.

He gave me a petite brown and red dress. Brown was never my color, and my wife will not take it, knowing who I got it from. Next he handed me an old tire gauge—wonderful for those times I need to let a little air out of my ego (and tires as well). Then he gave me a solar calculator. Since it was made by Radio Shack, I decided to keep it. That’s quality stuff, you know! Last, he presented me with an old T-shirt that was two sizes too small for me. He thought my daughter Mariah would love it. She gave me a look that meant the shirt would end up in the trash in Olympic record time. Then Tom zipped up his backpack and headed up Grandville Avenue. Before crossing the street, he yelled out, “I love you, man!” He faded into the crowd.

It was the first time Tom didn’t ask me for something. Instead he gave gifts to me. Tom taught me to accept the gifts that come from the right place: a heart of gratitude. Tom forced me to open my hand and receive his gift with no strings attached, no motives to figure out. Could I become a receiver, much as I prefer being a giver? I’m thankful that Tom was Jesus to me.

I love you, man!

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