On a bright and sunny morning, Fredrick. P. Henderson was relaxing on his porch with a cup of coffee in his hand, thinking. He wasn't thinking about anything in particular though. Actually, he was thinking about nothingness. It was the type of feeling where if someone asked you if you were thinking, you would have answered, yes. But, if they asked you what you were thinking, you wouldn't be able to tell them. Suddenly, Mr. Henderson sort of "woke up" from his thoughts to find about five kids with worried expressions, hurrying past his lawn. The kids had been this hesitant around him since last spring when the pesky loitering kids incident happened. But that was over a year ago, he was passed that now, and they should be too. He didn't mind seeing them. He was actually growing quite fond of certain kids. One girl stayed behind; her name was Clara Davis.
"Hello, Mr. H.," she said rather loudly, for she knew he was slightly hard of hearing. "How is your day today?"
"Oh, I'm doing as okay as a seventy-one year old can be on his birthday. Now come on up and talk to me." Mr. Henderson answered. Clara, knowing she had been permitted by her parents to have visits on Mr. Henderson's porch, walked right up the stairs and said, "Happy Birthday Mr. Henderson, I got you something." She then took out a box wrapped beautifully in purple birthday wrapping paper with a green bow on top.
"What is it?" He asked.
"A present, now open it!" Clara directed. Mr. Henderson carefully lifted the lid and pulled out a homemade card decorated in balloons.
"This is beautiful! Did you make it yourself?" He asked. Clara nodded happily. Mr. Henderson opened the card. It read,
To Mr. H.
I hope you have a wonderful day. You are a really good friend.
"Thank you so much, Clara." Mr. Henderson said, truly touched.
"There's more," Clara urged. So, Mr. Henderson dug deeper into the bag and discovered a mug with a picture of Clara and him that was taken a couple of weeks after they had met. The day they met was the day of the pesky loitering kids incident. His mind flashed back to the unpleasant memory. But, at this moment, for some reason, it was more vivid than he ever remembered it before. He could see a group of kids in his mind's eye. They were all smiling a mischievous grin, but not a bad mischievous, a good one, like they were going to do something nice. He focused on the kid's faces. One looked especially familiar. It was Clara! She was holding something, a gift bag. He could see now that some kids were holding balloons, one was even holding a cake. Mr. Henderson had never had a memory with this much detail before. Usually, he had this memory with annoyance that the kids were loitering. Then, he got to the part where, in a fit of raging anger, he came out shouting at the kids for being there, just standing outside of his driveway. He recalled thinking, and on my birthday of all things. But now, exactly one year after, he realized that they were throwing a birthday party for him. Mr. Henderson felt a pang of guilt, but it got even worse when he "saw" what happened after. Clara was the only kid who stayed behind. She walked up to him and tried to explain that they were doing something nice, but between his anger and partial deafness, he didn't understand and just kept yelling, which lead Clara to run away crying. She did come back the next day (with her parent's permission, of course), to try to make him understand, but he was still angry and wouldn't have it. Clara decided to make it her personal mission to win him over. Every day she would stop by with a greeting and a kind gesture. Sometimes it was homemade cookies, sometimes it was an offer to rake his lawn, other times she would simply pick the trash up that had been blown onto his lawn. Weeks of this went by and she eventually gained his favour. It started out with his slight nod, then a wave, and then finally a smile. It delighted Clara that they were becoming friends.
Clara made it a daily habit to come and visit Mr. Henderson. Although he seemed grumpy, Clara had learned that deep down he had a kind heart. She enjoyed their chats and it gave her joy to know that the once lonely man now had a companion in her. One warm day after enjoying lemonade and some of her blueberry muffins, Clara had the thought pop into her head that she would like to capture this unlikely friendship. She held up her phone and they both smiled. The memory was funny because Mr. H. had never seen a phone that took photos and had been astonished. This photo was the one imprinted on the mug he was now receiving from Clara. He heard the voice in his head that he heard now and then. It said, You need to become a better person. Deep down, Mr. Henderson knew that thought was right. He knew he was grumpy and had a quick temper and he was lucky to have Clara as a friend. Although these thoughts would take a long time to say, Mr. Henderson thought them in only a few seconds. He would have let his thoughts linger, but Clara interrupted him by asking,
"Don't you like it?"
"Of course I like it, did you know that this is the first present I've received in ten years?" When Mr. Henderson said this, Clara's eyes bulged.
"I'm ten years old, so ten years feels like a really long time to me--my entire lifetime." She answered
"Believe it or not, Clara," Mr. Henderson started, "ten years feels like a long time to me, too. I thought I would never get another present again as long as I lived," a single tear slipped down his cheek as he continued, "I can't tell you how much this means to me."
Clara's eyes started to well up with tears too as she said, " I am so glad that I had the honour of giving you your first present in ten years." They sat in silence for a minute before Mr. Henderson patted her on the head and said, "Thank you again, my friend, for visiting me once again, but it's just about lunchtime. You should probably head home." Mr. Henderson pondered Clara's visit all day. She'd had such joy in giving a gift and seeing someone happy. This was something he had never felt. You need to become a better person, he thought again. He had tried before, put on a brave face, and tried to be happy, but it always ended up failing because his happiness was shallow. He didn't have the kind of happiness that Clara had. She had deep happiness, the kind of happiness he wanted. Mr. Henderson decided he would ask her tomorrow. He went to bed anticipating the next day.
When Clara went for her daily visit the following day, she was surprised because she didn't see Mr. Henderson sitting on his front porch with his coffee in one hand, and newspaper in the other. He was completely gone! She knocked on the door and waited. Nothing. She knocked again, and there was no answer.
"Maybe he's just sleeping," Clara said out loud, trying to reassure herself. Just then, two of her friends from school rode up on their bikes.
"Come to the park with us!" said Clara's friend named Jenny Miller.
"Ya, who would want to hang around that old geezer anyway?" Added her other friend, Kayle Smith.
"Don't call him a geezer. He is a perfectly nice elderly man," protested Clara.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry I called him a geezer," apologized Kayle.
"Good, I accept your apology," forgave Clara.
"So, are you coming to the park?" Asked Jenny.
"Sure, but I'm keeping a close eye on my watch, and I'm coming back in fifteen minutes."
"And if he still won't answer the door?" questioned Kayle.
"Then, I'm going to tell someone." Answered Clara.
Once the girls got to the park, Clara kept her word and checked her watch very often. She was so busy checking the time about every twenty-five seconds that she barely had any fun. Ten minutes later (she couldn't wait the whole fifteen minutes), Clara walked straight to Mr. Henderson's house and knocked on the door. No reply. She ran home to tell her mom. When she walked through the front door, she was greeted by her mom saying,
"Hi, honey, how was your talk with Mr. Hender... what's wrong?"
"I went to his house, but no one was there. I knocked, but no one answered," Clara said, trying not to cry.
"He might've still been sleeping." Clara's mom suggested, hopefully.
"I thought that, too. So, I went to the park with Jenny and Kayle, but when I got back, he still wouldn't answer the door," Clara debated.
"Well, I haven't seen Mr. Henderson in a while anyway. I'll walk over there with you."
So Clara and Ms. Davis walked over to Mr. Henderson's house. The whole way, Clara imagined Mr. Henderson sitting on his front porch, grumpy. Half grumpy because Clara was late, and half grumpy because he hadn't finished his coffee yet. But to Clara's dismay, Mr. Hendeson wasn't there, and he didn't answer the door.
"It's probably nothing, but Mr. Henderson gave me a key to his house in case of an emergency. I think I'll go in to check it out."
"Can I come too?" Clara asked, hopefully.
"I'm sorry honey, but I think I want you to stay out here." Her mom answered. So Clara stood there outside of Mr. Henderson's house, watching. Watching her mom come out of the house with a worried expression on her face and with her phone to her ear. Watching the ambulances arrive. Watching them take the unconscious Mr. Henderson on the stretcher to the hospital. In the blur of activity, the old man's best friend, a little girl who had changed his life, went unnoticed by everyone around, forgotten.
After all the commotion had died down, Ms. Davis stopped to fill Clara in on what was going on.
"They are pretty sure that he had a mild heart attack," Her mom explained, "He's lucky you come to check on him every day. If you didn't...." Clara's mom's voice trailed off.
"Ya, I get it," Clara answered, "I hope he's okay."
"Me too," her mom replied.
That afternoon Ms. Davis took Clara to the hospital to see Mr. Henderson. But the nurse there explained that Mr. Henderson was still unconscious, and no one could see him. This made Clara very sad.
The rest of Clara's day was hard. She didn't want to do anything. She just cried. Once she tried to read a book, but the tears made it too blurry to see the words. She went to bed tired, grieved, and distraught.
The next morning, when Clara woke up, she was a mess. It looked as if she hadn't slept a wink all night, and half that time, she had been crying, which is very close to what actually did happen.
"I got a call from the hospital this morning," Ms. Davis reported, with a cheerful tone in her voice. Clara lifted her eyes hopefully. "They said that Mr. Henderson is awake, and he's asking for you."
"Really?" asked Clara excitedly.
"Really," replied Clara's mom, "but you don't want to walk into the hospital looking like that. You'll give him another heart attack. Go, take a shower, brush your hair, get some fresh clothes on, and come on down for breakfast." Clara was up the stairs, already heating the shower water before Ms. Davis had time to finish the sentence.
Fifteen minutes later, Clara ran out the door with a bagel in her hand and hopped in the car. Ms. Davis drove her to the hospital again. Once they had checked in at the front desk, they headed to room H13, Mr. Henderson's room. She looked at the door. How could it be that Mr. Henderson was in there? He always seemed so strong. Clara took a shuttering breath and knocked.
"Come in!" Called Mr. Henderson's grumpy, loud voice, "The door's open." Clara took one slow step and then ran towards Mr. Henderson's bed, careful not to bump into it though.
"You missed me, eh?" Mr. Henderson teased, "You couldn't go one day without seeing your old geezer."
"Don't call yourself a geezer. You are a perfectly nice elderly man," Clara responded, "I was so worried. You scared me."
"I scared myself, too." Mr. Henderson said, "But I wanted to ask you this question, so I'm not going to waste any more time waiting for the answer. Why are you so happy? I've tried to be happy before, and it's like putting on an act. But you are truly happy."
"Well, I'm not always happy. You should have seen me yesterday," Clara began, "I have joy. I'm a Christian you see, and so I believe that Jesus loves me. He loves me so much that he was willing to die for me, and you too. It gives me joy that Jesus did that for me. Romans 1:2 says, 'Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.' So if I have a problem that most people would be grumpy about, I just consider it another opportunity to pray and ask God to give me joy. Does that make sense?"
"Ya, but is there a way that I can get joy like that, too?" Mr. Henderson asked.
"Yes, all you need to do is believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that he died and rose again for your sins," Clara answered.
"I would like to do that," Mr. Henderson responded thoughtfully and quietly. "How do I do that?"
"Just talk to God. There isn't a special prayer you have to say. Simply acknowledge that you accept his free gift of forgiveness and that you want him in your life as your Lord and Father."
Mr. Henderson wasn't normally one to show his emotions but was visibly touched at this moment. "Okay," he said as he fidgeted with the blanket. "God, I would like to invite you into my life. Thank you that Jesus died and rose for me. I've done wrong things and I want your forgiveness and for you to change my heart and make me a better person. I want your joy like what Clara has. And I want to learn more about you and to serve you."
Mr. Henderson looked up at Clara. "You know, I feel happier already." He smiled.
Years went by and people noticed he was a different man. He was always gentle with children and kind to everyone he met, he was quick to share how God had changed his heart that day in the hospital.
"God gave me a new heart when mine failed." He would say.
He kept in touch with Clara for twenty-two years but at the age of ninety-three, his health was declining and he felt frail. Clara's husband had watched their four young children one night and encouraged her to sit with him by the hospital bed in his final hours. His last words were, "Thank you for sharing Jesus with me all those years ago Clara. I'm not afraid to die. I'll be waiting up there for you on my porch with a glass of lemonade and some muffins that will taste heavenly." He then gave a weak smile, closed his eyes, and took one last breath before he went to be with his king, Jesus Christ.