Dear Friends, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Florida right now because of Hurricane Irma. Thanks for joining us for “God’s Humbling Ways, a Short Story.” Sometimes, the hardest thing in our lives is allowing ourselves to be helped. Often in our own pride, we resist the help of others. It can be humbling to serve others, but it’s more humbling to submit to being served. This is often why many resist the cleansing power available from Jesus Christ alone. May we be swift to serve others, to tear down walls. But let us also be submissive to others who want to serve us—to tear down walls we’ve put up. Here’s a longer short story that may bring the point home. See you on the next page!—David Telbat
God’s Humbling Ways
A Short Story by D. I. Telbat
Linda Taylor had never felt worse pain. She knew her arm was broken. The ice hadn’t seemed that slick when leaving for church that morning. Now, upon returning home, the ice had a watery sheen on the surface. When climbing out of her four-wheel drive Jeep, she’d slipped and fallen.
As if falling wasn’t bad enough, she’d slid half-way under the vehicle. Paralyzed by pain for a few minutes, she blinked through the tears and imagined freezing to death right there. It really could happen. Living on a remote homestead in Northern Ohio, her closest neighbor, Hal Helms, was a mile away. And town was twenty miles away—a thirty-minute or longer drive on bad roads.
Already, the chill of the wet ice had soaked through the back of her winter coat. Since her right arm was broken, she lifted her left one, but it still hurt to move. It even hurt to breathe! Perhaps she’d injured herself internally as well, she considered. Moving too much could aggravate her condition.
“God, help me,” she prayed.
As a believer for forty years, Linda knew to rely on her Heavenly Father. Every Sunday, she taught first graders Bible stories, and just that morning, the subject of trusting God had come up. They’d learned that just because God was invisible, that didn’t mean he wasn’t available to help.
“I need Your help now,” she pleaded, shivering at the icy wetness.
The air temperature was only twenty degrees. That was cold enough to cause her to lapse into hypothermia within minutes. Linda’s eyes focused on an object that dangled near her head. It was her purse strap, hanging out of the open Jeep door. Her phone was in her purse!
“Thank You, Father,” she whimpered as she reached gingerly for the strap. With a light tug, the purse dropped onto the ice next to her ear. Without the phone, she guessed she would’ve died right there. But now, she could make a call for help and live to laugh about her blunder. Her two children, now grown and living out of state, would ask her for the hundredth time if she wanted help selling the ranch and moving to a warmer climate. Having buried her late husband eight years earlier, she’d been alone ever since.
Using the fingers of her left hand, Linda wiggled her hand into the purse and clutched her phone. Then, she paused. Her dismay at who she might have to call for help was almost as horrible as dying right there on the ice.
She was already shivering. Having a healthy metabolism all her life had kept her slender, so she didn’t have any insulation to keep her bones warm as the frigid temperatures reach inside her body like cold fingers claiming her precious heat. From her neck to her waist, she was wet from laying in the ice water.
Calculating her odds, she knew she wouldn’t last thirty minutes for someone from town to drive out on those icy roads. That meant she had to call her nearest neighbor, Hal Helms.
“No thanks,” she mumbled.
But there was no one else to call, and with a stubborn heart, she realized that God may have allowed this very situation, just so she would have to tolerate the unbearable and annoying man.
No one irked Linda more than Hal Helms. Everything the fifty-year-old bachelor did annoyed her to no end. It seemed that every Sunday, during the service, he found a seat directly behind her—just to sniff his nose nonstop. And he wore jeans to church each week. His ear hair alone was worthy of church discipline by the elders! Linda fumed internally. No wonder Hal Helms wasn’t married. No self-respecting woman would tolerate his countless flaws!
During church potlucks, Linda had seen from across the room how Hal Helms often took more food onto his plate than was proper. And when he ate—the man ate like a horse! He would take five bites before he bothered to chew. No wonder he was usually alone against the farthest wall at gatherings, stuffing his face.
As far as Linda knew, no one at church regularly spoke to Hal Helms. And how could they do so safely? He spit when he spoke, whether he had food in his mouth or not. And during one small group prayer meeting, Linda had looked up from her ladies’ group to see Hal Helms in the men’s group scratching at his armpit for what must’ve been five minutes.
When it was Hal Helms’ turn to pray, Linda had notice that he never really prayed. He began to pray, but then just started crying. No one could understand what he said. People usually just ignored him. He simply wasn’t socially adept.
Linda remember two years earlier when she’d seen Hal Helms at the supermarket in town. He’d picked up and smelled ten cantaloupes before he selected one to buy. What about the other nine his germ-ridden hands had touched and put back on the pile? She guessed he rarely washed his hands, since no one was in his life to teach him such things as personal hygiene. And ear hair trimming!
Hal Helms was known for taking up two spaces when he parked his truck at church. It was inconsiderate, Linda had decided. The man thought so little of himself that he didn’t consider the needs of others!
Thinking back, Linda had never heard Hal Helms laugh, or even appreciate an inspiring story or joke. The odd man was sometimes on the fringes of conversations, but he rarely said anything. He normally just lurked around. When he did say something, it was off-topic, and uncomfortable silence followed. Usually, Hal Helms ended up walking away from groups, and everyone seemed relieved that he was no longer there.
Staring up at the undercarriage of her Jeep, Linda remembered all these things about her nearest neighbor. He was only a mile away, but she’d gotten stuck behind him on the highway before. Hal Helms drove twenty miles an hour under the speed limit. It was unbearable!
But Linda had to call him. If she were to survive her broken arm and other injuries, Hal Helms would have to be the one to help her. She’d just have to endure his awkwardness for a few minutes to— No. He’d have to drive her to the hospital as well. And wait for her there. Oh, the dread of being in his truck cab for the drive into town and back. Did his truck interior stink? Was trash strewn all over the seats and floor? At the hospital, what if he embarrassed her further by saying something out of place?
On her phone, Linda pulled up the app that contained the church directory. She scrolled down to Hal Helms. Oh, she didn’t want to deal with this odd man. Could she ever go back to avoiding him after he’d helped her? His annoying presence wasn’t something that—
She clenched her teeth against their chattering. Her dilemma was too specific to be an accident. This was designed by God, she figured. And she hated it. But if she were to survive…
The phone rang and rang, and Linda was almost relieved that Hal Helms wasn’t an option to lead to her survival after all.
It was him. His deep, flat, empty voice.
“Yes, Mr. Helms, this is Linda Taylor down the road. Do you know who I am?”
“Of course, Linda. We’re neighbors.”
“Then you know where my driveway is? You know where I live?”
“Yes, I know where you live.” He cleared his throat loudly. “This is Hal Helms.”
“Yes, you’re Hal Helms, and I’m Linda Taylor. Please listen, Hal. I’ve fallen, and I need your help right away. I’ve broken my arm. I’m lying on ice, and I’m all wet. I think I’ll freeze to death if I lie here much longer. Mr. Helms, can you come and— Hello? What was that noise? Are you there, Mr. Helms? Hello?”
Linda looked at her phone. They hadn’t been disconnected. Hal simply wasn’t there any longer. She hung up and called him again, but it went to voicemail. It was characteristic of Hal Helms, she decided, to drop the ball when he was needed. He couldn’t be relied on for the small functions in life. Why would anyone rely on him for a major situation? No, she would truly die. Hal Helms was useless!
As she contemplated who else to call, though it would be too late, Linda heard the roar of an engine drawing near. It skidded on the ice, tire chains jingling. A truck door slammed.
“Help me,” she called. Tears poured from her eyes. The horror of such helplessness! “I’m over here! I’ve fallen! I’m under the Jeep!”
The sound of boots stomped toward her. She recognized the crunch of steel spikes on the ice. Suddenly, Hal Helms’ bulk blocked out the winter sky, then he knelt over her head.
“Hal, thank God!” She watched him look under the Jeep at the rest of her body. “I’m not stuck, I just need to get to the hospital.”
“Which arm is broken?” he asked. “You said on the phone your arm is broke.”
Linda held up her left arm. “It’s my right arm. But don’t touch me. Not until I’m ready. It’s really bad pain, and—”
“You were shivering on the phone. I could hear it. You’re not shivering any more.” He put his hand to her forehead, but she brushed him off. The nerve of him touching her! “Your core body temperature has dropped. Your lips are blue. Here we go.”
Without further warning, Hal reached under the Jeep with both hands and grab the front of her coat. Alarmed at his familiarity, Linda cried out, but in the next instant, he jerked her out from under the Jeep. Startled from the pain and numbing cold, Linda went limp in his arms as he pulled her into his embrace and rose to his feet.
She could barely think or fight back as he walked carrying her carefully across the ice to her porch, and threw open the front door.
“I’ll set you here,” he said, and sat her on the living room sofa. “Don’t move. I’ll get blankets. Where’s your bedroom?”
Linda vaguely realized her faculties were already shutting down when she couldn’t answer him. Her mind seemed thick and cumbersome. Instead, she fell over sideways on the sofa.
Seconds later, Hal was back. He forced her to sit upright again and lightly slapped her cheek.
“You okay? Don’t fall asleep. Need to stay awake.”
“I’m trying to be gentle. You’re soaked all the way through.”
He unzipped her wet coat and pulled the sleeve from her good arm first, then her bad arm—which almost made her lose consciousness. She fell face-first against his chest, but it only worked to aid him in throwing her bed spread over her shoulders. Next, he used pillows from the sofa and then a blanket from the spare bedroom to wrap her up tightly.
Linda blinked in and out of delirium as Hal came and went. More than a moment must have passed, because suddenly, he was holding a hot mug of tea to her lips. She sipped a little, then held the cup herself.
Gradually, Linda’s wits returned, and she focused her eyes and ears on what Hal was doing now. A Buck knife was in his hands and he was cutting through a white linen cloth.
“My sheets!” She thought about throwing the remainder of the tea on the loathsome man in front of her. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I got it from your bed.” He set his knife down and tied two folded sheets strips together. “I’m making a sling for your arm.”
“Oh.” She frowned. “That’s…actually helpful.”
“You’ll need a sling for a few days until you can move your shoulder without much pain.”
“My arm is broken, Mr. Helms. It’ll be a lot longer than a couple days before I’m moving it!”
“No, I see the way you’re holding it. It’s just dislocated.” He folded his knife and stuffed it into his jeans pocket—the same jeans he wore to church. “I can put it back in the socket, but I wanted the sling ready to support your arm right after. It’s ready.”
“It’s broken, Hal!” Linda imagined the clod trying to relocate her shoulder when the bones needed to be set. He’d only damage her further. “Don’t touch me! Take me to the hospital. They’ll know what to do.”
“Aren’t you in pain?” he asked, and held up his homemade sling. “This will help the pain.”
“Okay, just slide my elbow into it real slow-like.”
He fit the sling over her head, then drew back the blankets to reveal her arm. Without warning, he straightened her bad arm, and his other hand braced against her upper ribs. When he yanked hard, Linda felt a relieving pop, but not without intense pain again. Unable to support her body, she fell against him again.
“You…oaf!” she screamed as he bent her elbow and set it in the cup of the sling. “Let go of me!”
He bundled her up with the blankets again, then stood back.
“Yeah, it’ll be sore for a few days, but then you’ll be okay. More tea?”
He left for the kitchen. Linda tried to manage her breathing. How dare this animal treat her like this! Her sheet was ruined. He probably destroyed her bedroom. Who knew what he was doing to her kitchen!
For a coherent moment, she stared at the carpet. Regardless of his strange way of doing things, her arm did feel better. Had he been right all along?
“It’s really not…broken?” she asked, and moved her good hand across to feel the bones of her bad arm. “The pain does seem to be coming from just the shoulder now.”
Hal appeared again with fresh tea in his hands, and knelt before her.
“We need to salt your driveway,” he said. “Or dump sand on it when there’s lots of ice. I can do that when I plow your driveway, and I can watch the weather report to know when it’ll probably be icy.”
“Plow my driveway?” Linda frowned. “The county plows my driveway. They always have.”
“The county plows county roads. Your driveway isn’t a county road. Your husband asked if I would plow your driveway.”
“My husband died, Hal. When did he ask you?”
“I don’t know.” Hal looked afar off. “Twenty years ago? Your kids were young.”
“You’ve been plowing my driveway?” Linda felt a lump in her throat. “For twenty years?”
“You never told me to stop. I thought you wanted me to keep doing it. I plow before dawn so I’m not in the way. Your driveway, the Bartons’, the Fenstills’, the Hoyles’—everyone from church who lives out of town.”
“Really? Do they know you do that?” Linda grunted. Her shoulder pain was subsiding even more. “I mean, are you just plowing their driveways on your own? I never saw you do it. No one ever talks about you doing all that, either.”
“I like plowing.” He shrugged. “But I’ll carry sand from now on. You won’t fall again if I sand the whole driveway all the way to the porch. I won’t get in your way.”
“Thank you, Hal,” she said, struggling with her conflicting emotions.
She sipped her tea and watched her neighbor pick up pieces of the sheet he’d destroyed. All of her disdain for the man suddenly seemed wasted and pointless. Her husband had dislike plowing their driveway, but she’d never learned what he’d done to remedy the problem. It would take hours to plow so many driveways before dawn. All these years, she’d thought the county was up all night taking care of the citizens of her Ohio town. Even during their worst snow storms, she’d never had any trouble getting her car out to the highway.
All of Hal’s annoying idiosyncrasies didn’t seem like obstacles if he was really doing things that she appreciated. And he had been all along. She just hadn’t been looking close enough. For years! And here she’d nearly frozen to death while hesitating to ask for his help.
“Well, I’ll be going now.” He went to the front door. “Unless you still want to go to the hospital.”
“No.” She rocked forward and stood upright, one blanket still draped over her shoulders. “You were right. It was just a dislocated shoulder. I’m sorry for calling you an oaf, Mr. Helms.”
“I know you didn’t mean it. Fixing men on the field—they would call me all kinds of names when they were in pain, too. But it was my job to fix them. Later, they knew I kept them alive.”
“You were in the service? I didn’t know that.”
“I was a corpsman in the first Gulf War.” He pulled back his hair and showed her a scar above his ear. “A bullet went into my head. A sniper. Then I was sent home.”
“I see. Yes, I see the scar.”
“That’s why I’m strange.”
“You may be strange, Mr. Helms, but you saved my life today. And I think you’ve helped me more in other ways as well.”
“Okay.” He shrugged again. “I’ll sand your whole driveway this afternoon.”
“That would be nice. Make it around dinner time. You can check on me. I only have one arm, after all. But I’ll make you dinner.”
“I usually go to the diner at the truck stop Sunday nights. They give vets a discount.”
“Oh. All right.”
“But something homemade would be nice.”
“Oh, good! Around 5 o’clock?”
Hal Helms return that evening, and for the first time, Linda listened to the man’s stories of his past. She often reflected on that day, when she’d experienced the bitterness and pride torn out of her by circumstances beyond her control. God had used a simple man and a near-fatal fall to bring her low—low enough to receive help from a lowly servant.
That day was the beginning of a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. Never again did Hal Helms attend a church potluck and stand alone against the wall as he gobbled his food. Linda Taylor was there beside him. And when the time seemed right, she even brought scissors to church one Sunday. Out in the parking lot, where he’d taken up two spaces, Linda trimmed those wayward ear hairs.
The end of God’s Humbling Ways, a Short Story.
Prayer Prompt: We join you in prayer for our suffering brothers and sisters in the paths of these hurricanes. Let’s pray that many more will come to know Him even through these very difficult times.
COMING UP: Join us next time for “What Christians Should Expect for America,” when David Telbat shares his purpose for writing The Steadfast Series. And another unique D.I. Telbat Christian Short Story will follow the next week. Thanks for reading!