I smiled to myself as Mr. Dawson stood up, tapped the microphone, and asked “Is this thing on?” As usual, he then said, “I’m thankful God is in control.” Mr. Dawson went through this same routine, tapping the microphone and saying the exact same words, every time the pastor asked for people to share what God had placed in their hearts. His testimony always and without fail was, “I’m thankful God is in control.”
When I first met Mr. Dawson, he seemed old to me. I was in my late 20s; he must have been in his late 60s. He walked with a slight limp, and his left arm didn’t work properly either. I wondered why he was that way. One day, when I stood next to him in the foyer, I asked, “Mr. Dawson, what happened to your arm? Did you have a stroke?”
“No, my uncle dropped me when I was very young.” He offered no further explanation, but suddenly his testimony took on an entirely new depth. Mr. Dawson was challenged physically and in other ways due to a tragic accident that had occurred at the beginning of his life. I wondered if I could be thankful that “God was in control” if my situation had been the same as his.
As I studied his face, I could see he was at peace. His God was in control.
Even though his behavior was exasperating at times, I became fond of Mr. Dawson. He had a driver’s license, and heaven only knows how he got it. He knew one way to each destination. If someone invited him over for dinner after church, he’d learn how to get to their place from church. Even if that person lived a mile from his home, forevermore, he’d have to drive all the way to the church and then all the way back to that person’s house because that is how he knew to get there. Trying to explain to him that there was a different, shorter way, made no sense at all to him. He would watch you with a slightly puzzled expression while you explained it to him. Then he would say, “I’ll just drive to church and then over.”
At Christmas time, a few of us went to his apartment and set up a Christmas tree for him. He was like a small child in his delight and explained over and over to us that he didn’t usually have a tree because his arm didn’t work and he couldn’t set it up by himself. When we placed a few gifts under the tree, his eyes shone with childlike excitement. “Mr. Dawson,” I warned, “You are not to open those presents until Christmas morning.” He nodded his head in agreement, but I’m pretty sure he was ripping the paper off the packages before we’d made it to the car.
One day I again stood next to him at the back of the church. A small group of children were playing in front of us; and since conversations with Mr. Dawson were always a struggle, I was content to watch with him in silence. Then Mr. Dawson motioned with his good hand toward the children, “I love watching the children play. I missed that part of my life.”
“What do you mean? You missed that part of your life?” I asked.
He sighed, and it was almost as if he couldn’t say the words because they were so painful. “When I was little, I lived with my grandparents. They didn’t want me to be seen; so when my cousins came to play, I had to be locked in the bedroom.”
My mind transports me back 60 years, and my eyes close fiercely, but I can still see him. Mr. Dawson is a little boy, sitting in a dim room, listening to the laughter and shouts of other children. He is weeping quietly as he longs to be included, wanting so badly to play too. I open my eyes, and the man with a little boy's heart stands before me.
I turned away – tears that stung were pressing the back of my eyelids. My heart hurt, and my throat felt as though a foreign object had become lodged in it. I forced air into my lungs, past all that aching, and turned back to Mr. Dawson. I felt my hand touch his arm. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“I’m sorry?” It was the only thing I could think to say, but I was sorry. I was sorry for a little boy yearning to play with his cousins on a beautiful day, a rainy day, a stormy day, any day – but instead locked in a bedroom until they were gone.
Often I think of Mr. Dawson and of his tremendous faith in God. One of my biggest regrets is that I never asked him when and how he came to put his trust in Christ. But this I do know, he trusted that God loved him, and he is now free from all disabilities.
When my friend texted me to tell me that Mr. Dawson had gone to be with his Savior, I cried one last time for Mr. Dawson. But this time they were tears of joy. I had another vision, and that vision was of Mr. Dawson in heaven…playing his first ever game of kickball.