The Shirt

When I farewelled from my home corps for the training college in 1973 I had $14 in my pocket.  I had saved much more but that had to go to help my family at home whose last minute crisis wiped out my savings.  Other monies that were promised failed to appear or seemed to come at a trickle.  One close friend remembered me once a month while another dear lady in my corps mailed me the weekly bulletin with $1 in it – welcome raindrops in a financial desert.

Not only was I ill prepared financially, but my immaturity expressed itself in many ways.  For example, my personal appearance.  Believing that I ought to be judged by the content of my heart, I felt that as long as I was clean I needn’t worry if I appeared unkempt.  I combed my fly-away hair once in the morning and it was on its own after that.  While my shirts were washed, they were never ironed.  All of them had belonged to one or two people before going to the thrift store where I found them. They were white, they were shirts, and they would have to do.

While in training, my appearance was constantly a discussion point with the staff.  Could I not get a haircut?  Is that a blue with a black sock?  And those shirts really could use some starch. When it came time for my ratings, my poorest showing was in personal appearance.  I felt that this must be the result of some spiritual shortsightedness by these dreadfully shallow creatures.  Had they not heard of John the Baptist?  What about old Railton?  Worry about my appearance if you will.  I will tend to the weightier matter of winning the world to Christ.

My fellow cadets also were bothered by how I looked.  I noticed that when photos were taken I was just beyond the frame of the picture.  I expected a few eyes to roll when I walked by and I was the subject of remarks during the idle talk that seems to be a prime occupation of cadets.

I was content to leave it this way until I entered the real world where people would notice the important things about me and not my appearance.

This was interrupted by a session-mate who casually mentioned one day that his wife had bought him a shirt that didn’t fit right.  Would I like it?  Doing a quick review of my financial balance, my split second answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’  He brought me the shirt and I took it back to my room.

It was a beautiful shirt.  When I hung it in the closet next to my other ones, their white was dingy by comparison.  When I washed it I found it was made of some material that didn’t hold wrinkles.  As I looked at it I couldn’t ever remember owning a white shirt that nice or that new.

Since I loved it so much, I decided it would be my Sunday shirt, a shirt I could wear before the Lord as an offering of my best.  Soon I found new shoes that seemed to glisten in the sunlight as I polished them each Saturday.  Socks were carefully examined for color match.  My pants were pressed as best could be managed.  On at least one day, my critics would be silenced.

Many new shirts later, it came time to retire this shirt to the rag bag.  As I took my old friend to its well earned retirement I remembered the day I received it.  I wondered if the reason I received the shirt wasn’t some sort of pretense.  It struck me that my friend, Tom, had never said a word of criticism to me abut my appearance.  Instead, he gave me a shirt.