I shouldn’t have been tinkering with the computer on a Saturday, and I knew it. When Love In Action gave me the computer in 1988, they asked Bob Winter to help me learn how to use it. Not only did Bob understand the complexities of DOS (the operating system that ran most PCs back then), but his AIDS rendered him physically incapable of holding a job. So on Mondays through Fridays he was expected to be available to help me.
When he met with me for the first time, Bob informed me that mastering DOS would take ten grueling weeks. “Ten weeks from hell” was his exact phrase, making me feel a little like a sorority pledge facing an unusually long initiation. But it had been three or four weeks by that fateful Saturday, and I’d successfully typed a few counseling letters for Love In Action by then. Surely, I assured myself, it wouldn’t do any harm…
With that cocky attitude, I turned on the computer and began typing. I have no clue what I did wrong, but suddenly the monitor’s screen went blank!
Of course I called Bob’s private phone immediately (those were the days before cell phones, remember). No answer, so I left a panicked message on his answering machine. Still hoping to find him, I called the main house phone, only to be told that Bob was out for the day, and wouldn’t be back till late. I asked them to tell him I’d broken the computer. As I made that confession, I knew I’d have to find a way to fix it without Bob. Few people back then had personal computers, but I finally located (of all things) a Mac user with enough computer savvy to help my rectify my mistake and get the computer going again.
Then I felt shame. How arrogant I’d been to try using that computer on a Saturday, knowing that Bob had no obligation to be available to me that day! Although I called his phone again to leave a message that the crisis had been averted, I felt embarrassed by the whole episode.
As you can imagine, I was incredibly relieved the next day that he sat quite a distance away from me, thinking I would avoid an awkward conversation. Oh, did I praise the Lord during the singing time! By the time I’d see him at Bible Study Tuesday night, I assured myself, Bob would have forgotten all about the frantic messages on his answering machine and everything would be okay.
But as my friend pushed me toward the church’s exit after the service, Bob stopped us. He asked her to let him talk to me for five minutes, taking a seat facing me. I began apologizing for my presumption, but he interrupted. His steel blue eyes pierced me, not with indignation, but with compassion as he gently said, “Deb, I’m here to help you. I want you to call me when you’re in trouble!”
His words reminded me of Jesus.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~~Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)
Being a Charismatic, I overspiritualized the encounter by claiming that I looked in Bob’s eyes and “saw the eyes of Jesus.” Certainly, Bob did show a Christ-like compassion at that moment, and his tenderness definitely reflected the Lord’s grace and mercy. But I made it far more mystical than it actually was.
From that point, Bob and I had a deep and complex friendship built on humor, praying for each other’s physical healing, and ministry to people affected by AIDS. We’d have little spats here and there, as well as times of outrageous practical jokes (usually involving our mutual dislike for cats). Underneath it all, Bob treated me with kindness and compassion, constantly loving me in a manner that emulated Christ.
A year and a half after the computer incident, Bob lost his battle with AIDS. Although I now realize that I didn’t actually look into his eyes and see the eyes of Jesus, I continue to appreciate his demonstration of the Lord’s tenderness.