Had I been with almost anyone else that day, they probably would have drowned me. I was five years old and was fishing on Lake Travis with my father’s good friend, Neil Gately. Neil was the manager of the Sears store in Waco, Texas, and was one of my childhood idols. Whenever we stayed with Neil and his family, I remember getting up early because Neil always fixed breakfast and would let me help him. I can still see him in his flannel robe and cowboy boots, peeling potatoes at the sink and letting me separate the bacon. He called me “Schmoo” after a character in Al Capp’s Lil Abner comic strip.
One of the things I liked best about Neil was that he would take me fishing. On this fateful day we were out on the lake and weren’t having any luck. So in the best tradition of lake fishermen, Neil was going to take us to another spot where he knew they would be biting. In those days, starting the Evinrude outboard engine was an “iffy” kind of thing. I helped pull up the anchor. (Okay, I was person No. 3 on the rope, but I felt like I was helping.) Neil went to the back to start the engine, He pulled the starter rope and nothing happened. He pulled it again and nothing happened. It was at this point that I began to tempt fate. When he pulled it again and the engine only sputtered, I said, “Watcha gonna do now, Neil?” He didn’t say anything, he only pulled the rope again. Again nothing happened, and again I said, “Watcha gonna do now, Neil?” He kept his back to me as he fussed with first the fuel line, then the carburetor, and everything else he could think of in between pulling the rope and getting no response from the engine. But each and every time he got the same response from me, “Watcha gonna do now, Neil?” After 50 or 60 unsuccessful attempts to start the engine, followed by 50 or 60 of my “Watcha gonna do now, Neil?” questions, Neil slowly turned around and looked at me. This is the point at which any normal man would have wrapped me in the anchor rope and pitched me over the side. Neil just looked at me, opened the cooler, and handed me a piece of bologna. “Schmoo,” he said with incredible patience, “you must be getting hungry, eat this.” Then he turned back to the task of getting the engine started.
Maybe he thought if I was eating I would be quiet, but I somehow managed to time my bites with his starter rope pulls so that every time the engine failed to start, I could still say, “Watcha gonna do now, Neil?” A mere 10 or 20 more pulls, and Neil turned around again. He reached into the cooler once more, handed me another piece of bologna, and said, “Schmoo, I think you need another piece.” Then he turned back to the engine. This time it started. I whooped with joy, Neil sighed with relief, and we motored away from our unlucky spot. Neil taught me several lessons that day, but it would be years later before I realized it.
First, he showed me that my faith in him wasn’t misplaced. When I would utter, “Watcha gonna do now, Neil?” I wasn’t being sarcastic, I was truly curious as to what he would do because I had total faith in him. I knew he would start the engine, I just wasn’t sure what he would do to make it happen. Just as now I know that God will give us what we need – I just don’t know how that will come, but I know it will come.
Neil also showed me the infinite patience that God has with us. God loves us despite the many times we say to Him, “Watcha gonna do now, God?” No matter how frustrated or angry Neil was that day, he didn’t show any of it to me. He showed me only patience and love. He taught me that whenever someone is irritating or annoying to the point of distraction, the best thing to do is to offer them something good. For me, it was a piece of bologna.
Neil has been with God for many years now, but the lessons I learned on Lake Travis that day have never left me. We should all learn to be a little more like Neil Gately was that fateful afternoon. No matter how tired, how frustrated, how irritated or annoyed we are, we are to do as Christ commanded and love one another as He loved us.