Guideposts Classics: Ethel Waters on Sharing God's Love

In this story from December 1972, blues, jazz and gospel vocalist and actress Ethel Waters reminds us that we can all deliver God's love if we remain open to our opportunities.

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- Posted on Nov 4, 2015

Guideposts: Legendary singer and actress Ethel Waters

For a long time I used to worry about my weight, to the point of being bitter. I didn’t think anybody else had problems—that’s why it was hard for me to get close to anybody. On an airplane trip one time I did, and things changed for me.

A man got on the plane who was pretty far gone from drinking. The stewardess hesitated to let him sit beside me, but I didn’t mind. I said to let the poor fellow sit right down.

Finally, when he got around to talking to me, I could see he was just all to pieces. Of course, they wouldn’t give him another drink even though he wanted one, but he was in bad shape. I could tell he had a terrible problem of some kind. He looked so miserable.

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“Why don’t you eat something, child?” I asked him.

“I don’t wanna eat. I wan’ another drink.”

I said, “But drinking hasn’t solved your problem, why not try some food instead?”

He looked so unhappy, so distressed, but he didn’t answer. I went on. “I don’t know what your problem is, but I know you can be helped. I know it.”

He turned in his seat and asked, “What’s your name?”

“My name’s Ethel Waters.”

The Ethel Waters?”

Just Ethel Waters.”

After a few seconds he asked me where I was going, and I told him I was going to a Christian meeting. Then he told me his name and began to get very serious, like a troubled little boy.

Finally he said, “There’s something about you reminds me of someone very close—a woman who helped raise me. You’re just like her.”

The poor fellow, whose name I forget, except that his nickname was Red, told me that the name of the woman who raised him was Tempy. She’d looked after him from the time he was a baby, and I reminded him of her, so he began then to tell me about his horrible burden.

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He was going to bury his daughter, who had been a beautiful musician. She had called him to come to a certain concert she was giving and he didn’t go. Now he was heartsick. His lovely daughter had been killed in an automobile accident.

I tried to let him know that I understood and that I cared about him, but he was in no condition for a lot of talk. I then told him I wanted him to eat something and not take one more drink.

“After you’ve had some food to soak up that liquor, I want you to put your head on my shoulder and take a nap. That way you’ll be able to face what’s up ahead. When you get off this plane, whoever meets you will know you’re—a man.”

He looked at me again and said, “Lord, that’s just the way Tempy would have said it!”

I sensed that what he needed was comfort. I’d needed comfort myself for so long and never found it until I found Jesus. They brought the food; he ate it and in no time he had dropped his head on my shoulder. He slept like a baby for at least an hour and a half.

My shoulder got a little kinked held in one position, but I wouldn’t have shifted around for anything. I just sat there and said, “Lord, let this child sleep—let him sleep.”

As I recall, we were changing planes in Atlanta. I asked the stewardess for a cold, wet towel and then I woke him up when I saw we were almost there. He wiped his face off good, combed his hair, looked me straight in the eye and said, soberly now, “I do want to thank you.”

I patted his hand. “Honey, thank the Lord. He knew what you needed right then. Now you go on and get off this plane and meet your aunt or your sister, or whoever, and don’t you take another drink.

“Don’t waste your strength trying to thank me. You’ll need it all. The Lord knew you needed some rest and He found this shoulder. You just needed a shoulder when you got on this plane. And whenever you look to Him, He’s always going to let you find a shoulder when you need it. You see, son, there are more Tempys around.”

As you can see, when you stop thinking about yourself—wonderful things happen. I stopped being bitter and so I could help this man, for bitter people have trouble seeing beauty. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, I just keep reminding myself and others that Jesus is there and He’s love and I have all the love I need for those around me.

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