24 years ago, I was 33 years old and struggling with a bitter alcohol addiction. I lived in a metropolitan region of Virginia and staying at a substance-abuse halfway house. One warm and sunny summer morning I put on my best shirt and pants and a pair of narrow-toe dress boots and caught a bus six miles downtown to go job hunting. Once downtown, I started to walk back along a busy commercial boulevard. I stopped at business after business — convenience stores, gas stations, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants — looking for work. There were no takers.
The heat rose quickly. Around the three mile mark, the boots began to pinch. Mile four and they were torturing me and my feet were crying. I was sweating and cursing. With a mile and a half left to go there were no more places to look for employment. My clothes were sweated through. I staggered on what felt like two raw and bloody stumps. I continually cursed God for my shoes, my feet, the heat and my general and rotten damn luck. On the last leg I passed a large municipal hospital at the foot of a long, tall and steep overpass — one and a half miles to go.
Stumbling, cursing, and groaning, I passed the hospital and climbed the overpass and started down the other side.
At the bottom of the other side, starting up, was a man in a wheelchair — one of the old fashioned types that you have to propel by arm muscle. He started to push his way up the hill I was descending. I met him before he made it more than 3 or 4 yards.
“Would you like a hand?” I asked.
“Sure. Thanks” I got behind the chair and started pushing.
“What are you going for?”
“Dialysis. Three times a week.”
“Wow! You make this trip by yourself three times a week?”
“Most times. Sometimes I get a ride — every now and then.”
“Wow. Where are you coming from?”
“Scarborough Apartments. Other side of Jefferson.”
J. Clyde Morris Boulevard, the road we were on, intersected Jefferson Avenue one half mile from the hospital. Jefferson Avenue was a very busy and heavily congested thoroughfare.
We got to the top of the overpass. He said, “I’ve got it from here. Thanks.” We said our “goodbyes” and “good lucks” and he started down. I turned around and started back down my side. I realized for the first time that my feet no longer hurt. I only went a few feet before I turned around and looked back, He was out of sight now on the other side of the rise. I thought momentarily about going back up if for no other reason than to confirm the reality of the experience. Oh, it was real all right. There was no denying that.
I decided against it. This seemed much too large to be mere coincidence. I didn’t know if I wanted to know if he had disappeared once he was out of sight. This was MUCH too large to be coincidence. This was some form of divine intervention. This was a loving slap to the face. I started back. I didn’t know when my feet had ceased to hurt, but I suspected it was shortly before I took the handles of the wheelchair. In fact, I was now light on my feet. I walked with a bounce to my step.
I began to pray. I asked forgiveness for my earlier cursing, griping, and crying. Then I began to continually give praise and thanks for all my blessings. I was penniless, alcoholic, living in a halfway house, unemployed, and divorced. My children lived three hundred miles away and one of them was dying from terminal birth-defects. I was sweating like a horse and my feet had been killing me. None of that entered my mind at that moment — not for a second. At that moment all I could do was sing and praise God for all my great and many blessings. I remembered deeply a proverb of my mother,
I cried because I had no shoes, until I met the man who had no feet.
I developed by living it, 24 years ago, a new perspective that resounds strongly in my spirit still today.
Can you give thanks and praise even in the face of extreme adversity?
Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised — not to mention even more blessed than before.