Pulling from the past. Learning in the present. Thankfulness is a gift... TRUE STORY... Twenty years ago...
I was on a very special girl’s trip with my mother, aunt, and two sisters in Charleston, South Carolina. Although it was wonderful to be with my family, I was hurting terribly.
My back had been fused to metal rods for years. As a result, I could only bend my neck and the two lowest discs in the base of my back. At the time, these lower two discs were worn down to the bone, pinching the nerve in between.
Although daily back pain had been a part of my life since early adolescence, in the last year it had escalated immensely. One evening while in South Carolina, I could no longer silently endure. So I told my family to go ahead to the restaurant while I went back to the hotel room.
Once there I did what do every day. I prayed. I stretched. I soaked in a hot bath and rubbed analgesic all over my back. Nothing helped.
As I lay on the floor, I debated about whether to try to go to the restaurant to meet my family or not. I have learned that no matter how bad the pain, getting up, putting a smile on my face, and joining “the rest of the world” is infinitely more healing than sitting alone. Many times shutting the door to the world and opens the door to self-pity.
So I got dressed and made my way out of our hotel and onto the street in order to meet them. It was almost eight o’clock and getting darker as I walked in search of the restaurant. I passed a man selling flowers. Out of my peripheral vision I could see that he had a stub for one arm and a hook for another.
My heart aches for any human to be in that condition. But as I prayed for God’s miracles to touch his life, I heard The Holy Spirit say, “Go and ask him what happened to his arms.”
I thought, “No way.”
But there’s this thing with God. When He wants you to do something, He doesn’t stop asking until you either obey or disobey. And I knew from experience that if I don’t do what God asks, I will later drown in the mire of regret instead of walking on the water of blessing!
I turned around and walked toward the middle-aged black man in a worn plaid shirt with a stub for one arm and a hook for another.
“Hi, my name’s Kathleen. What happened to your arm?” I said a haltingly.
Kind eyes met mine. “Name’s Henry. I was electrocuted. Happened a long time ago. Had no business trying to fix the wiring in that ole’ house.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry… I… Well, I um have been feeling sorry for myself because I can’t bend my back and I’m in a lot of pain a lot of the time,” I said squatting down next to his flower table.
“Now Kathleen. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Cause there’s a whole lota people a lot worse off than you and me now,” he said nodding emphatically.
I knew I was going to cry. I could feel pent up hot tears welling up in my eyes. Henry saw too.
“Here now. Do you wanna flower? I make um’ myself.”
I wiped my eyes on the back of my sleeve and looked at his simple spread. Fresh cut yard flowers wrapped in tin foil. Just like what the children bring to decorate the Easter cross at the front of the church.
“How do you do it? How do you stay happy after… well with what you deal with?”
Henry tilted his head to one side. “Well, I wake up in the mornin’ and I say, ‘Thank ya Jesus fo my breakfast.’ Then I get enough flowers to sell and I say ‘Thank ya Jesus for enough flowers to sell.’ Then I make my flowers, see. Then I bless those flower bundles, each one. And I say, ‘Thank ya Jesus for letting me put a smile on someone’s face today.’”
Henry motioned to the flowers on his table, “You take some. Take um’ to your family. How many you need? Take um. Don’t worry what you got to pay. Just take um.”
As I counted out five “blessed” flower bundles, God reminded me of a large bill folded and hidden in my purse. Before leaving on the trip, my Dad had given each of his daughters a single bill with a short note: “Buy something for yourself.”
Henry had given me something that no money can buy. He had given me hope.
I watched him as he gingerly scooped up a few stray flowers with hook and stub and somehow miraculously wrapped them in foil. It took him a long time. He dropped the flowers twice. But finally satisfied, another “blessed bouquet” was ready.
I had never tried to hand anything to someone with a hook and a stub. “Henry, how do I hand you this money.”
“You don’t, Kathleen.”
“No, I want to pay you a little something.”
“You could put it in my pocket then.”
Thinking it likely that Henry believed I had given him a dollar, I placed the bill in his pocket as he began to make more bouquets. “Don’t’ bend over and loose that Henry.” I said in my most serious tone.
“Oh I won’t,” he said while bending over to collect more flowers.
I paused wondering what to say. Lowering my tone, I said, “That’s a one hundred dollar bill that I just put in your pocket.”
Henry looked at me. I looked at Henry. Now it was my time to be cheerful.
“One hundred dollars!” Henry stood up suddenly, flowers falling from his lap. “No now…” He fumbled trying to find the right words.
I stood up, gathered the blessing bouquets, and nodded yes. He knew I was leaving.
With hope renewed, I left for the restaurant
Getting darker – 8:00 pm - every street looks the same
I walk down one street – up another – I am directionless
Lost in a strange city in the dark. Not enough street lamps
Walking faster – bad feeling - deserted streets – so turned around and alone
I saw a silhouette on other side of the street coming closer –
Fear kicked in until I realized that the man had a stub for one arm and a hook for another.
“Kathleen, what are you doing around here by y-self?”
We walk together, Henry and me. He escorts me to the restaurant.
I know I’ll never see him again. But I’ll also never forget.
Thankfulness is a gift.