I’ve always been a fan of walking. Walking with friends or alone has always brought me joy. Last spring when I began teaching remotely from my house, I would slip out during the lunch hour to step away from my computer screen, get some fresh air and move my body. I would turn on a podcast, or some music and walk as quickly as I could over to a nearby elementary school.
Next to the school is a paved walking path that winds around a soccer field. At one end of the path is a trail leading into the woods where the school has a handful of beautiful outdoor classrooms. Some days, I meander among the trees and alongside the brook in the woods, noticing the beauty and stillness, but most of the time I find myself content to walk in circles around the paved path. The certainty of a rounded route brings me comfort. No decisions, just walking in a circle. It brings me freedom to let my mind wander.
The Man with a Limp
On one particular day in the spring, I saw a man walking on the other side of the path, limping as he took each step. From across the field, it seemed like one side of his body was shorter than the other. As I walked briskly, he moved very slowly and intently as if every step hurt. At the time, I was recovering from two foot surgeries, so I was keenly aware of moving forward through pain, which made me even more heightened to his presence.
As I came up behind him I felt nervous and guilty. Should I pass him? Will that make him feel bad? Should I say anything? Or just smile? Should I even make eye contact? On the first lap, I took the easy way out. I walked quickly by him, turned and nodded. He smiled back. I was surprised to see a chiseled face behind the shade of his hood. I continued around the track for another 20 minutes, and then headed home.
Almost every day that spring, I headed back to that track, and almost every time he was there, limping and walking. He was always there when I arrived, and still walking when I left.
His Physical Struggles Encouraged Me Amid My Weariness
As I walked, I would contemplate his endurance through his obvious struggle. Every step he took looked slow and painful. HIs left leg would lift and his right foot would stomp the concrete. Up, down, up, down. Meanwhile, I was at my wits end from the constant changes that COVID-19 was bringing to my daily routines. I was frustrated to be teaching eager fourth graders behind the relational barriers of a screen. Unsure of what the each day would bring, I was getting very weary of the shaky ground. And every day, the man was there, walking in circles.
One particular day, I was talking to God telling Him about my weariness. As I watched the man walk, I knew that God was answering my prayers as I watched him. He was encouraging me to keep walking through my struggles. If that man could, then I could. It felt like he and I were in this together, teammates. But he just didn’t know about it. It seemed we had a quiet agreement as we walked.
As the fall came, I happily headed back into the classroom for hybrid teaching, so my mid-day walks came to an end. Sometimes I would head over to the track in the evening, but he wasn’t there. My crazy mind sometimes wondered if he was even real, or did I imagine him? Was he an angel?
Christmas break arrived. Our trip to California was canceled. In my disappointment, I layered on my clothes to face the brisk winter and headed over to the path. And he was there. Dressed in sweats and a hoodie, there he was limping around the track.
This time it was different. As I came up next to him, with a smile on his face he said, “You’ve really got the hang of this, but you should slow down.” I smiled back, contemplated his words, and did another lap. The next time I came upon him, I turned and asked him how many laps he walks. I was shocked when his answer was “8 miles worth.” Astounded, I removed my earbuds. I asked, “How long does that take?” He answered, “About three and half hours.”
I slowed my pace and walked beside him. I proceeded to walk the next four laps with him. He talked and talked. He told me he is 57 years old. He lost his first wife and baby at 26 years old in a car accident. Remarried, he now has four daughters. His injury: a strained hip. He said the only thing that helps the pain is to consistently move through it. The only thing that helps the pain is to consistently move through it.
Encouragement was heaped on me simply by listening to his story. It was a clear reminder from an angel that life is hard. It is long, unplanned, heavy and often burdensome. But we weren’t called to carry it all; we are called to consistently move through it, putting one foot in front of the other.
The man, Paul, doesn’t even know what he taught me. He doesn’t know that for months I observed him, and wondered about his story, and admired his persistence and discipline. He doesn’t know that when he told me I should slow down, my husband had just suggested that same thing that morning. He doesn’t know that his words were echoing what God was teaching me.
He doesn’t know that when he told me to consistently keep moving forward, I would be still reflecting on those words a month later as I face parenting heartaches, my confusing emotions about the pandemic, work expectations and much more.
I am so glad I made the choice to ask him how many laps he walks. I’m so glad I slowed down my pace and walked those laps with him and heard part of his story. It widened my scope and reminded me that the world is not about me.
We all have stories, we all bear a lot of heartache. When we ask God to talk to us, He will. First through His word, and then through His people. His blessings abound. Sometimes in obvious ways, other times more obscure. Paul doesn’t know that we are teammates, but I do. Rather than alone, it’s so much easier when we consistently move forward together.
When it seems impossible to walk through your pain, listen to the stories of those who have been there and done it successfully: Behind Her Struggle With Alcohol With Lindsey Encinias – 161