Sometimes it takes seeing others suffer to awaken us to how blessed we are. It’s as though God catches us by the sleeve and says, “Look across the street, down the road, over the hill. You can learn from those folks: They know what pain is. They know what it means to be disappointed and yet they praise me.”
I had such an experience when I was a young mother. One evening I set out for a nearby mall for some time alone—to shop, to think, to enjoy the cool night air. On the walkway in front of my favorite department store a young woman sat in a wheelchair. Two little girls stood beside her. She had a tiny, deformed frame, shiny blond hair and gnarled hands. I shivered, wondering what it would be like to be so restricted.
I continued past them into the store. Later, on the way back to my car, I was startled to see them still there.
“Is anything wrong?” I asked.
Nothing could have prepared me for the woman’s speech. Each syllable a separate battle, she gulped and searched carefully for words.
“We ordered a cab nearly two hours ago and it hasn’t come.” Then she reached out for my hand. “Thank you for stopping. People usually don’t.”
I didn’t admit that I’d hesitated. I had wanted that evening all to myself.
“I can do most things other women can even though I’m in this chair.” She patted it lovingly. “It just takes me a little longer. And I have my daughters,” she added, reaching out for them. “They help me. I have a lot to be thankful for.”
My eyes filled with tears. I felt ashamed of the selfish thoughts that had enslaved me all evening. I had been eager to get away from my blessings: my kids, my husband, my dog, my home. She, on the other hand, considered even her wheelchair a gift. I had a lot to learn, and she was teaching me, whether she realized it or not.
“Why don’t I drive you home?” I asked. “Where do you live?”
“Over there,” the older girl said, pointing to an apartment complex about a half mile away.”
“That’s not far,” I said. “Let’s go.” I motioned in the direction of my car.
The girls wheeled their mother to my car and helped her get in. Then they collapsed the wheelchair and put it into the trunk. They were obviously experienced. I watched in awe.
I introduced myself and the girls’ mother did the same.
“I’m Katie,” she said, “and these are my daughters, Lisa and Laurie.”
A few minutes later we pulled up to their apartment building, and brown-eyed Laurie said, “We can make it from here. Thanks for the ride.”
“Thank you!” I called after them.
I drove home, eager to hug and kiss my husband and children, pet the dog, and embrace my life. Pain! What did I know about pain? Not much, when I compared my life to Katie’s. But she didn’t focus on what she didn’t have; rather, she embraced what she did have. She recognized her blessings, easily overlooked by others, and gave thanks.