Gratitude Forsaken

I was made to think, today.

I had finished a graveside service over in Madison and was driving home in pouring rain across a little country road. There was a couple walking along the road in the direction I was going. I had seen them walking that same road, a little further up, on my way to the service earlier in the morning.

I never stop for hitchhikers unless they are somebody I know. It's just not a safe thing to do these days. If you don't know who you are picking up, then you don't know what their moral compass is (or if they even have one), whether they are high, or what their intentions are.

But, I stopped this morning for this couple in the rain. I asked them if they needed a ride. They were so grateful as they climbed into the Jeep.

They were a younger couple. Well, late 20's or early 30's -- that's "younger" to me now. He looked like someone who had done physical labor at some time, looking at his hands and his build. She was pregnant.


I asked them where they were going. He said that they had to get to Farmington to pay some bills. Now, I know a lot of people who would not cross the street to pay their bills. Many of them are preachers. I know, I know. We are not supposed to say that out loud. But my family has been left in very difficult predicaments far too many times after I have done work for a preacher, only to get the "check's in the mail" line and never hear from them again. Most preachers are honest and prompt, but I have to say that I have been cheated far more times by preachers across the country than I have by people in the local business community.

But, here is this young couple, who obviously have very little to their name, walking miles across back roads, in the rain, to pay some bills.

There was a turn coming up in about 5 miles. Farmington was left, but my home was right. I told them I would take them to a little convenience store on the next road, where at least they could get out of the rain and maybe find another ride down to Farmington. They were so incredibly grateful that I would take them that far.

I knew, though, that I was going to take them all the way to Farmington. I don't know if it was the Holy Spirit pushing me on, or just my own pity for their situation, but the moment I told them I would take them as far as the store, I knew I was going all the way. Over the miles, we talked about almost everything: God, church, work, family, the Bible, Maine, who they were, and what they were doing.

They were homeless, staying here and there with friends wherever they could get a bed. He had been in the Army and later worked in Maine. He was unable to work anymore, because of a back injury that left him with two rods in his spine. I don't know the whole story, and I didn't ask. But, I do know that many who legitimately end up depending on SSI disability income get less than $700 per month.

Less than $700. A month. And they are supposed to live on that, and take care of their family.

I know of no family shelter north of Waterville or Lewiston that would allow a family to stay together. So, getting to a place where there was a shelter to live in would mean leaving family and friends -- their whole support network.

As we talked, I began to feel very low. Not out of pity for their situation, but out of remorse for the way I had dealt with my own. During these last few weeks, I had been dancing with self-pity a lot. (Who said Baptists don't dance?) But suddenly, all of my problems seemed so small as I talked to this couple who had no home, no car, and almost nothing for money. They were walking miles, in the rain, just to do what they had to do.

And, to think, I was feeling so sorry for myself. Yet, I had a vehicle to drive when I needed to go somewhere. As bad as any day might be, I had a comfortable chair to sit in -- in my own home -- at the end of the day. No matter how tight money had got, I always had food, electricity, and even internet service. Yes, there was great sacrifice that went along with these things, but I had them!

As I considered their circumstances and how grateful they were for "little" things, I considered how ungrateful I had been for all that I had. By most people's standards, I have little or nothing, but by these folks' standards, I was a rich, rich man. It hurt, because I knew better, yet I chose the path of self-pity and ungratefulness for needs that went unmet and painful circumstances created by somebody beyond my control -- when I could have, and should have, chosen simple gratitude for what God has given me.

They had no place to call their own. They had no transportation. They had no phone (it had been run over). Everything they owned was in a backpack which they carried.

I have so much in comparison.

I am grateful that God had them cross paths with me today. I have never seen them before and probably will never see them again, but I'm glad that they (unknown to themselves) helped put a right perspective back into my life. They helped me far more than I helped them.

I am so rich. I am so blessed. I hope that I don't forget that again.

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