Oh, the stories people tell. Not always good ones mind you, but the kind that will make you fall down on your knees and thank the good Lord up above that you don’t have a story like that.
In e-mails, letters, calls and in person, people will strip bare their lives and share their tribulations with me. Pride melts away and honest humility seeps in and soaks them to the bone. They put on no airs, nor do they try to pretty up the ugliness. They just tell it like it is and how it is often has me in tears as I clasp their hands and try to squeak out words of encouragement.
She was a tiny little thing, the size of an underweight 10-year-old girl. But she was a grown woman with plenty of heartache to bear. She sat by me at a women’s church event at which I was speaking and the small talk somehow turned to serious talk.
It was hard to make ends meet, she said, after her husband had up and left her and those three children.
She smiled tiredly. “I hadn’t worked in 16 years and I couldn’t find a job. I clean houses and I’m thankful for the money it brings in.”
She dropped her head. “He’s fighting me for custody because he doesn’t want to pay child support. It takes every penny I can scrape together to pay the attorney. He keeps dragging it out.”
On top of that, her mother had been diagnosed with MS and needed her, too.
There was another woman who wrote to thank me for writing “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’”
“Those stories,” she wrote, “are, besides the Lord, the one thing that keeps me goin’.” That’s another thing — they always lift me up when they can barely lift their own heads.
She explained that she had divorced her husband after she discovered he was a pedophile and had abused their daughter. She lost her job, went without one for two years, found another, then the company shut down after a year.
“I never imagined I’d be a single mother with no income living with my widowed mother but here I am.” She closed with words of inspiration and gratitude to me.
I’ve been in some bad places, but I’ve never been in those kinds of places. I’ve seen some hard times, but I never came close to touching a time as hard as that. By God’s grace, I suppose. Certainly not my own ingenuity or cleverness.
“No matter how bad you got it,” Mama used to say, “somebody else’s got it worse.”
In my youthful stupidity, I didn’t care about anyone else’s problems, only mine. All those problems seem so “piddley” as Mama would say. Time passed and with it, the problems resolved or dissolved. Most challenges and aggravations do just that, you know. They go away and then you look back and think, “Now, what was it that worried me so?”
Even now, I can barely conjure up any real tribulation to talk about. Jobs were lost and others were found. Roofs leaked and were fixed. Cars were wrecked and insurance companies paid.
There was that time that a hot water heater broke and flooded the house. That was a mess. But I cleaned it up.
Then, I, sad hearted, reached into a pitifully meager savings account and pulled out the money to replace it. But, at least I had a pitifully meager savings account. I’m embarrassed to admit now that, looking back, I wasn’t consoled by that.
Here’s what I think we all should do: Look around and see those who are suffering, those who are walking a road far rockier than ours and stretch out a neighborly hand.
And for those who have no idea how good they’ve got it, how blessed they are in life, introduce them to the other folks.