I was living a lie, horrified of the day when everyone would learn the truth. For years I had managed to keep the facade in place, but it was all about to come crashing down. My wife was ready to leave, my kids had become distant, growing more and more rebellious by the day and my business was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Soon, the truth would be known to all.
Each morning, just after sunrise, an older man with beautiful white hair and tanned weathered skin strolled down the beach. Even in the distance I could tell it was him with his bright blue t-shirt, yellow polyester shorts, a sandal in each hand and a plaid windbreaker tied around his waist. I wondered if he owned any other clothes. When he was directly in front of my home, he would stop, turn his head and look my way, then grin and wave with a sandal. I looked forward to that.
Besides his colorful attire, he had one other quirk, he walked with a limp. Maybe an old injury or perhaps just old age. As I took another sip, it struck me, take the guy a cup of coffee. I jumped up, spilling coffee on my robe, rushed to the bedroom, slipped on my wranglers, and donned a hoodie. I poured fresh coffee into two cups with spill proof lids. Good thing, ‘cause at the bottom of the steps I took off in a barefooted full-on sprint to catch him.
Out of breath, all I could say when I caught him was, “Hi, I’m Mike, thought you might like a cup of coffee.” He stopped and smiled with a warmth that made me feel like his best friend.
“Sure would, young man,” he answered. He switched both sandals to his left hand and reached out with his right. “My name is Jeremiah, nice to meet you Mike.”
I thought for a second, then placed the cup in my right hand against my chest and held it there with my left arm, we shook hands. “Nice to meet you too. I hope you like your coffee black.”
“I see you walking every morning, would you mind a little company today?”
“Not at all, please, join me.”
He took a sip then returned to his steady stride. “So peaceful in the morning, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is Jeremiah, is that why you walk here?”
“Mostly, but every now and then I make a new friend,” he said with that remarkably compelling smile.
“I wouldn’t know much about that; honestly, I don’t think I have even one real friend.”
“Well, I know a lot of people. But I’m never sure if they’re a friend or just want something. If things got tough, doubt I could count on a one of them… and I cannot believe I just told you that.”
“That’s quite alright Mike…sometimes a guy just needs to say what he’s been thinking, out loud, brings a little clarity.”
“Yeah, maybe so… Forgive me for asking, but I noticed you walk with a bit of a limp, may I ask what happened?”
“Sure, but it’s a long story, you got time?”
“Well, let’s sit for a while and I’ll tell you.”
“Don’t look it now, but in 1971 I was considered a promising athlete. I was in my mid-twenties and had qualified for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, track and field. I ran the 800 and 1500. You familiar with track?”
“Yes, did you win a medal?”
“Nope, never even competed.”
“Really, what happened?”
“That’s where this story begins, Mike. When you qualify for the Olympics with a world record time, you become an instant celebrity. The press fawns over you and everyone wants to be your friend.” He looked me in the eyes, “I think maybe you know that feeling.”
“I was on my way, full of hope, convinced I was something special. And soon the world would know that too. When you’re young and everyone’s telling you that you’re extraordinary, it’s easy to believe. I bought the lie, hook, line and sinker.”
“But it wasn’t a lie, Jeremiah, you held a world record.”
“Yeah well… Twice a week I worked on building endurance with a five-mile run. Usually ran before supper. But one dreadfully humid day, I decided to avoid the late afternoon heat and run after dark. We didn’t use reflective gear much in those days; I ran on the shoulder of the road wearing a white t-shirt and shorts. I was running on autopilot, dreaming about the Olympics, seeing myself crossing the finish line first, in record time, of course.
It was the screech of tires that brought me back. The last thing I remember was turning my head toward that awful sound before all went quiet. A few days later I awoke in intensive care, tubes and lines stuck everywhere. Nurses were prodding, poking, and asking me all kinds of strange questions.
Next day, a team of doctors walked in, all wearing a serious, bad news look on their face. The older doctor spoke for the group. ‘Jeremiah, I’m Dr. Williams, your surgeon. You received a serious blow to the head when you were hit by that pickup. We had to induce a coma to reduce the swelling in your brain. Thankfully, the swelling subsided and we were able to wake you yesterday.’
He started at the top and worked his way down. ‘We can’t detect any problems with your speech at this time, but we are not yet sure about your motor skills. You have other serious injuries as well. All the ribs on your left side are broken, your left femur is broken in two places along with your left ankle. You’ll be in that body cast for three months, minimum. Then, you will certainly require physical therapy. We won’t know the extent the brain injury has affected your motor skills until then.’
“I asked the obvious. When will I be able to run?”
He hesitated, and with all the compassion he could muster, ‘I’m sorry Jeremiah, you won’t. You’ll be lucky to walk again.’
“That was all I needed to know.
For a few days there was a steady stream of visitors wishing me well. That parade didn’t last long. Members of the press waited for their opportunity to interview me. But I came to understand that it wasn’t so much because they cared, it had a lot more to do with photos ops and ratings.
The doctors were right, I never fully recovered. I had lived for years with the all-consuming Olympic dream, and now it was gone. One by one, my so-called friends evaporated into their busy lives. I was alone and completely lost. When you lose it all, Mike, you quickly learn who you are and what you believe. I didn’t like what I learned.”
“Over the next few years, I drifted, trying everything you can imagine too fill the emptiness and kill the pain of loneliness. Nothing worked, until I met the woman who is now my wife. We just celebrated our 45th anniversary.”
“She must be quite the woman.”
“Yes, Shirley is… One evening, I was wandering the streets of the city. It was the music that caught my attention. I entered through the side door of the small church as inconspicuously as possible. Then sat hunched over in the back row with my elbows on my knees and my face buried in the palms of my hands. A choir was singing the most beautiful song I had ever heard, Amazing Grace. For the first time since the accident, tears streamed down my cheeks. A heavy weight was being lifted from my shoulders.
I’m not sure how long I had been sitting before I sensed someone next to me. I hoped whoever it was would leave. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, ‘are you okay,’ she asked, words filled with compassion. I slowly raised my head and turned to see who this might be. Her smile was captivating.”
‘May I bring you a cup of coffee or tea?’
“How could I refuse. From where I sat, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Our conversation continued until the pastor informed us it was time to lock up. She must have sensed I wasn’t dangerous, she invited me to walk her home. That’s how we met. One year later we were married. But it’s what happened in those twelve months before we were married that changed my life forever.”
“So, tell me, Jeremiah, you have my attention.”
“Mike, she introduced me to Jesus. She told me that He loved me and that He had given His life for me. She said He wanted me to experience a blessed life on this earth and eternal life with Him. She helped me see that life isn’t about what I have or have not accomplished, the good or the bad that I have done, but a relationship with Him.
She also said He had one condition I must fulfill to receive what He offered. It was absolute, no exceptions. By faith, through His grace I had to accept and believe He was the Son of the only true God. That He had given His life for my sin, had risen from the dead and that I was forgiven of past, present, and future sins.
Shirley warned me. ‘If you accept His offer, your life will never be the same.’
“She was right.”
“Have you ever regretted your decision, Jeremiah?”
“Not for a second, it’s what made this life worth living.”
He again looked me in the eyes. “Maybe you should give Him a try.”
“Maybe I will.”
He stood to his feet. “Have a blessed day, Mike.”
For some strange reason, I sat there and said nothing as he turned and walked away. That was the last time I would see Jeremiah. When I inquired if anyone knew him, no one ever recalled having seen this white-haired man walking the beach. I think that might explain why being hospitable toward strangers has become a habit. Never know when you might be entertaining an angel.
Now, in the early mornings, my wife and I can be seen sitting on the deck, each with a cup of coffee and Bible in hand. Every now and then, I still catch myself staring down the beach looking for the man who walked with a limp. And by the way, my best friends, they all walk with a limp.