There is a fairly well-known poem that you may have heard of called, “Footprints in the Sand.” It involves someone looking back on his life with the Lord and seeing the past represented by two sets of footprints on a beach. The man notices that during some of his most difficult times, there is only one set of footprints. Confused, the man asks God, “Why did you leave my side during my most trying times?” Lovingly, God reminds the man that he never left his side. Instead, the times when there was only one set of footprints were the times that God picked the man up and carried him.
Even as a 47-year-old man, I’m not ashamed to admit that I have needed to be carried by others in my life. At seven years old, I had just been through a very confusing time. Having been raised in a loving environment by my grandparents for six years, then being betrayed by my parents in an abusive eight-month relationship, I found myself desperately needing a strong father figure. My adopted father stepped up and filled that role in my life when I needed it most.
Having spent the first six years of my life in upstate New York, I had an affinity for snow. My adopted parents lived in a quaint home nestled in the mountains of western Virginia. The house was surrounded by thousands of acres of National Forest. Throughout those woods were miles of trails—trails that in the summer served as my bike paths. In the winter months, those same trails were transformed into the paths one might find in the magical land of Narnia. Our location and elevation provided the perfect ingredients for snowstorms when they tracked up the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. Occasionally, the timing of my new father being home from work on the weekend and a nor’easter moving up the East Coast worked out just right to create one of my most cherished childhood memories.
The first flakes might begin falling around midday. Within minutes, the snow fell with more intensity and filled the air. The frozen ground quickly became coated in white. By 4:00 p.m., the sun was setting behind the mountain and a few inches of snow blanketed the ground. In preparation for our adventure, my father and I would place our boots, gloves, coats, hats, and overalls around the wood stove to warm them up. Outside, the world grew darker, but the snow reflected enough light to create a scene from a Thomas Kinkade painting. When our gear was fully warmed, we suited up to make our way into the frozen landscape outside. As we stepped out of the mudroom off the kitchen, the hushed world in white enveloped us. Neither of us spoke. We simply absorbed the beautiful scenery around us. The sound and feel of snow falling are things that you never forget: snowflakes hitting the dry leaves in the trees above, bouncing off your shoulders, landing on your eyelashes, and in my father’s case, on his red-tinged beard.
Quietly, we made our way across the yard to the path in the woods—two sets of footprints, one enormous, the other small. With our eyes adjusted to the lower light, we made our way down the path. The smell of pines and snow combined with the cold, damp air and entered our noses. Clouds of warm breath hung in the air as we trudged through the half-foot of freshly fallen snow.
If we talked at all, it was little. Now wasn’t the time for talking. Now was the time for silence and letting the sanctity of the moment sink in. Plus, one never knew when an owl might fly overhead or a startled deer might bound out of a nearby thicket. On and on we would walk, just a young boy and his father, neither, for the moment, with a care in the world. Behind us, the same two sets of footprints were being filled in by the still falling snow.
Eventually, my smaller legs would start to become weary. And somehow sensing this, my new father would place his gloved hands under my armpits and with the greatest of ease lift me high into the air upon his shoulders. The two sets of footprints now became one. With snowflakes gently kissing my face, I rode confidently and comfortably upon my father’s broad shoulders as we headed, slightly cold, but with warm spirits, back toward the inviting glow of home.
Having placed our wet gear back around the wood stove to dry, we would sit together at the kitchen table talking over cookies and milk as the storm continued to rage outside.
Several years later, my father’s strong legs that once carried me at a critical time in my life were crushed in a horrific accident. But that’s another story for another time.
When I needed it most, the two sets of footprints became one. We all have to be carried from time to time. And we must never let those who carried us forget how much we appreciate them. For even in our darkest hours, when we felt like we couldn’t go on any further, there was someone there to lift us up.