He trudged along the scorching pavement. His feet were scarred and blistered. Normally, he liked to start earlier in the day, when the sun had yet to melt the black asphalt into a molten tar that could fry eggs and sere skin, but today, he was not so fortunate. A series of events delayed his departure, so he found himself in the heat of the midday sun.
It was here, in this wasteland, where he had purged himself of his demons. Ten years since they clawed at his mind and pulled his soul down darkened alleys. Here, the bones of the past were buried deep where no one could find them.
Anyone who met him now would never know the shattered and wicked life he had led. Most of his adult life wasted, consumed by demons. Lies he held as truths and harms he inflicted to ease his own pain. They betrayed him, until their desire to totally control him betrayed themselves, making room for the opportunity to be free of them.
Long gone were those who had loved him and had tried to help him. His eyes downcast, he continued the memorial walk, forgiving those who had hurt him when they turned him away, and himself for putting them in the position to start with. He knew the fault lay with him and the choices he had made.
A car slowed, the driver looking his way to see if he was in need of assistance before picking up speed again. Probably wondering why a man in a well-dressed suit was walking barefoot in the middle of nowhere. The scowl he gave them added to the weathered and worn look, sure to stop anyone from approaching.
“Be with me,” he whispered. “They are near. I can feel them. Be with me.”
He saw the break in the bush ahead. To most, it would appear to be a place where perhaps a deer or wolf entered. He knew better. It was the path to redemption and forgiveness for whoever sought it.
Turning, he followed the path, adjusting the backpack that held his socks, shoes and a bedroll. Looking down, he noted his feet were already bleeding. Years ago, doctors had tried to make him understand that he must always wear proper foot protection, but this was a walk of cleansing, and of remembering. Remembering, so he would never forget.
The shadows appeared along the edges of the trees, slowly emerging towards him. Silently he called upon Michael, “Protect me, please.” It was all he ever needed to say. He trusted Michael, Archangel and defender of good against evil. He always delivered, he thought and had watched as the shadows receded back to where they came from. No demons would harm him here. Not unless he let them in, welcoming the dark and turning away from the light.
“Never again,” he said to himself and anyone within earshot. They heard him, he knew. He wouldn’t even need to verbalize the words, they would hear. He could feel the pull as he walked, but he knew he didn’t walk alone.
Turning, he headed toward the place of his salvation. He hadn’t known it at the time, but these woods saved his life. Drifting from place to place, he had ended up here. Torn clothing, no shoes, bloodied feet, and a shattered soul. He had set up camp next to a small lake where he could bath his weary body and rest. Several days passed, and he had stayed. The tepid water was soothing and refreshing and provided fish daily. To the left was a small rivulet that ran cool and crystal clear. The water was the purest he had ever tasted. There was a variety of berries at the water’s edge, and he had found root vegetables buried throughout the forest, so he had all the nourishment and fresh water he would need to survive.
The solitude was what he liked best about this place. Who had planted the berry bushes and vegetables he had never figured out, but he speculated in the years that followed, and believed they were his miracle. Every year since his return, they were nowhere to be found, but that year they were in abundance, as if they knew his need. “The Lord provides,” he said to himself.
God knew his need, and had fed him, both physically and spiritually. Not knowing it at the time, he had just felt lucky. It wasn’t until ‘the experience’ that he learned otherwise. Sitting beside the lake, he rolled the legs of his pants to his knees and submerged his bleeding feet as he had done every year.
“I’m here, Lord. Pretty sure you know that already, but as promised, I’m here.” He watched as the waters swirled around his aching feet and blisters disappeared, cuts closed, and skin rejuvenated. “Thank you for your mercy and grace.”
Pulling out a towel, his socks and shoes from the backpack, he dried and covered his feet and then reached in and pulled the small sleeping bag stowed at the bottom. He knew it might be days until the Lord spoke to him, but He always did. In the meantime, he would watch the sunset and recall the past – the reason he made this trek every year, on the same day.
Ten years ago, such a long time, and yet, it felt like yesterday. He had bathed in the waters, ate and sat watching the sunset when the water rippled as if someone were wading in it. When he looked closer he saw Him, the image of him anyway.
“I need a drink,” he had said. The Lord appeared, saying, “Drink in the waters of the Holy Spirit, abandon your demons and walk with me.” He had fallen to his knees, for he knew he was in the presence of the Lord, and then he begged forgiveness. A weight lifted that he hadn’t realized he had been carrying, and he wept until the Lord told him to rise and be made new.
They talked for a while, and he promised to return every year. The Lord promised to also return, asking only that he go, and live a life free from sin. He knew the struggle ahead, but He had promised that he would never walk alone.
When the Lord finally left, he felt a new joy within that he hadn’t known before. His body had been healed and his spirit renewed. There was also a longing, and an emptiness that fell upon him after the Lord disappeared. “I am with you always,” said the Lord. “Even when you cannot see me. Go, now, and proclaim the good news, restoring hope where it has been lost. Go in peace, my son.” It took him a while to realize his clothes were no longer torn and his sores had been healed. He had left and did as he was bade.
Every year, he returned and walked into the forest, to this oasis, as he had before. A reminder to never forget where he came from and what had happened here. The Lord always returned as promised, and the waters healed. Every year, he renewed and strengthened his faith, and every year, the Lord gave him specific instructions. He had gone from being a lost and forsaken sinner to a redeemed and forgiven messenger.
What the coming years would hold for him he could not say, but he feared them not for he never walked alone. For now, he sat and waited for the Lord to return as promised; a sinner, saved by the love of the Lord.
If you liked this faith story you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.