Matthew 28:20 (New International Version)
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The nurse on the late night shift walked into her patient's room in the intensive care unit and checked on his IV's and heart monitors. The day before he'd suffered cardiac arrest. The seasoned caregiver sat down in the chair beside his bed to observe him for a moment, compassionately laying her hands upon his arm. She knew well the importance of caring and encouragement to patients in these critical first few days of a life-threatening crisis. Seeing him stir, she asked softly, "Are you awake?"
"Yes," he nodded.
When he opened his eyes and looked over at her, his need for comforting so spoke to her heart that she asked him if he wanted her to pray with him.
"Oh, yes," he murmured.
And so she did. Then, certain her patient would find added solace and strength from her favorite prose -- one she always carried with her-the nurse withdrew a piece of paper from her pocket and read:
"One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord. "When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
"This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. 'Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most, you would leave me.'
"The Lord replied, 'My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.'"
Pausing to let her patient savor the heartfelt prose -- and to dab at the tears it always brought to her eyes -- the nurse then smiled and patted his hand. Carefully she refolded the well-worn paper and gently slid the essential and invaluable balm back into her pocket. Over the years she had witnessed its healing power and knew it proved to be as calming as any sedative she administered. "No matter how many times I read it, I still find it beautiful," she said, "such profound food for the heart and soul. It's called Footprints. I wish I could tell you who wrote it, but I don't know who did."
"I do," the man replied, love-filled memories once again transporting him back in time. Thinking he wasn't fully conscious because of the medications he was being given, the nurse didn't give much thought to his comment. But Paul Powers, the patient, did know the author. She was his wife -- as well as his professional partner, the mother of his children and the love of his life.
The prose the nurse had read began as a love story-his own.
When Paul proposed to Margaret, some 30 years before, she was happy, yet hesitant. She and Paul had such different backgrounds. Margaret knew the choice of a husband was one of the most important decisions she would ever make. She asked herself the questions most brides-to-be pose to themselves. Could a marriage between them work? Margaret felt that despite their shared values and faith, there remained obstacles to their happiness. Doubts assailed her.
The day of the proposal they'd traveled to a conference as part of Paul's work with a youth ministry. Stopping at a nearby beach, they decided to take a walk along the shore to discuss marriage and its importance.
Walking along, one moment speaking seriously and the next laughing as they dashed in and out of the waves rolling onto the shore, they were young and in love, filled with hopes and dreams. Still, Margaret had her doubts. What would her parents say? Was she ready to marry? Did she and Paul fully understand the responsibilities of marriage? Were they ready to commit their lives to such a partnership? Could they weather turbulent times? As they reached a point on the beach where they decided they should turn around and go back, Margaret glanced down and noticed their footprints had been washed away by the tide. Thinking it was an omen, Margaret pointed at the shore and remarked, "Maybe that's what will happen to us... Maybe our dreams are all going to wash away."
Undaunted, Paul replied, "When things are tough for you, I'll help you. And when things are tough for me, you'll help me. We will help each other. That's the way a good marriage works." But as they continued walking, Margaret once again glanced down, this time noticing that only one set of prints had been washed away. Again Margaret was disturbed by what she saw, thinking it didn't bode well for their future. "Well, if our married life is to be like this," she said, pointing out the single set of prints, "we don't stand much of a chance." At this, Paul gently swooped his love up onto his shoulders and carried her along the beach. Finally setting her down, he said, "Margaret, I want to impress upon you that when life gets so bad that it seems there's nothing we can do to help each other, God will carry us." Then, pointing at the single set of footprints the two of them had just created, Paul explained, "Judging from the tracks we just made, you couldn't tell that I carried you, but I did. And that's the way it works with God."
The turmoil, confusion and uncertainty Margaret was feeling over whether or not it was right for her to marry Paul would bring forth an impassioned repartee, one that would produce a pearl for the whole world. Certainly she found Paul's words fortifying and reassuring in relation to the weight of her deciding on marriage. Here was a man who vowed he would be with her through good times, bad times, all times: It was a wondrous thing to have found Paul, a loving, kind and good man, and one so committed to the spiritual beliefs they both shared. She did believe that God would carry them when as a couple they were unable to bear their troubles alone.
But Paul's words carried significance beyond the two of them. As a Christian woman she knew how encompassing God is, and so this promise of support would be not only be available to the two of them, but a gift available to anyone: All of us at one time or another experience tough times, heartache or loneliness and when we do, we need comforting. While others may reach out to love us and offer us solace, no one can mollify what ails us and replace our heartache with the serenity and strength that a power greater than ourselves can. Like the caretaking arms of a loving earthly father willingly offer solace to his child, the loving and faithful arms of her heavenly Father would reach out to offer everyone even more: Through our times of most profound need, any and all of us would be carried.
That night, as these thoughts stirred within her, Margaret recalled Paul's words and envisioned their enactment. So moved by this, Margaret got up and, recollecting the words so clearly etched on her heart, placed pen to paper and "Footprints," a piece that is loved the world over -- a piece brought about after hours of wrestling with the darkness of doubt and despair -- was recorded.
Today, Paul and Margaret continue to work side by side in youth and children's ministries, and they have two grown daughters. Through the years, just as Paul promised, they have helped each other. Footprints, the outcome of Margaret's turmoil continues to comfort them, and so many others during times of struggle -- just as it gave Paul comfort while recovering from a heart-attack. In fact, "Footprints" is one of the most widely distributed inspirational pieces in print. Even when the original manuscript of "Footprints," packed in a box with other documents, was lost by a moving company when the author and her family relocated across country, the prose refused to be lost to readers in need of its comfort and strength, and began to appear printed anonymously.
Years later, Margaret Fishback Powers proved that she is the legal and rightful author. It has since become one of the most treasured pearls in all the world, literally worn by millions as they confront their own heavy hearts-and turn their eyes heavenward for comfort during "the very lowest and saddest times" of their lives. Hearing the words, "My precious child, I love you and would never leave you," our hearts are touched by a soul-deep knowledge that we are precious in His sight, and that we are in His sight always. With these words, we know that we are loved and sustained unconditionally, and are granted the succor of a sense of connection with the greatest caretaker of all.
The omnipotent lustrous pearl of "Footprints" reminds us that we are never, ever, alone.
Dear Lord we thank You for always being there. We thank You for carrying us when things are tough. In Jesus’ Name, Amen