a collection of steps

Mary’s Shoes

Mary was a lovely widow who lived alone in a ranch-style house, fully equipped for her own physical challenges.

We have been friends for years. I watched her mourn the death of two husbands, conquer a broken leg, courageously face – and beat – breast cancer and then heal completely from another fracture in the same leg she broke five years earlier.

I wiped her tears, sat at her feet, read her stories and listened to radio preachers with her. We prayed for people we heard about on the news, prayed for each other’s families, prayed for the rain to stop and the sun to come out. Mary and I counseled, challenged and encouraged each other. I thought I completely understood her pain and health struggles until the first night I spent in her home with two broken feet.

March 20, 2005, I was on my way to church for the evening. As I walked down our back steps, my husband, who was standing behind me in the doorway, asked when I’d be home.  The question interrupted my cautious descent and within a blink of an eye my feet tangled and dropped sideways on the bottom step. I heard multiple cracks as my body crashed to the ground.

I lay screaming on the cold lawn, rolling back and forth on my back as my husband tried to help me up.  Teeth clenched and hyperventilating, I told him my diagnosis and that I should not be moved. He was skeptical, but my escalated screams drove him back inside to dial 911.

The ambulance took a year to arrive. When it did, I was quickly shackled in a neck brace and placed on a stiff board. Gingerly, they backed down our bumpy driveway and made it down our “S” curve street. Every turn, every pothole, every stop was excruciating. An eight-minute drive to the hospital took an hour in that blaring metal box.

My self-diagnosis was correct: both feet were broken; the right foot was worse than the left, but needless to say, life changed.

Meanwhile in her home in the next town, Mary was praying. That’s what Mary did all day, every day. She was in bed talking to God when my husband’s first phone call came from the ER.

What do you want me to do Lord? How can I help these kids?, she prayed. Her answer was clear and when my husband called back to confirm my condition, she offered us her home.

It was perfect for me. But God knew that the arrangement would not just meet my physical needs. Our days together would fill needs we didn’t know we had, needs of companionship, of service and sacrifice. So my husband took me to Mary’s, got me on the couch and placed everything I needed close by–except food.

At 3 a.m. the morphine wore off.  I had my cell phone, a glass of water, pain pills and a potty-chair, but I was convinced I had to have food to take my medicine and in frustration and helplessness I began to cry.

My tears turned to sobs as I realized I could be stranded with throbbing feet and no relief for seven more hours. I talked myself out of calling my husband a hundred times, knowing that even if he heard the phone, it would take several hours for him to get there from another town. I called out for Mary but knew she couldn’t hear me. In desperation, I inched off the couch, crawled on my hands and knees across the room and grabbed my wheelchair. Since I couldn’t touch either foot to the floor, I couldn’t get back on the couch to get up into the wheelchair.

I cried louder. An hour later I was in my wheelchair but I couldn’t figure out how to put the removable arms and legs on. Finally, my sobs woke Mary. She came out with her walker, went to the kitchen, grabbed some graham crackers, made two ice bags for my feet and asked if we could listen to Adrian Rogers on the radio. I chewed on crackers and swallowed my Vicodin.  She turned up the preacher. He read from the Bible in Philippians, Chapter 4:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

My heart was calm. I knew I had to focus my thoughts on what was good about my situation. But deeper than that, I realized I had a new hero.

Mary lived alone with no one to help her do the simplest daily tasks. There is no one to call at 3 a.m. when she can’t reach something she needs. Sure, she had most everything positioned for easy reach, but all those days as she was adjusting to her physical limitations, just like I was that night, she made it through.

I realized that night that I may not be able to walk, but I was finally wearing Mary’s shoes…and they were ruby slippers.

Mary Bell Karmenzind 1931 – 2009

  1. I also knew Mary as a wonderful, courageous women of God who was so full of love, peace, and prayers that it seemed like God’s love just spilled from her when she was near you. I met her at 18 at a crucial point in my life. She drove me to be a stronger Christian, to always believe and prayer, and love everyone. Without her prayers, I’m sure I never would have made it through nursing school, or create a new children’s program so needed in our neighborhood. I’m sorry Mary that you couldn’t see Randon and I’s wedding in person, but I know that you will be smiling down on us forever. Thank you for all your prayers and love.

    • Holly, thanks so much for your nice comment about Mary. She was all of that to so many of us! I’m just thrilled that she is finally able to walk and run with her own feet and be in the presence of Jesus always, it’s all she ever wanted. Cheryl

  2. Oh Cheryl I’m sitting here with tears streaming. I am so very lucky that her and dad choose me as there own. To raise me and show me GODS LOVE. I thank you for the tribute you gave mom at her service. When I read this story it makes me see mom walking to the kitchen totally worried and praying as hard as she could. You were a blessing to her even though you were hurt. But God knew she sure would enjoy the company. Miss her lots but know that she has a new body and is with her HEAVENLY FATHER and my Dad. She sure was a stronger woman then she gave herself credit for. Love her and miss her. So glad I had the last 2 yrs while she was her to bond. We got very close again being 19hrs from her was hard when I would have to head back home. But thank GOD he gave me the last yrs to become mom and daughter everyday. Again thank you for being her friend. God Bless.

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