A Heaven-Sent Miracle Saved His Son’s Life

A mysterious encounter with a peculiar woman reminds him to trust God.

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Posted in , Jan 25, 2022

ILLUSTRATION BY ESTHER PEARL WATSON

There wasn’t the slightest breeze that hot morning, but I had three more hours of work to do before I could go home to my family in Ohio. Masonry work had dried up there recently, but my friends Bill and Eli needed help with some of their jobs in West Virginia. So I’d reluctantly left my wife and daughters behind on our farm and taken the trip down with my 14-year-old son, Doug. I hoped things weren’t too much to handle back home. My wife tried to be reassuring. But I felt pulled in two directions.

Doug and I had spent the week helping to build a retaining wall for a church parking lot. We just had to finish the last course of block, the top row, to complete the job, and we were waiting for the final delivery.

“Almost eight a.m.,” Bill said. “The slush block’ll be here any minute.” I looked up the road, impatient. Much as I enjoyed the chance to work with Doug and earn some money, I was more than ready to go home.

I climbed up the scaffolding we’d set up by the wall and took a good look at the West Virginia mountains. We had nothing like them back in the flatlands of northwest Ohio. I’d never seen such strength and beauty as in those Appalachian hills. As I let my gaze sweep over them, a movement caught my eye.

An animal? I thought. It was moving slowly at the top of the ridge. Probably feeding.

“Dad!” Doug called. “The block is here!”

I got busy. Eli stocked the scaffolding with block, and Doug mixed the mortar we’d use to lay this course. The mixer was heavy—about 500 pounds—with a hook on the lid and a shaft handle. But it was portable enough that we’d brought it to the site in the back of our truck.

Once the mortar was ready, Eli and Doug prepared to keep me supplied. Before we started, I glanced up again. The animal was still there. It made its way slowly down the side of the mountain. I peered more closely and realized it wasn’t an animal at all. It was a person. An old woman. Her back was curved forward so that the front of her dress almost touched her shoes. She had a scarf tied around her head. She leaned on a stick taller than herself— I guessed for balance.

“Hey, Bill,” I hollered. “Is there a road coming down that mountain?”

Bill looked where I was pointing. “Not a road,” he said. “Just a trail winding back and forth so the walk winding isn’t steep. Ends over at the edge of the church parking lot. Why?”

“Looks like there’s an older lady coming down,” I said. “She’s moving pretty slowly. Barely moving at all, actually. I was thinking it was a shame she couldn’t get a ride down.”

All heads turned to look.

“I see her,” said Bill. “She’ll get down eventually. She’s not in any danger.”

The walk would probably have taken Doug about 20 minutes. Maybe less. The other guys and me a little longer, at our age. But it seemed like the old lady would never make it down. I couldn’t get her off my mind. But I had to. My work was what needed my attention. This was no time for distractions. It was hard enough to keep my worries off my family at home.

Our crew worked steadily on the wall, moving down the scaffolding, laying the block. From time to time, as we worked, I glanced back at the hill to check the old lady’s progress. It was very slow but steady.

Little by little the wall took shape. The closer we got to the end, the more determined I was to finish, the less I checked up on the mysterious lady on the mountain. It took us about three hours to work from one end of the wall to the other. Just what I’d figured. By the time we were done, the wall was 200 feet long and 6 feet high.

“Hey, Byron!” Bill called. “Looks like you got a friend coming. She’s got her eye on you!”

Friend? I thought. Then I saw her. It was the old lady, walking across the parking lot. I expected her to go straight to the church. Instead she was coming right for me. She wasn’t moving any faster, and her steps were just as careful and deliberate. Despite her hunched posture she didn’t seem fragile. Her gaze was unflinching. Wisps of white hair poked out of her head scarf. She must have lived in these hills all her life.

The woman stopped below me, where I perched on the scaffold. “Do you know Jesus?” she demanded.

“Uh, yeah, I do,” I said, surprised. I looked around, self-conscious. Bill, Eli and Doug cleaned up, loading our tools into my trailer. My mind was already on the long drive Doug and I were about to make. I was hoping to get through the mountains and reach home before dark.

I climbed down from the scaffolding. The woman stared. Beyond her, the guys had almost finished packing the trailer. All that was left to do was load the last section of scaffolding I’d just climbed off of, rinse out the mixer and load it into the back of my pickup. I didn’t have time to chat.

While I had been climbing down, the old woman had rounded the end of the wall. She moved closer. She was practically on top of me. Right there in my face. “Do you go to church?”

“I don’t live around here, ma’am,” I said quickly, afraid she was going to ask for money. Or maybe she was trying to invite me to worship here. I softened my tone. “Back home my family and I go to church every Sunday,” I said. “Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve got equipment to load up. Please move back so you don’t get bumped or hurt.” It’s not as if she could move quickly if she had to.

“You know, it’s all about believing. Do you believe?”

I took a calming breath before I answered. I didn’t want to be rude. “Yes, ma’am, I do.”

The woman looked into my eyes for another second or two, then shuffled backward. She didn’t go far, but the five feet or so was enough to make me feel comfortable. She continued to watch me as I worked.

Doug and Eli tore down the last section of scaffolding and loaded it on the trailer. I rinsed out the mixer. Bill drove the truck close to the front of it. When the mixer was clean, I grabbed three wooden planks to use as a ramp to load the mixer onto the truck. Normally I use five planks. Two for each mixer wheel and one in the middle for me, pushing the mixer with the tongue.

“Where are the rest of the planks?” I called. “I only see three.”

“Oh, I think we loaded them,” said Doug. “Should we unpack them?”

That would take a while and I wanted to get on the road. With the job finished, that’s where most of my attention was now. “No, three should be enough. I’ll just use one for each wheel instead of two.”

Bill stood next to the right plank, ready to push on that wheel. Doug stood next to the left. Eli stood by at the ready.

“Ready?” I said.

I glanced back to make sure the old woman was safe. She hadn’t moved from her spot. I pushed the mixer from the third plank. Slowly, we rolled the mixer up until it was about tailgate height. And then—

CRACK!

The plank under the left wheel snapped in two. The mixer slammed down—on Doug! “Get it off him!” I yelled, jumping to grab hold of it. Time seemed to move in slow motion as we all got our hands under the mixer and pushed. Doug hadn’t made a sound. I didn’t know if he was conscious. Finally we got the mixer off him. Before I could reach down to him, my son stood up and brushed himself off. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say. “Are you all right?”

“Yep,” he said. “I’m totally fine.”

And he was. No cuts. No bruises. No broken bones. No pain.

My heart pounded a mile a minute and my hands trembled. How did the 500-pound mixer not injure him?

“Hey, Byron,” Eli said suddenly. “Where’d your friend go?”

I looked to the spot where the old lady had been standing. The old lady who’d taken three hours to make a 20-minute walk. The lady who’d been standing five feet away when the mixer fell.

She was gone. But her words stayed with me. All week I’d felt pulled in different directions, between work and family. But all I really needed to focus on was God. He watched over it all. Didn’t I believe, like the old woman asked? Now, for sure, I did.

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