Walter was among a group of poor young men from North Carolina who would take their Job Corps breaks and ride the bus to San Antonio, Texas. Our church was near the bus depot which made it a natural first stop for those guys. Seemingly at random, they would show up at our church, and our tiny congregation would take them in.
My family “adopted” Walter. I don't think anyone decided, it just happened. Consequently, on those weekends he would come to our house and blend right into our family activities. We never knew in advance when Walter was going to show up, but we always looked forward to it.
They say luck favors the prepared, but Walter's early life did not set him up for any of those favors. With a second-rate education, a severe speech impediment, and black skin, Walter's future did not exactly look like the American Dream. Walter, however, was humble and very lovable and, though he was our senior by a decade, my brother and I thought the world of him.
My family moved to northern Minnesota in 1975 and some years passed. In 1979 Walter made the trip to visit us up north. At that point my brother and I were in our late teens and we did everything we could to impress Walter.
One very fateful morning while “enjoying” my mom's infamous pancakes, my brother and I regaled Walter with all of our elaborate schemes to become excessively wealthy. Walter, who was by that time locked into a life of low-paying menial labor, patiently took it all in until we were finished. When we finally shut up, Walter simply said, “I'm laying up my treasures in heaven.”
Wow! Talk about cutting me off at the knees. You could say he took me down a few pegs, but really he took me up. Walter was, of course, referring to the teaching of Jesus that concluded with, “You cannot serve God and money.”
I was deeply inspired by Walter's humility and his steadfast refusal to covet what he could not have. He was free from the bondage of pursuing happiness in a place it could not be found. That event took place over thirty-five years ago, and I am still inspired. I know and have known many wealthy people in my life. I have even met a few billionaires. My observation is that Walter had more satisfaction in his life than any of those wealthy people could imagine.
I once saw a sign that read: Before you try to get where someone else is, check to see if they are happy there.