Bethany House has a beautiful new anthology out. It's titled, Love Is A Flame (Stories of What Happens When Love is Rekindled), with a foreword by Gary Chapman. I was honored to be included in this collection of unique and moving stories and have decided to share my story, "The Shoes," here.
The incident I write about occurred many years ago, but I'm still quite embarrassed by my childish behavior every time I read the account again. But all's well that ends well, and that's what Love Is A Flame is all about.
As I walked through the dimly lit house one evening, I stumbled across my husband's size-13 tennis shoes. I went crashing to the floor, taking with me several picture frames from the coffee table.
Why can't he put his shoes in the closet? I mumbled to myself. He knows I hate tripping over them.
Just then my husband yelled from the back of the house, "What's all the racket about? Are you okay?"
That did it. "No, I'm not okay!" I hollered. "Not okay at all!"
Stan came to the door and stared down at me. I could tell he wanted to laugh, but he didn’t. "What happened?" he asked, innocently.
"Why can't you just put your stupid shoes in the closet, like normal people?" I grumbled, sitting up to inspect my wounds.
"Well, it might help if you'd turn a light on instead of wandering through the house in the dark," he said, smugly.
"That's beside the point, Stan. You know I've asked you dozens of times to stop leaving your shoes all over the house; they're like two sailboats. I’m serious. They’re dangerous."
We stared silently at each other across the floor. Saying nothing, he reached for the shoes and disappeared down the hall. I knew they'd be back. It was only a matter of time.
Later in the week, I arrived home and discovered five pairs of Stan's shoes in the living-room.
His house shoes camped under the edge of the couch. His work shoes decorated the hearth. His brown dress shoes jutted out from under the coffee table. His high-tops lay in front of the rocker. And those abominable tennis shoes glared at me in front of the grandfather clock.
Scowling at the slew of shoes, I had a malicious idea. Starting at one end of the living-room, I placed all ten shoes in a straight line until they reached the hallway. Breathing hard, I stood back and admired my work. He wouldn’t be able to get through the room without having to walk over them—or move them.
For a moment, I felt remorse. But the feeling passed and I attempted to justify my immature behavior. That'll serve him right, I said to myself. Let him see what it's like to maneuver around these boats. Better yet, let him see what it's like to have to put them all in the shoe rack.
I waited for his arrival home with much anticipation, but, to my dismay, the parade of shoes didn't seem to faze him. "What's this?" was all he said. The next time I looked, the shoes were gone. Still, I knew they'd be back. They always came back.
One day after driving my daughter to school, I returned home, made myself a cup of coffee, and settled on the couch for a time of devotion. I would try to ignore the familiar size-13 shoes scattered all over the room, but it was difficult. As I read from Thessalonians, I laughed out loud when my eyes came to rest on this verse in the fifth chapter: "Rejoice evermore."
"God," I said, half-laughing, "If you can give me one good reason to rejoice over these shoes, I'll be happy to do so."
Early next morning, I drove Stan to the airport. He was flying to Baltimore for the weekend to participate in the Houston firefighter's annual muscular dystrophy softball tournament. "Have a good time," I said, giving him a kiss at the gate. "See you Monday.” He waved me off.
I returned home late in the afternoon, switched on the radio, and started preparing dinner. Suddenly, I heard the newscaster saying, "Once again, there are no survivors in that plane crash."
For a moment, my heart stopped. I sat down at the kitchen table, my hands shaking. Plane crash? What plane crash? But the news was over. Fumbling frantically with the dial, I found another station and heard the tragic details: USAir, flight 427, had gone down from Chicago to Pittsburgh, killing all passengers on board.
Shocked by the news, I laid my head on the cold table and wept. Both from relief and sadness. Even though my husband was not on that plane, I realized how uncertain life is, and how numbing the shock must be for those families who had loved ones aboard.
That evening, after putting my daughter to bed, I stooped to remove Stan's tennis shoes from where he'd left them in front of the full-length mirror. But instead of putting them away, I put them on. They felt awkward and massive on my small feet.
For several minutes, I stood studying my ridiculous reflection in the mirror. Then I looked down at the shoes. They were molded in the exact shape of my husband's feet. I knew every hump and bump so well.
No one else could wear these shoes but Stan. How would I feel if I knew my husband would never again fill these shoes? The thought was unthinkable. Somewhere tonight, a woman, without warning, was a widow. Her husband would never again wear his shoes. A chill sliced through my heart. I mourned for her.
The day Stan came home, Anna Marie and I gathered in the living-room listening to all the details of his trip; of how his team had gone undefeated in their division. And while my daughter admired the shiny, first-place trophy Stan pulled proudly from his bag, I couldn't keep my eyes off the size-13 shoes he'd dropped underneath the coffee table. Funny, I didn't wish them to be anywhere else. They were a comforting sign. My husband was home.
This story appears in the upcoming release, Love is A Flame (Bethany House) compiled by James Stuart Bell.
Adapted from the book, Silver Linings, by Dayle Allen Shockley. All rights reserved.
Epilogue: This was one of those rare occasions when it only took one prompting to change my ways. I never complained about my husband's shoes again, even though he still keeps them scattered from here to yon. I now happily consider them part of the decor.