Altar Call Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 27, 2018


I can still hear the sound of his crutches on our doorsteps


Now that walking has become difficult for me, requiring the use of a cane, it helps to remember friends who endured far worse physical problems without complaining. Their example inspires me to refrain from whining about what really is a minor inconvenience on my way to heaven.

When I was 23, and enrolled in seminary at Vanderbilt University, Dean and I lived within a block of a Methodist Church in south Nashville. With our young son David, we began worshipping there. When the pastor, Tom Chappell, learned that I was studying for the ministry, he offered me a part-time job as student minister of the church. I quickly discovered that Tom Chappell was a remarkable man.

Still less than 40 years old, Tom had been crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. Crippled so severely that he had to use two crutches to walk, Tom could no longer stand erect. When preaching, he sat on a special stool positioned behind the pulpit. Using his crutches, he managed to thrust his twisted body upon the stool without assistance.

I never heard Tom complain about his condition. Not once. He neither expected nor asked for any sympathy. He went about his pastoral work with a cheerful spirit, never asking that he be spared certain duties because he was crippled. His preaching was passionate and inspiring. I was amazed by his courage and his capacity to smile while enduring pain every time he moved his limbs.

After working with Tom for six or eight months, I was devastated by the news that our son had leukemia. Tom provided pastoral support for us not only on Sunday; he began coming by our home on week days to cheer us up and pray for us. I can shut my eyes and still hear the sound of his crutches on our doorsteps.

Our front door was 13 steps up from the sidewalk so we could hear Tom coming before he knocked on the door. Once inside, he would chat with us for a while and then get down on the floor and play with our two-year-old son, letting David sometimes play with his crutches. Tom was just being Tom but he was doing much more than playing with a sick child. He was teaching me secrets of pastoral ministry that were not taught in the seminary.

One day I explained to Tom that the Cortisone medicine that David was taking had serious side effects, one of which caused him to become very irritable. Tom listened patiently but never admitted what I discovered a couple of years later that Tom was taking that very same medicine himself.

That is why I call Tom a remarkable man. He was able to put himself aside, ignore his own crippling pain, and focus entirely on offering loving encouragement to young parents struggling to understand why their little boy was dying. Years later I realized that inside that crippled body was a perfect heart.

So when I stop and listen, and hear the sound of those crutches on the doorsteps of that old house in Nashville, it helps me remember that the God who made me is always sending his love to the front door of all my problems. I just need to stop moaning and let him in. + + +