Darrel Lewis stood in line to have his book signed by Ralph Eisenhite. He actually had known Ralph when he was a kid. Ralph's parents were a young couple in the Bible Study that Darrel and his wife used to host. They would bring 8-year-old Ralph over and the kids would play in another room.
But Darrel stopped hosting when his wife's schizophrenic episodes got so bad they were being overheard by the children.
But little Ralph had grown up and started a non-profit, called Patience-First, a network of homes that celebrated the mentally challenged.
Darrel watched Ralph patiently smile at each new person in line, glance at the post-it his helper handed him before signing, and then another helper would gently move the fan along. The line was out the door and it was raining outside.
When Darrel got to the front of the line he handed the book to Ralph and the helper held out the post-it to him. Ralph paused on Darrel's face, long enough that Darrel thought maybe he was waiting for Darrel to say something and he stuttered, "I really admire what you're doing--"
Ralph put down the pen, folded his hands on the book in front of him.
Darrel didn't know what to say. He didn't want to mention how he knew of him, for fear it would remind him of his wife's traumatic screams. The helpers nudged Ralph with the post-it and stepped closer to get ready to move Darrel along.
"Have you read the book yet?" Ralph asked.
"Not much yet, sir. Sorry." Darrel stuttered.
"Let me read the introduction to you." Ralph looked down and flipped to the introduction.
"Uh, okay." Darrell was afraid he had offended him by not reading it. He had just bought the book for heaven's sake.
Ralph read, "One year of Wednesday nights changed my life. When my parents and those of all my friends were divorcing for far less, I overheard one man be hurt, abused and embarrassed by his wife, and still choose to love her. This man's patience for his schizophrenic wife defined the power of patience, and the future of my life forever."
Darrell covered his nose and shook his head as he looked down. "We tried to hide it from all you kids."
"I was listening. Desperately listening for what love truly sounded like. And all this came from what I heard, Mr. Lewis."
Darrell sat by his wife's bed that night after he tucked her in. It had been a hard day. It had been a hard second half of life.
He remembered kneeling by this same bed decades before and desperately praying for help. And one vision had landed in his mind. It was a tree, slowly growing upward, but every time a branch sprouted out to the side, and started to bend the tree over a pair of sheers cut it off and let the tree continue to bloom upward.
Over 50 years of clinging to this image, faithfully trusting that every time God cut off a part of his hope, or dreams, or endeavors, by the condition of his wife, grew him into a man so remarkable for his patience that it changed the lives around him.
And he had been afraid anyone else would see it.