The Old Paths: Bitter or better?

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

“Hot, ain’t it?” “Hot enough for ya?” “Boy, it’s hot!”

If you’re breathing air in Stokes County this week, I figure you’ve heard one of those remarks during this unusually warm final week of spring. I know it feels like summer already—what with school letting out, pools being open and ice cream freezers running—but the first official day of summer is not until the day this newspaper hits mailboxes, June 21. In fact, if you were up by 6:06 a.m. on this Thursday, it was still spring!

Nonetheless, I’ve already grown accustomed to all the complaining about the heat. It’s as bad as the bellyaching about the cold in January. Maybe we humans are just natural-born whiners. Think about it: one of the first things many people do to infants is stick a pacifier in their mouth to keep them from crying.

Hey, that might be the next great invention—adult pacifiers! Such an invention would force us to keep our mouths shut. With the way I sometimes impulsively say things, I might buy the first one that goes on the market!

Ever since my pastor preached a sermon years ago about “Railer Nailers”—learning to recognize people in the church who habitually rail/complain about things—I have tried not to be a complainer. But let’s face it: sometimes our humanity gets in the way of our wannabe-sanctification.

I remember one day when I was griping on Facebook about my former cable provider not fixing my Internet speedily enough. When someone commented about less fortunate people in third-world countries, I hushed my mouth. Whether or not it was someone’s right to guilt-trip me, my Internet issues are indeed minor in the light of other people’s sufferings.

As your sainted grandmother probably used to tell you: There’s always someone worse off than you. Grandma was right.

That thought process reminds me of Job in the Bible. He lost all his children and his worldly goods, plus he was miserably sick and afflicted. Yet instead of focusing on himself incessantly, he prayed for his friends. And the Bible says that when he did so, his own captivity was released.

There’s certainly something to be said for thinking of others before ourselves.

I was having a hard time a few weeks ago—just wanting to feel better after some health issues. When we go through such trials, self-pity sees an

opening to try to sneak in and latch onto us. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up with the “Woe is me” mentality, and the future will seem bleak.

At a time when that was a temptation for me, I suddenly saw something on Facebook that turned my frown upside down. Maybe you saw it, too. It was the video of 19-year-old Nathan Jenkins walking across the stage at the Walkertown High School graduation. Some local news stations and newspapers did stories on his accomplishment.

Why was it an accomplishment? Because Nathan—the son of my Facebook friend Donna Dunnigan Jenkins who graduated from South Stokes a few years after me—was born with cerebral palsy and spent the last four years teaching himself to walk without the use of his walker. He had made up his mind to walk across the stage at his graduation, and that determination helped him persevere through the tough days of conditioning his body from his freshman year through his senior year.

So seeing him achieve that long-awaited goal absolutely tore me up; I watched the video over and over, and every time I cried like a baby. At a time when I needed encouragement, Nathan provided it for me. His positive words about pushing ourselves to do what seems impossible inspired me. Just watching him walk across that stage to roaring applause put a deeper determination in me to rise up and go forth in optimism with no (okay, maybe fewer!) complaints.

Just a few days after Nathan’s graduation video went viral, I realized my daughter Abigail and I would have to find a Dollar Tree to get the specific paper products she wanted for her upcoming graduation celebration. I sighed at the thought of having to drive to Walkertown in my exhausted state that day, but we’ll do nearly anything for our kids, won’t we?

As we paid for our purchases at the Dollar Tree, I happened to look behind me, and there stood Nathan’s mom, Donna, whom I don’t recall seeing since the old paths of high school (if then, since she was younger than me)! I gasped and threw my arms around her as I began to tell her how her son had so inspired me.

The cashier interrupted to say that she had forgotten to ring up the graduation balloons my daughter was holding. Donna spoke right up, “I’ll take care of them.” Despite my protests, she insisted on paying for Abigail’s balloons. What a blessing! But that wasn’t the end of it.

Donna told me, “Nathan is in the van.”

What a thrill it was to walk out to that van and meet the teenager whose courage had been the shot in the arm I needed during a troubling time! He smiled and was gracious as I thanked him for the inspiration he had given me.

I walked away feeling as excited as if I had met my favorite TV star or singer! And I thanked God for that divine appointment I would’ve never been blessed with had I not driven to that particular store in that particular town at that particular time. I mean, really—what are the chances I would randomly run into the very person who had just days ago made such an impact on my life?

Nathan had a choice to make once upon a time. He could’ve spent his 19 years complaining about his “lot in life,” or he could’ve made up his mind to enjoy the blessings he had been given and make the most of them. He chose the latter.

I’m so glad he did.

The old saying that trials in life either make you bitter or better is true. Go the “bitter” way, and you’ll probably end up with a victim mentality that constantly complains and whines. Go the “better” way, and you just might become a world-changer through the testimony you will use to inspire others.

Thank you, Nathan, for showing me a better way.

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News