At the age of 62, Frankie could hardly wait for life to be over.
Frankie lived in a decrepit group home for the disabled. Frankie was
crippled by polio when he was a child. His polio came on just a year
before the Salk vaccine was made available. To get around in the world
he had to use crutches and wear leg braces. He survived on his Social
Security disability check, at least what was left of the check after
what the group home people took out for his monthly rent. Frankie
thought he had a stinking life. Frankie never married because girls
didn't want to date a cripple. Although he was smart, Frankie only went
to the sixth grade because the other kids kept making fun of him. Life
had dealt him a cruel hand.
On this cold November morning in Pittsburgh, the snow was beginning
to drift down as Frankie sat in the neighborhood coffee shop staring at
a menu he'd seen a thousand times before. The only place Frankie ever
frequented for a home-cooked meal was this coffee shop. Frankie didn't
make friends easily but he knew people who worked at the coffee shop. He
knew Delores, the wife of the owner, who always made it a point to wait
on him. Delores came over to take his order and Frankie said he'd like
the chop suey. Delores brought Frankie his plate and laid one of those
fortune cookie's wrapped in cellophane next to the plate. Frankie loved
the chop suey but never ate the cookie. He always put the cookie in his
pocket and gave it to some homeless guy out on the street. Today, as
Frankie pulled out three dollars to pay the tab, Delores shoved the
money back toward him and told Frankie to keep the money. The chop suey
was on the house since Thanksgiving was only three weeks away. Frankie
thanked Delores and for some reason, a reason Frankie could not explain,
he pulled apart the cellophane around the fortune cookie and broke the
cookie open to read the stupid saying on the inside. The saying said,
"Find the secret of life at 315 E. Broadway." Frankie realized
the fact he got a specific street address on the slip of paper was
unusual. You never get a street address inside a fortune cookie. In
fact, Frankie was sitting at 360 E. Broadway, so the address was on this
block and across the street. Frankie pulled himself up out of the chair,
grabbed his crutches, and hobbled out the door of the coffee shop. He
looked down the street to where 360 should be and only saw a vacant lot.
In front of the lot stood a homeless guy with long white hair and a long
white beard. The homeless guy was standing out next to the sidewalk.
Since the address was not that far away, Frankie hobbled over to the
crosswalk, waited for the stoplight to change, and then struggled to get
across the street. He struggled to walk the half block to 360. His legs
had atrophied badly and the older he got the weaker his arms and legs
got. Frankie finally got to the homeless guy with the long white hair
and long white beard. The homeless guy didn't say anything. Instead, the
homeless guy handed Frankie a list on a sheet of paper. At the top of
the list were the words, "Secret Of Life Treasure Hunt" and at
the bottom of the list were the words, "When you collect all the
items, come back, I will be waiting." Frankie read the all the
words on the paper and started to ask the homeless guy what all this was
about but the homeless guy had disappeared. On the treasure hunt list
were the following words:
A lock of hair
An old newspaper clipping
A piece of cardboard
A TV schedule
Evidence of transportation
An old photograph
Something from school
Frankie crumpled up the paper and stuck it in his pocket thinking he
would throw the list away. Not only could Frankie not easily collect all
these items, it seemed like a cruel joke. Frankie turned around and
headed for his bus stop. Riding the bus was easier than driving his old
car. His old car was a 1975 Ford sedan that had a way of never starting
when Frankie needed to get to a place where the bus line did not go. The
car already had hand controls installed before Frankie owned it, which
is why Frankie owned it in the first place and why he kept the car even
when the car needed repairs. Someone Frankie didn't know had left the
car in front of the group home many years ago and had sent Frankie the
car title in the mail. Frankie had to learn to drive, but a volunteer at
a local social services agency coerced Frankie into learning to drive
even when Frankie was content to let the car sit and rust.
After his encounter with the homeless guy in front of the vacant lot,
Frankie hobbled down to the nearest bus stop. The cold November wind was
cutting into Frankie's face as he waited for the bus to arrive. The bus
pulled up and Frankie lumbered up the metal steps and collapsed in the
seat behind the driver. Frankie was getting more and more exhausted with
each passing month. Even minor activities were beginning to take their
toll. The bus driver violated the rules and did Frankie a favor today by
letting him off in front of the group home so he would not have to walk
the block and a half to get to the house. Frankie thanked the driver,
climbed down off the bus, hobbled up the sidewalk to the front porch,
pulled himself up the front steps of the group home, unlocked the front
door, and walked down the entry hall to his room.
As Frankie collapsed on his bed in exhaustion he kept thinking about
that secret of life treasure hunt. If there was any secret of life,
Frankie thought he deserved to find out. With all the hard times Frankie
had gone through, there must be some secret he'd missed along the way.
Reaching into his pocket, Frankie pulled out the crumpled paper and
smoothed it out to look at the list again. As he looked at the list, he
began to think maybe he could find all this stuff without a lot of
effort and trouble. The more Frankie thought about it, the more
interesting all this sounded. He did not know why, but Frankie thought
he might collect all this stuff, just to see if the homeless guy would
show up. So Frankie began to collect. It took three weeks to pull
everything on the list together. As it turned out, Frankie finished
collecting his list of stuff the day before Thanksgiving.
The storefront church on the block down from the coffee shop gave
away free Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day. Frankie always made
it a point to go for the free meal since they gave you more than you
could ever eat. This Thanksgiving there was the usual crowd of the
homeless, lost, and broken at the storefront church lined up on the
street waiting to get inside. The snow was blowing hard and the winds
were blasting the snow sideways. As everyone filed in to eat, Frankie
carried his back pack full of his stuff collected from the treasure
hunt. As he finished his meal, Frankie thanked a couple of the
volunteers who served the meal, grabbed his back pack, and struggled out
the door. As Frankie used his crutches to struggle out onto the sidewalk
he heard a voice say, "Need a lift?" Frankie looked up and a
van had pulled up next to where he was standing on the sidewalk. In the
van was the guy with the long white hair and the long white beard.
Frankie said, "I was going to look for you. I have all the stuff on
the treasure hunt list." The van driver said, "Yes, I know.
Get in." Frankie pulled open the door of the van, pulled himself
into the passenger side seat, and piled his back pack full of stuff into
his lap. The van driver said, "I'll take you home." In
protest, Frankie said, "Wait, I collected the stuff, now I want to
know the secret of life." The van driver said, "You already
have the secret. Go through your stuff, item by item. Each item by
itself and all the items added together make up the secret." In
protest again, Frankie said, "This was a joke from the beginning. I
should have known better." The van driver replied, "No, this
was not a joke. Collecting all this stuff was a gift to you."
Shortly, the van pulled up in front of the group home. The van driver
said, "Trust me, this treasure hunt was not a joke. You can unravel
the mystery if you try. You can figure it all out if you are willing to
tell and admit the truth."
Frankie opened the door of the van, thanked the guy for the ride home
and hobbled up the sidewalk to the front door of the group home. Frankie
opened the front door, swung himself inside, and closed the front door
behind him. He still felt angry about the treasure hunt thing. Frankie
walked down the entry hall to his room, and collapsed on the side of his
bed. Frankie removed his leg braces and pulled open his backpack of
treasure hunt items still thinking he had been deceived by someone's
idea of a joke except he knew Delores would never play a joke on him by
putting a specific address in a fortune cookie.
Frankie took the items out of his backpack and spread them all out on
his bed. The first item Frankie collected was a lock of hair from his
little niece Nancy. If there was light in Frankie's life it was little
Nancy. She was three years old and she adored Frankie as much as Frankie
adored her. Every Tuesday night Frankie's sister would have Frankie over
for dinner and Frankie and Nancy would spend most of the time before and
after the meal playing with her toys. Frankie thought to himself how
Nancy was such a treasure in his life.
The next item was a receipt from the coffee shop where Frankie had
opened the fortune cookie. The coffee shop was a familiar place to go.
It was place where everyone was friendly, warm, and caring. Frankie
always saw the same people when he would go in for a bite to eat. Many
times the owner's wife would give Frankie extra food at no cost in a
take home box so Frankie wouldn't have to struggle to fix a meal for
himself when he got home. Frankie smiled and thought about how he
treasured this place and these people.
The next item was an old newspaper clipping from the obit for James
Smythe. James was Frankie's age or at least Jim would have been if Jim
had lived longer. Jim died when he was 48 from cancer. What a tragedy
for Jim's family and friends. Jim was the kind of person who beamed when
he walked into a room and everyone else seemed to light up as well.
Frankie remembered seeing the obit in the paper, clipping the obit out,
and wondering to himself why he couldn't have been the one to die first.
Frankie had few friends in his life, but Jim was the best of the few. As
Frankie looked at the clipping he thought about how much of a treasure
Jim had been in Frankie's life.
The next item was a piece of cardboard from his new transistor radio.
Frankie's transistor radio was an incredible link to the world. Although
Frankie did not have much of an education, Frankie was intelligent
enough to understand what was going in on the world. And Frankie learned
about what was going on in the world from his transistor radio. The
radio would be meaningless to other more normal people but Frankie loved
tuning in to all the different stations around central Pennsylvania.
Since he loved sports, Frankie would use his radio to get all the
Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, and Penn State games. Frankie began to
think about what a treasure that radio was to him in his life.
The next item was a TV schedule from the Sunday paper. Frankie not
only loved his radio but he loved television, especially the cable
channels. Frankie loved movies because movies helped him escape from the
terrible burdens he carried each day. Frankie had an old color
television in his room and although the television was old, it worked as
if the set was brand new. As Frankie began to look at the TV schedule,
he began to think about what a treasure the television and all the
television programs were in his life.
The next item was a book. Frankie chose the Bible as a book for his
treasure hunt. Frankie chose the Bible because it was the only book he
owned. Frankie had a library card but getting to the library was too
much of a task so Frankie just read the Bible. Frankie liked reading
about the Promised Land and Heaven because reading about the Promised
Land and Heaven gave Frankie hope for a better life after this life was
over. As Frankie looked at his Bible, Frankie began to think about what
a treasure his Bible was in his life.
The next item was a bus pass. Frankie liked to get out of the house
because the group home was so confining and Frankie did not get along
well with a couple of the other residents who had emotional issues.
Frankie's bus pass could take him anywhere in Pittsburgh. Most of the
time Frankie would just get on the bus and ride the circuit out to the
far point on the route and get off at the end of the route and wait for
a return bus. Frankie knew the drivers and the drivers knew Frankie.
Frankie looked at the bus pass and thought about what a treasure the bus
pass was in his life.
The next item was an old photograph of his grandmother. Frankie's
mother and father ran away or disappeared right after Frankie had polio
so Frankie's grandmother raised him until his grandmother died about
twenty years ago. Frankie's grandmother was a golden hearted person. She
taught Frankie God loved him and so did other people. She hated it when
Frankie quit school but she was still patient and kind with him because
she knew how school was an awful place for Frankie to be. Frankie looked
at the picture of his grandmother and thought about all the great times
they had playing board games, watching TV, or just talking. What a gem
she was! What a treasure she was!
The next item was a gold star from a spelling bee he'd won in school.
Of all the bad things that had happened to Frankie in school, he could
still make good grades. One of Frankie's good memories about school was
that spelling bee. Frankie looked at the gold star and although the gold
star was not much of a treasure, it was still a treasured memory in the
middle of a lot of memories that still brought pain and humiliation.
The next item was a birthday card from his sister. Frankie's sister
was a lot younger than he was. In his younger years, the older Frankie
got, the more difficult it was for Frankie to see his sister live a
normal life while Frankie's life was so difficult. There were many years
when Frankie held deep resentment against his sister for being able to
do all the normal things people do while Frankie could not even begin to
live what most people call a normal life. However, as Frankie got older
he made peace within himself about his sister. Now, after so many years
had passed, Frankie loved her and she loved him. As Frankie looked at
the birthday card, he thought about what a treasure his sister was in
As Frankie looked at the items he collected in the treasure hunt he
began to see and understand the secret of life. He began to see the
secret of life was in treasuring your treasures. He began to see the
secret of life was giving thanks for what you have instead of cursing
the darkness for what you do not have. He began to see how his treasures
had multiplied and instead of being cheated by life he had been blessed
to have what he had. He began to see it was a miracle he had survived
and was able to live the life he had.
Mark 8:1 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since
they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 2
"I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me
three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they
will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long
distance." 4 His disciples answered, "But where in this remote
place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?" 5 "How many
loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven," they replied.
6 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the
seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his
disciples to set before the people, and they did so. 7 They had a few
small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples
to distribute them. 8 The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the
disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left
over. 9About four thousand men were present. (NIV)
This story appeared as the November, 2003 virtual church message at
Shepherd's Care Ministries virtual church site at http://www.findthepower.com