Although his enterprise made him incredibly wealthy, J.C. Penney’s life was not devoid of setbacks and troubles. In fact, beginning in 1929, events took place that nearly cost Penney his life.
When the Great Depression struck the country, it came at a time of great financial vulnerability for Penney. In the good times, before the Depression, Penney had overextended himself and had borrowed heavily to finance many of his ventures. But when the Depression hit banks began to request repayment of his loans sooner than anticipated. Suddenly cash flow was tight, and Penney was finding it difficult to meet payment schedules. Constant and unrelenting worry began to take a toll. "I was so harassed with worries that I couldn’t sleep, and developed an extremely painful ailment," he said.
Concerned about his deteriorating health, Penney checked himself into the Kellogg sanitarium at Battle Creek, Michigan, (kind of the Mayo Clinic of its era). There, Dr. Elmer Eggleston, a staff physician, examined Penney, declaring that he was extremely ill.
Penney later recalled "A rigid treatment was prescribed, but nothing helped," He was constantly tormented by periods of hopelessness and despair. His very will to live was rapidly eroding.
"I got weaker day by day. I was broken, nervously and physically, filled with despair, unable to see even a ray of hope. I had nothing to live for, I felt that I hadn’t a friend left in the world, that even my family had turned against me."
Alarmed by his rapidly deteriorating condition, Dr. Eggleston gave Penney a sedative. However, the effect quickly wore off, and Penney awakened with the conviction that he was living the last night of his life. "Getting out of bed, I wrote farewell letters to my wife and to my son, saying that I did not expect to live to see the dawn."
Penney awakened the next morning, surprised to find himself alive. Making his way down the hallway of the hospital, he could hear singing coming from the little chapel where devotional exercises were held each morning. The words of the hymn he heard being sung spoke deeply to him.
Going into the chapel, he listened to the singing, the reading of the Scripture lesson, and the prayer.
"Suddenly something happened," he said. "I can’t explain it. I can only call it a miracle. I felt as if I had been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into a warm, brilliant sunlight. I felt as if I had been transported from hell to Paradise. I felt the power of God as I had never felt it before."
In a life-transforming instant Penney knew that God, with His love, was there to help. "From that day to this, my life has been free from worry," he declared. "The most dramatic and glorious 20 minutes of my life were those I spent in that chapel that morning."
The words from the hymn that spoke so eloquently and miraculously to J. C. Penney were these (sing it with me if you know it).
Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you.
God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you, God will take care of you.
Related Text Illustrations
Contributed by Chris Appleby on Oct 18, 2000
Those who are outside the people of God are in rebellion against Him and are therefore spiritually dead. But God makes them a free offer to bring them back to life. All that’s needed to receive all of the bounty that God offers is to believe his promise,