Broken Toes and Pierced Ears
“Well,” I said to the Canadian women sitting in the audience before me. “I’ve had a challenging week. Last Saturday I had my ears pierced, and this Monday morning, I broke my toe.”
While rushing around the kitchen on Memorial Day, hurrying to get a picnic dinner ready for our family gathering at 4 p.m., I bumped into a small step stool, which promptly came crashing down on my foot. “Ow!” “Are you OK?” David asked, concerned by the way I was limping while continuing my food preparation. “Oh, it’s nothing. It’ll feel better in a moment,” I answered. But it didn’t.
By Tuesday morning, my big toe was so sore I decided the best strategy was to keep it elevated all day, and I dosed myself liberally with Tylenol Extra Strength. By Wednesday morning, I made it to the office, despite the fact that I couldn’t comfortably wear a shoe. On Thursday morning, David and I were scheduled to fly to Canada, where I was to speak that evening for an outreach tea where 100 of the 200 attendees were guests invited by church women. I don’t know whether I broke the toe or not; let’s just say that it felt like it was broken. My prayer was that I could get around enough to pack the suitcases, gather my notes (I was also slated to speak at an all-day retreat on Saturday), drag myself through O’Hare Airport, through Immigration and Customs in Toronto, and then find the endurance to stand and speak that evening.
Through the years I’ve learned that forward motion is the best guiding principle. Press on unless the obstacle is truly insurmountable. Then it’s a closed door. In three decades of itinerant ministry, I’ve only missed two meetings—one due to a violent case of influenza, the other due to the fact that weather conditions closed down Chicago airports. I’ve left home early, driving ahead of predicted storms, in order to be able to reach towns I was originally slated to fly into. I’ve nicely (but shamelessly) begged for seats on planes when cancellations were lighting up the departure boards—“I don’t want to ask for favors, but some 400 people are waiting to hear me speak in Florida. Is there any flight going south you can book me on?” Keep pressing forward until you absolutely cannot go forward anymore. That’s the rule.
On Thursday morning, the only shoe I could get my foot into was a leather gardening clog (I use rubber wellies for mud-work, but I slip into these just to wander on the wet grass and to do some weeding). At least I could get my foot into it. Scraping off the mud, I scrubbed them with my after-gardening fingernail brush, and polished them up as best I could. David, meanwhile, was trying to think of a speech he could use for 200 women if he needed to substitute for me. “Don’t worry about it,” I called, closing up the suitcase. “I feel as though the Lord has given me the perfect speech for tonight.” And indeed, that was one of the signs that I should proceed; I did have the perfect speech for 200 women, half of whom were church members who could not attend unless they brought non-church friends. It felt to me that I needed to trust the Lord, and just proceed. If worse came to worse, David and I could procure a wheelchair at O’Hare.
Curiously, I did have strength enough to hobble to the check-in counters, through the security lines, and to the terminals. Regular four-hour doses of Tylenol controlled the pain. “I broke my toe,” I announced to our pastor friend who met us in Toronto, suspecting that this self-diagnosis would convey the gravity of my condition. With a nap, more Tylenol, and the foot elevated all afternoon, I was able to speak that evening. The next day was a relaxing day without responsibilities, but David and I were forced to perform a minor out patient procedure that afternoon. Due to my hobbling down long airport corridors, a huge white blister with reddened edges began to rise on my toe. We found a darning needle, two alcohol wipes, and some hydrocortisone cream in our combined luggage, and I excised the pus that was distending the skin on my wounded toe. This gave me relief and I spoke all Saturday with minimal discomfort. By Sunday, after church, I could slip on the ballet slippers that I had brought along just to make the airplane trek home.
Learning to press on when things get really tough is one of the greatest principles that gets us through life. In Scripture, this momentum is called endurance.
“Brother will betray brother to death, fathers will betray their own children, and children will rise against their parents and cause them to be killed. And everyone will hate you because of your allegiance to me. But those who endure to the end will be saved.”
“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
“Don’t ever forget those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail. When all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew you had better things waiting for you in eternity. Do not throw away this confident trust on the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.”
“Run with endurance the race that is set before you. . .”
“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”
During a time of great trouble in my life (which I was convinced would never end), a friend who has suffered much said to me, “You know, God loves His children who stick it out. There are special blessings reserved for those who hang on. And it doesn’t matter how you look when you finish the race. You can be bloody and disheveled, nearly torn apart, limping and mauled. All that matters is that you keep pressing on pressing on.”
Perhaps you are one who is attempting to make it through life, and you are lagging because you have a great wound. You’ve been mistreated, sinned against, betrayed and misused. You’ve cried out to God, but He doesn’t answer. You’ve tried to do the right thing, but ashes and dust blow into your eyes. Trust has been trampled into the earth. Someone else has kicked you in the teeth. Now you doubt yourself; you don’t think you have strength enough to go forward. The baggage is unwieldy. The lines at the counters are forebodingly long. You feel hassled; your reserves are emptied. The officials at Security and Immigration are rude and uncaring. You are weary.
Dear one, let me whisper into your ear. Press on. Press on. Don’t give up. Despite evidence to the contrary, God is working on your behalf. It doesn’t matter that you are crotchety, out-of-sorts, less-than-your-best, limping and ragged, hobbling toward a finish line you cannot see. God loves His children who choose to endure.
The Saturday before I left for Toronto on Thursday, I spent a last morning with my friend Adele Calhoun, one of my Covenant Group members. She and her husband have been called to co-pastor a church in Massachusetts. “What should we do?” we asked. We chatted at Starbucks over coffee. We ran some errands; I picked up geraniums for planters at my house and for a son whose townhouse is up for sale. Then we stopped at Claire’s. My Covenant Group has been nagging me to get my ears pierced. They’ve given me earrings for pierced ears. The inevitable has finally confronted me—I rarely find clip earrings that I like any more. Adele, my friend, was determined I was going to get the job done before she moved East.
Claire’s has the ear-piercing routine down to a science. The stool, the gun, the papers to sign, the antiseptic solution, the little earlobe plugs, the instructions to take home. Indeed, it was a straightforward, harmless, almost painless procedure. Why is it, we asked each other, that there are some activities where we just need a friend? A friend when we go to the doctor where we might hear bad news. A friend to absorb our laments about some unending trial. A friend’s face to smile with concern when we come out of the anesthesia. A friend to make sure we stick with the task we said we would do.
A friend to make the journey with you when you have a broken toe.
Just understand, if you are one who doesn’t know how much longer the pressing forward can go, that I would like to be your friend. I (and others who love you) are standing on the sidelines and cheering you forward. God is working on your behalf. You just are too weary or wounded to see it. Don’t give up. Take a day with your foot up, if you need it. Swallow some pain medication. Find the gardening clog. Of course, you are limping and ragged. You’ve been beat up. But get up again. Set your face toward the day. And just press on. Press on.
“So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while.”
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"It doesn’t matter that you are crotchety, out-of-sorts, less-than-your-best, limping and ragged, hobbling toward a finish line you cannot see.
God loves His children who choose to endure."
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What Music Is God
2008 Pilgrimage to France
God Through the
Eyes of the Artist and the Artist In the Eye of God
October 24 - November 10, 2008