Ziploc of ice slung over my propped ankle, I reflected over the incident.
Frankly, I found it maddening I didn’t even have a good story to tell. The moles went to town next to the backyard steps, and the past winter hardened the earth into ridges. I’d walked these steps dozens of times this summer without pain. Not this time. My ankle rolled in the grass, and I stood there like a flamingo squawking for help. God bless my husband. After twelve years of marriage, I still consider him to be the best thing that ever happened to me. He scooped me up, set me down gently, and made haste with the ice.
Spraining my ankle was not in the plan. Our church’s annual week of soccer camp for kids was just days after this incident. Nearly two hundred 5 to 10-year-olds would arrive each day for a packed morning. In addition to organizing and leading the music team, I filled in various positions throughout the week after our morning practice was over. I may or may not have been completely useless and sat on the couch all day after camp. Me and ice? We’re close.
There was also a neighborhood garage sale to prepare for. Of course, I had saved the basement – where the bulk of sorting needed to take place – for the week after soccer camp. Surely I’d be healed by then? Not exactly. Just imagining the who-knows-how-many necessary trips up and down the stairs made me flinch. The obvious solution, of course, was to graciously bow out.
One problem: Pre-ankle injury, I’d offered space in our garage to another neighbor for the sale. He was recently a widower, and I wanted to somehow help. He had indicated interest, but not yet responded. I wasn’t sure how, but I’d keep my word, even if it meant “incomplete healing or chronic ankle issues.” (Probable complications resulting from neglecting proper care, I learned through research.)
I shifted positions and winced. The Ziploc rustled and the ice cubes clinked. A fast-becoming familiar sound. My husband had walked across the street to talk with our neighbor. Let’s see…I could slide down the stairs on my rear. But how would I get stuff back up? Hop on one foot, rig up some pulley system, put the kids to work… Turns out, the neighbor planned to set up his own garage for the sale. I exhaled relief. So did my ankle. I didn’t have to suck-it-up-Buttercup after all.
My reflections moved to the annual Perseid meteor shower. I was SO excited to watch it this year. The peak was Thursday night to Friday morning, the week of soccer camp. It wasn’t just the normal meteors that were predicted. This year was predicted to be extra spectacular with double the typical amount of meteors. Only once more this century was this predicted to happen, in about twenty years.
I could be a grandmother by then.
Friday night was also supposed to be pretty good. After weighing my options, I decided to responsibly go to bed Thursday night so I could function for the last morning of soccer camp. But boy, was I excited for Friday!
Friday night came…and so did thick, black clouds, rippling thunder, lightning, and sheets of rain. I checked the sky for any possible let up anywhere at all…? Nothing.
Well then. But I reasoned if the meteor shower was that spectacular, possibly Saturday held promise? Saturday night, the kids tucked in, my husband and I snuck out to the driveway and sat craning our heads to see any hint of a meteor. The stars were out in a mostly cloudless sky…except for a band RIGHT across the Perseids. Seriously? Was it ok to pray about these things? (Can’t fault a girl for wishing…)
The clouds dissipated leaving no question: there were no meteors to see. None. And the mosquitoes were eating us alive.
What do you do when you do look up sometimes but things don’t go as planned? All you get for your troubles is thick, black darkness, booming thunder, jolts of useless power, and soaked in a downpour? Or you strain for a glimpse of something, anything, craning your head to see what’s clearly not going to materialize and end up stung and bitten? What then?
We’ve done what we’re supposed to, but God isn’t doing what he’s supposed to! Isn’t that how we reason? Guilty as charged.
It’s just a sprained ankle. And it’s just an amazing opportunity gone down the tubes. But it’s certainly nothing life-threatening. This is small potatoes. But the lesson I could practice through it? It sounds vaguely familiar. I’ve encountered this before.
Like when my younger brother died on August 27, five years ago at the age of 28 from cystic fibrosis. Like when I watched a friend live through the pain of losing her hours old baby. Like when I watch friends live through the pain of the spouse battling ALS disease. Like when I watch a friend struggle with chronic illness. Like when I see any child with debilitating conditions. Like when I hear that yet another marriage is disintegrating. Like when the shooting that’s on the evening news is in the community I live in, and the shooter’s daughter went to preschool with my kid.
Those are the times we need to know to our core that God loves us more than his own life. He gave his life for us so he could be with us. He isn’t a stranger to hard times. He isn’t failing to hold up his end of the bargain; there is no bargain. Only grace.
Please hang with me. I’m not saying God is consigning us to pain and misery. I’ve lived through a little, and I know the confusion and anger that comes with it. But I also know that it’s the most foolish thing in the universe to abandon God’s grace. He is all we have. To whom else can we turn for help that works? The hard times are a test. Tests don’t last forever. Earth is the battleground before heaven.
So when you’re begging for God to take away the sickness, but he lets your loved one die…please, dear friend. Hear me say with all gentleness and tear-filled eyes: God is still good. And his love endures forever. The pain of here and now is not all we have. And God is so gracious that he often gives us small respites in between battles. He often lets us have one person who might actually understand or at least tries.
I remember after my brother’s death being desperate for some word from God. I was trying so hard, harder than I’d ever tried before, to hang on to my faith, to God, to hope. Many persons unknowingly inflicted wounds saying well-intentioned or simply thoughtless things. (Great article called “Things You Should Say If You Want a Good Face Punch“ by author Melanie Dale can be read here if you’re interested.)
I flew the 2,000 miles back home to begin living my new normal with two toddlers that assumed we were going to pick up where we left off when Mommy flew out on an emergency midnight flight to spend the last hours at my brother’s side. Toddlers have insatiable demands. And I had nothing to give.
So much less my parents who were harassed day and night by phone calls from a debt collector. He insisted my brother, who had lived with my parents, owed money. It was untrue. The debt collector was confusing identities. My parents bravely told him their son was dead. He called them liars and spewed nastiness. (Thank God, though it didn’t make up for the further trauma inflicted on my grief-stricken parents, he was fired and the company had the decency to apologize.)
We may not come out unscathed. We may hold broken pieces of our hearts the rest of our lives. But we can still know that God is good in our brokenness and that his love has planned to make things right, eventually. These broken bits of heart we hold? Might just find their way into a divine mosaic somewhere, for all we know.
If you are in that hard time right now, please know you are loved, dearly, beyond what words can describe. Our tests won’t last forever. Can I pray for you?
Dear Jesus, so much hurt I can’t even stand it, sometimes. We do it right, we trust, we pray. But it only feels like you’ve walked away. Can’t you hear us crying out night and day? When the test you’ve allowed into our lives, filtered through nail-scarred hands, has run its appointed time, please take it away! But in the meanwhile, help us not waste the struggles. Make us stronger through them. We want to pass these tests. We want to be rewarded for our faith in the end.
1 Peter 5:10-11 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”