I have a bad foot.
I’ll spare you pictures and wordy descriptions. Just know that I had to wear corrective shoes when I was a kid. That I didn’t get my first pair of tennis shoes until I was in the third grade. That sports involving running were pretty much out of the question when I was growing up (and not just because of a lack of interest and athletic ability).
I now recognize the sacrifices my parents must have made to purchase those shoes for me. Back then, though, style was more important to me than the health of my feet, and I eventually stopped wearing them.
When I hit my mid 30s, however, painful bursitis in my hip led me to seek medical help. Upon learning that I had been walking on the outsides of my feet my whole life to compensate for the messed-structure of my left foot, the doctor recommended custom orthotics.
“It will improve the quality of your life,” he told me.
He was right. While the inserts do limit my choice of footwear, wearing them has dramatically improved how I feel. They even allow me to run on the treadmill regularly, which also has enhanced my life in more ways than I can count.
I say all that to say this. At my house, I’ve always been the one prone to limping.
Until recently, that is.
One day in early March, Lilly’s foot mysteriously started hurting. She could point to no sudden accident or injury. Before P.E., it was fine; after P.E., it hurt so badly she could hardly walk.
The family doctor diagnosed tendonitis. For a month, Lilly wore a brace, took anti-inflammatory medicine and reluctantly sat on the sidelines at her beloved ballet class.
Then this little foot story took an interesting turn none of us could have predicted.
On April Fool’s Day, younger sister Molly somehow fell off our very low back deck and fractured her foot.
The following Monday, the podiatrist put Lilly in a boot she had to wear continually for three solid weeks. And the very next day, Molly was outfitted with a lovely pink walking cast.
After going their whole lives with no major injuries of any sort, both girls were limping around in some serious orthopedic footwear. It was bizarre, to say the least.
Though frustration and disappointment cropped up from time to time, Lilly and Molly handled their hobbled conditions remarkably well. Randy and I did our best to encourage them, while keeping a sharp eye out for obstacles that might sideline one of us.
All the limping reminded me of Jacob, the biblical patriarch who suffered an unusual hip injury when he was on his way to meet his twin brother Esau after a long separation. In a Winter 2011 Leadership Journal article titled “Don’t Waste a Crisis,” John Ortberg offers some powerful thoughts on this narrative that I hope will add a bit of eternal perspective to my tale of family foot woe. He writes:
Jacob and Esau were separated by their struggle for the blessing. Eventually this struggle led to murderous threats and years of estrangement. Finally Jacob was coming home. In the strange story he meets and wrestles with a mysterious stranger, to whom Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Jacob is given a blessing, but also given another strange gift. His hip is wrenched. The next day he was limping because of his hip.
He looked up to see his brother. The text says that “Esau ran to meet Jacob.”
Jacob could not run. His running days were over. The rest of his life he would walk with a limp.
“Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (Genesis. 33:4).
Perhaps something about Jacob’s vulnerability healed Esau’s heart in a way that Jacob’s cleverness and strength never could.
Jacob was given a wound, and a blessing. Or maybe his wound WAS his blessing.
Maybe you will bless more people with your limp than with your strength.
Blessed are you who limp, for you shall walk with God.