The door had barely closed behind the doctor before my husband had his head between his knees. We were at the orthopedist’s office to hear the results of our son’s MRI on his injured knee. The doctor’s suspicions had been confirmed and he gently delivered the news to our fourteen year old son, just days away from starting his freshman year of high school, that he had a complete tear of his ACL, would need reconstructive surgery, and was looking at six to nine months before he would be fully recovered. His soccer season was over before it started and the summer had just come to a screeching halt.
The doctor was nothing less than thorough; he presented a detailed explanation of the surgery, including the need to use part of our son’s hamstring to rebuild his ACL. He used a plastic model of a knee to demonstrate how the tear of the ACL left our son’s knee “loose” and unstable. My son seemed totally unaffected, I was somewhat fascinated with what I was hearing, my six-year-old daughter was just thrilled that she was perched up on the table right next to her big brother and my husband was, unbeknownst to the rest of us in the room, horrified. With each word doc uttered, his stomach turned and, by the time the doctor left the room, I turned to see a white-faced man holding desperately to the hope that lowering his head below his heart would settle the nausea and light-headedness that threatened a dignified exit from the office.
Truth be told, the ability to be entirely sympathetic and compassionate escaped me and, as I dug in my purse for some crackers, I may have proclaimed, “good Lord babe, I brought you here to help me…” While fully aware of his more sensitive stomach (is now the appropriate time to share the story of me changing the gauze in his mouth after his wisdom teeth surgery and him passing out and locking his jaw on my finger?) I have to admit I was surprised at the dire-ness of his situation. It made a lot more sense when he explained that he hadn’t had a chance to eat lunch prior to the appointment and was trying to process everything on an empty stomach. I’m happy to report that a quick sleeve of Ritz crackers was all he needed to make it out of the office-stomach lining and reputation still in check.
Believe it or not, there’s an analogy to be drawn here and it has to do with the hardship of living life on an empty stomach, or perhaps more appropriately, an empty heart. A few days after our son’s injury, I was thinking about where I was the moment he mis-landed his flip on the trampoline. I had been out shopping with my sister that day and was probably helping her decide on the best choice for wood flooring when he fell. If someone had run into the store at that exact moment and listed the changes that would immediately take place in our lives as a result of a freak accident, I’d probably have been the one with my head between my knees struggling to pretend it was all going to be ok. All at once, my middle son had lost his most dependable buddy and the little sister of the family couldn’t figure out why her big brother wasn’t able to play with her. My biggest helper now required more care than he had in many years. For a family that loves to do things together, it was suddenly impossible to find an activity that would work for everyone. Everything felt as though it was turned upside-down.
On the drive home from the store that day, I took the quiet time in the car to fuel up, if you will, and prayed for God to speak through the doctors and be clear on what was causing the swelling and pain. In a sense, it was me reaching for the sleeve of Ritz crackers, doing what I knew would restore my strength and help me sort through the information before me. The difference was however, that I wasn’t starting out on an entirely empty stomach. Turning to God in all things is second nature to me. To me, it’s as logical as reaching for crackers when I’m hungry. I’ve been blessed from a young age, fed with the knowledge I needed to understand that I’m never alone in this crazy thing called life. It’s hard not to take something so familiar for granted, but every now and again I am reminded how fortunate I am to have been blessed with my faith and the knowledge that God can and will work through all things; big or small, important or seemingly trivial. And once again I was reminded that this is a gift that so many live without, yes, sometimes by choice, but too often through no fault of their own. Far too many people in this world are struggling to get by on an empty stomach; those that don’t think their problems are worthy of prayer and don’t understand that when you hand it all over to God, it all becomes important if for no other reason than the simple fact that He’s crazy about all. of. us.
I liken the whole idea of faith to a beautiful lake surrounded by a peaceful and scenic landscape. Some are happy and most comfortable to sit back from the water and enjoy the view. They appreciate the beauty of the landscape for what its worth, but sadly, they’ve never been told they are allowed to jump into the water or informed about the refreshment it could bring them. There are those that have heard about this thing called faith and are curious enough to stand at the edge of the lake and dip their toes in but are fearful that complete immersion would require too much of a commitment and might send ripples through their lives that they simply aren’t yet prepared for. There are those that swim with life vests and floaties, craving something more but not entirely certain that they want to be “all in”. Then there are those that had the benefit of someone sharing the cherished secret with them, those that run unabashedly toward the water and confidently jump in trusting that the refreshment will far outweigh any sacrifice that may be required.
I truly appreciate the many ways that God has intervened in our son’s injury and I hate to think of all I would miss and the pile of undelivered “thank yous” that would result from me not realizing who is really in charge. I see Him working in our son’s amazingly positive attitude, in the humility of our orthopedist who referred us to a doctor more familiar and skilled with this type of surgery on a child who is still growing, in the moments when my son looks at me and thanks me for taking care of him, in the ability to work with a physical therapist who is truly skilled in her work. Life is just so much more beautiful when you are able to see it for each little gift that makes up the journey.
This has been declared the “year of Mercy” in the Catholic church. As a result, I’ve heard many opinions on exactly what mercy is. I’m privileged to be working with a team of women, my surrogate sisters, to plan a women’s retreat that focuses on mercy, what it means to us and how to live it in our daily lives. What I’ve come to understand is that the definition of mercy is wide, expansive, flexible and potentially life-changing. It is both complex and so very simple.
To me, mercy is the example set for us by Pope Francis when he washed the feet of twelve imprisoned men and women; a true and honest declaration that everyone is worthy of being met where they are at. It is the realization that faith is never meant to be prideful or forced into the face and lives of those not yet ready to jump into the lake. Rather, it’s waving to those on shore, gently encouraging them to take a dip and knowing when it’s time to come out and quietly sit together on the beach.