Embracing 40

I have been incredibly blessed my entire life to be pretty healthy. I have participated in many sports and never had injuries.  I have never broken a bone or gone to the E.R. as a patient.  

And then I turned 40. That’s right! It’s a game changer. My 4th grade daughter had an end-of-year soccer scrimmage with the moms of the team, and having played soccer in high school, I went all in. Until, that is…I went all out. Will carried me off the field. Something in my knee just snapped while kicking the ball. It was so surprising and painful! Turns out, I tore my ACL.

I have been wearing a knee brace to keep it steady. While an inconvenience, the experience has been just as surprising as the injury itself. In the halls of the school where I work, people see the brace from a distance and rush to ask what’s wrong. Then they almost always proceed to tell me a story about their own knee injury or their child’s injury or any injury they’ve overcome. These stories are amazing! What people have overcome is so inspiring. And none of them are still wearing a brace, which encourages me so much. They all share a deep gratitude for being on the other side of it, for running and walking, and for what I have perhaps always taken for granted.  

The limp isn’t the only thing slowing me down. It’s connecting with people and hearing their stories. There are people I’ve known very well, but never knew this part of their life. The slower pace has felt less productive, but perhaps more fruitful.  

This past weekend my husband and I were staying in a hotel, and I decided to take off the brace to walk out to the pool. It’s the first time I had been without it. The strange thing about an ACL tear is that it is an invisible, internal injury. The ACL is what holds the knee together. So at any time, one misstep could blow the entire knee. But strangely, the knee looks perfectly normal on the outside with no swelling or bruising. I made my way to the glass pool door…please let that kid hold it open…and it slammed in my face. I walked over to the towel rack…please let that man just hand it to me...and he quickly turned to walk away. Without the brace, no one knows my struggle. They see me as okay and healthy. But that’s not the reality right now. I am, as my doctor said, “very unsteady.” 

And this has made me wonder how many people around us are one step away from things blowing up. How many have an invisible hurt and need a simple helping hand from those around them to walk through the doors that are right in front of them?

I’ve been that person, and I’m eternally grateful for the people who wanted to know and love more than the healthy exterior, who lingered and pressed in, and who graciously walked my limping self to our Healer. I am thankful for the people who wore their hurts outwardly and shared their victory stories openly without even knowing they were ministering to me. Jesus says it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Sometimes those who are the most sick look healthy. This experience has opened my eyes. 

My word for 2021 that I prayed about back in January is “weakness.” I know that’s a strange word, but the prayer behind it was not to operate in my own strength (my default), but to let God’s power be made perfect in my weakness. In my sunroom is posted the scripture, 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

When I choose a word for the year, God is often faithful to see to it that I live it experientially. My knee injury has taught me some things that I wanted to share:

  • When you wear your weakness, you receive the gift of surprising compassion, meet new friends and are invited into people’s stories.
  • People’s injury stories are often the most interesting part about them. Press in and get to know them.
  • The things we hope will never happen are often the things that teach us the most in life.
  • Freely share your stories of victory and overcoming, never knowing who they may be encouraging. Someone is always in need of hearing them.
  • Have compassion on everyone, regardless of exterior strength. 

And, finally, as my wise co-worker in his 50’s said, 

  • When you get older, you need to move in one direction at a time. 

While making me laugh, that is great wisdom on every level. I have changed direction from a soccer player to a soccer momma. Now, that is something to embrace!

Tiger Woods and Notre Dame

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Tiger Woods coming back to victory…Notre Dame burning down to ashes…none of it expected…all of it last Sunday. As I watched the newscast, I was captivated…in one scene the real-time destruction of a holy and magnificent place thousands have visited over the centuries, and in another, the amazing athletic comeback of an individual.

I found my reaction to the simultaneous scenes to be surprising. I had the privilege of visiting Paris and Notre Dame at age 18. It was spectacular. It was one of the many cathedrals I visited in that time of my travel abroad. I did not personally know the love of Jesus Christ at the time. I stood there staring under those very large ceilings in awe of a God bigger than me; in awe of the care, the detail, the history. As beautiful as it was, and with all due respect, my time in this breathtaking place did not change or transform my heart. But I watched flames engulf this iconic landmark in real time with my mouth wide open.

Notre Dame is a place I’ve personally been. My feet have walked there. Tiger is a man I’ve never met, a complete stranger. Yet, if we’re honest, we’ve all walked in his footsteps, haven’t we? The success, the highs, the mistakes, the shame, the behind-the-scenes effort when no one else is looking, the loss of loved ones, the injury, the despair, the perseverance, the come back…those footsteps have touched and transformed us as we’ve personally walked them.

Over the last decade as we’ve watched Tiger’s legacy burn much like the cathedral of Notre Dame, there’s one scene we probably all remember off the course. It was his wife hitting his car with a golf club after finding out his unfaithfulness.

So as I watched the newscast, my fingers started typing…there was one burning question…it surprisingly wasn’t the cause of the fire in Paris. It was, where was Elin, Tiger’s ex-wife, the mother of the son who hugged him tight? Having missed the Masters and having been out of the loop since that golf club incident, I was frantically googling if she was there. Was she proud of him? Was there ever reconciliation? Was she cheering in her heart? What happened with all of that mess?

The athletic comeback is so inspiring. There’s nothing like these stories. We’ve seen it with Tiger; we’ve seen it with Michael Phelps…the talent, the fall, the lonely moments in the shadows, then the growth, wisdom and unshakeable determination that drives the comeback, of more value to victory than sheer talent. All that to say, I couldn’t help but think of Elin. The question ran through my mind; why did I care so much?

I think it’s because when everything else burns away at the end of time, we are left with the people we love, the people in our lives, our family, our marriage. Those are the places where we’re really cheering for a comeback. If we look through the rubble and ash of our life stories, I think what we long to see resurrected the most are the hearts of loved ones. We long for miraculous reconciliation where there has been fracture. We deeply desire to hear the genuine words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

Buildings will burn, success will be forgotten, and we are left with our relationships with each other and God. We are so much His treasure that He says our hearts are the place His Holy Spirit now dwells. We are the temples of the living God. Perhaps that’s why my heart was drawn to the comeback of Tiger more than the burning of Notre Dame in that moment.

There’s little I could find about Elin last Sunday. It didn’t appear she was there. And that’s okay. Theirs is not my story to write, far more complex than I can see, and redemption doesn’t always come in the way we would script it or want it to look. It belongs to God, not to us. But I think my desperate desire to find a photo of her cheering for Tiger perhaps points to our deepest hope. For our defining moments not to be the ones of betrayal, for a love that is bigger than our mistakes, for the people we’ve hurt up close and the God we’ve betrayed to, by the miracle of grace, still want to pull for us.

I can understand why Elin hit Tiger with a golf club. I understand the desire to hit people over the head too. I also know that I’ve broken the Lord’s heart like that. I know the anger I deserve for some of the poor choices I’ve made.

What’s harder to understand is grace.

In this startling picture of Notre Dame after the fire, the cross remained.

IMG_2596Isn’t that breathtaking? Jesus doesn’t beat us over the head. He doesn’t walk away either. He does the unthinkable…He stands in our place and takes the beating Himself. The earth shook and darkness covered the land in the middle of the day when he died. It was far more gruesome than the scene of that fire. He did it for us. His head hung low so He could lift ours high, not to look away in shame, but to see we are loved far more than we can ever imagine. We’re His treasure, our worth determined by Him, not by our failures and successes. All that’s left of our sin and mess-ups is that cross. At the end of the day, that’s the story. It’s the miracle of the story. It’s the crux of the story.  

But, it’s not the end of the story.

We can look around today and see newness of life and spring everywhere; we can worship the Risen Lord and praise Him for the fullness of grace, for our inheritance, for His victory, for His personal mercy and love, for coming out of that grave to rescue us…

We can also look around and quickly see things that break our heart. Another death, divorce, sickness, the pain of poverty, the struggles of loved ones…

Today we wait in hope knowing this…He deeply cares about the things that break our hearts. And, the story is not over.

There will be a final end to death, grieving, the darkness, pain and tears. The brokenness of this world will be made whole, new…

We celebrate the resurrection and we hang onto Jesus’s last words,

“Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20)

He has promised us…a comeback. Maybe that’s why it gripped my heart more than the fire on Sunday. Beauty instead of ashes. That’s His promise; that’s our hope.

*photos by AP Images, Getty, EPA, USA Today Sports, CBC News