What did you do for vacation this summer?
I’m guessing that instead of getaways, many of you experienced unexpected changes of all kinds: a sudden lack of ability to find toilet paper. A sudden shift to remote work. A sudden shift to online school. A curtailed social life. A strained family life. A reduced — or increased — workload. Maybe even outright loss: a job, a family member, a friend. (I pray that you have not suffered that kind of loss, but realistically, it’s likely that some of you have.)
Each of us has endured significant life interruptions this year that have forced us to slow down. I have too. Here’s what happened when I took a leap of faith — one that sent me backward. I’m sharing my story with the hope that it will encourage you as you navigate yours.
Summer of Standstill
My interruption had nothing to do with a pandemic. Besides dealing with COVID-19-related impacts to work location, family/social life, and T.P. inventory, I also spent the summer recovering from ankle surgery. The procedure took place in early June … three months after the original March surgery date we had planned. And I know what you’re thinking: “But COVID-19.”
Well, actually, no. It’s: “But chicken.” I chickened out of surgery in February, weeks before elective surgeries were put on hold here in Colorado.
The chickening out, I know, stemmed from several root excuses:
- I don’t want to spend the summer being so limited.
- I don’t have time for this.
- I don’t want my life to be interrupted any more than it already has been.
- I’m afraid something will go wrong.
I finally cried “Uncle!” during quarantine. I called the clinic and scheduled the surgery for the earliest date I could get after Colorado began lifting state restrictions.
You may be wondering how this came about. Well, God got particularly creative when he designed my feet and ankles, tossing some structural anomalies into the architectural plans. I knew about them — or thought I did. We discovered another one during the diagnostic process. It was crowding a tendon, and the tendon had finally reached the point where it couldn’t compensate anymore. When it first flared up in late 2018, I could hardly walk. I spent all of 2019 trying to fix it.
Despite this struggle, the last thing I wanted was another surgery. Back in 2013, I got so sick after a surgery that it broke my endurance. Before that interruption, I was enjoying newfound running and athletic talents, competing in races from 5K to marathon, road to trail, mountain to triathlon. I was winning age-group awards — something I never thought I could do. It opened up a whole new world for me, and I loved it!
That 2013 procedure took my normal away. I started trying to rebuild my strength and reconnect with the running and triathlon communities. After five years of relentless work, I was finally seeing glimpses of my former self.
Then the ankle went on strike, and I felt my progress start to fade. I was very afraid of this surgery. But the only choice at that point was to move forward and accept the risk.
The procedure was supposed to be simple and straightforward. But during the surgery, the medical team discovered yet another structural anomaly in the ankle complex. I kid you not! It had successfully hidden from the X-rays, the ultrasounds and the MRIs. The team had never seen this variation before. And just like that, the straightforward procedure turned into an experimental and involved surgery.
When I learned what had happened, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (I laughed). Between you and me (and a certain enthusiastic Creator I know), I could have done with a little less creativity!
He Raised Me to My Feet
My summer, by the numbers:
- Sixteen weeks of recovery and counting.
- Twelve physical therapy appointments and counting.
- Seven massage therapy appointments and counting.
- Three post-op appointments and counting.
The road back to mobility has featured muscle spasms. Nerve pain. Swelling. Atrophy. Instability. Weakness. Fatigue. It has included a soft cast, a scooter, an Ace bandage, crutches, a walking boot, a pile of ice packs, and an array of rehabilitation tools. It has required countless hours of physical therapy “homework.” It has caused gritted teeth, frustration and tears.
It has called for creative solutions for everyday living — not to mention a sense of humor. (It’s not a scooter, it’s an all-terrain vehicle!)
With COVID-19 restrictions in the mix, it has also meant having little direct social contact during a time when I really could have used some. Forced recovery and isolation was a place where I never wanted to go again. My husband and I prayed fervently that this surgery would be free of complications.
God said no.
But here’s the thing: When my ankle finally reached a certain stage of healing, I started experiencing breakthroughs like these:
- I went from pulling my seated self up and down stairs with my upper body, to carefully “going vertical” with the support of a crutch.
- I went from hanging on to the kitchen counter for dear life as I tried to take a step without crutches, to walking around the block, to walking for an hour.
- I went from struggling to get on my bike, to riding for several miles with confidence.
Pick Up Your Boot and Walk
As the world endures massive, universal disruption, you can see and hear and sense the groans for life to go back to the familiar. People’s daily routines, from Compassion sponsors to the children they so lovingly support, have been dismantled. Adapted. Reinvented.
Sometimes we choose interruptions in life. Sometimes interruptions choose us. No matter the circumstance, there’s a new normal in town that’s uncomfortable. Unpredictable. Aggravating. Restrictive. Lonely. Exhausting.
How do we respond in faith? How do we reach those breakthroughs that feel like they’re never going to come? How can we even think about running when today, we can’t even walk?
The particulars look different for everyone, but here are some principles that have helped me navigate my convoluted path:
- Accept that life is going to throw you some curveballs, even when you pray that it won’t.
- Recognize that the new normal isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.
- Identify healthy, life-giving activities that you can do at each stage of interruption. Then make the most of them.
- Do the work to rebuild a solid foundation.
- On hard days, choose to trust your Surgeon (God). Focus on taking the next step — and hang on to him for dear life.
- Keep a long-term goal in view. Work toward it relentlessly. Hold it loosely.
- Celebrate victories, both large and small.
- Ask for help when you need it. Offer help when you see a need.
I’ve also focused on several Scripture verses during this time:
- “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” — Isaiah 43:19
- “He touched me and raised me to my feet.” — Daniel 8:18
- “He picked up his mat and walked.” — John 5:8
- “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” — Matthew 14:29
- “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” — 1 Corinthians 9:24
As I developed this article, my surgeon cleared me to start adding a little bit of running back into my routine. Music to my ears! But I have to remind myself that I’m not out of the woods yet. I still have to apply patience to this season of rebuilding. Whatever happens, all I can do is what I can do. And I’m determined to make of the most of it.