First, a small note – I’ve upgraded our site so there shouldn’t be any more sketchy ads here. (um, sorry, and thanks for the tip-offs)!
I was so frustrated when I broke my arm last summer! In the midst of a pandemic, outdoor activities were one of the few fun/social/stress-relieving activities I could do, and breaking my arm meant that most of those were out.
I had big expectations: my bones healed well and I was even able to take the cast off earlier than expected! I had big plans to do all the exercises faithfully and be back to normal in a month or two at most.
After a few days, I remember looking at the progression of exercises and being really discouraged. I could manipulate playdough, and even drink from a cup (if I was very careful and it wasn’t full or hot), but I couldn’t rotate my arm at all, and there was no way I was ever going to be strong enough to wring out a towel or rotate a hammer.
I was further discouraged when I went back to the surgeon and he saw my progress and recommended I go see a professional physiotherapist. I wasn’t doing the exercises well enough on my own!? And now I would have to pay!? And I wasn’t nearly back to normal, already?!
So, I made an appointment (because I really did want to do everything I could to get the use of my arm back, even if I didn’t like it). And thus began a huge lesson and parallel metaphor for so many other things in my life.
I went in with a pretty crummy attitude, but trying at least to be open that it might be helpful. I left the first day, willing to come back, and just barely willing to believe his enthusiasm that my arm was going to get better. (I’m sure it sounds overly dramatic, but I was still in a decent amount of pain and frustrated that I was so weak. My arm could get wet in the shower now but still wasn’t useful for washing my hair!) But from his confidence, I took away a sliver of hope.
I think it was the second or third week, he asked me, “Who gave you all these unrealistic expectations about how long this would take?”
It’s me with the unrealistically high expectations.
So each week I went home with assigned exercises to do. I did most of them, most days. And each week, he moved the bones around and I shared my report of the very small new thing I could do that week (I used my left hand to drink coffee! I turned a doorknob, even though I had to contort my whole body to do it!). Each time, he treated the very regular experiences as victories! He cheered me on when I did some/most of the exercises. (He even celebrated with me when I fell on my arm because I was hiking to where it was icy. Instead of cautioning me or being nervous, he added to the confidence that I didn’t have to be too afraid of hurting myself to do things.) And I went home encouraged to keep trying; that it might get better.
Sometime around February I started doing the hammer rotation. It felt like a really big deal (even though it took me a month or 2 to work my way up to holding the full weight of the hammer from the end.)
And last week I had nearly my last physio appointment! (I’m going to book one more in a month or so, because I know I need the accountability to keep doing the strengthening exercises, plus I think I’m going to need a few more difficult ones.)
My arm isn’t 100%. But most of the time, it doesn’t impede my daily activities. I’ve been able to do stuff without being afraid of falling. (Mostly because, I’ve fallen a few times and been ok.) And last week I went out for a long kayak trip, and it didn’t slow me down at all!
It has kept making me think that healing and learning are almost always so much longer roads than we expect. The work required to be able to use my arm in the way that I want often didn’t look like the things I wanted to do. (It was hard to convince myself that the stupid wrist stretches were in any way connected to hiking or kayaking or cooking.) However – the only way to get anywhere is to start – is to do the mundane and often difficult work required to keep moving towards the goal, little by little.
And while I don’t want to minimize the help that came with professional skills and knowledge, having someone who encouraged me and celebrated the incremental improvements (particularly in this year of isolation), gave me consistent boosts to keep doing the work.
This so closely parallels the discipleship work I do. It parallels helping people see the way that consistent disciplines lead to spiritual growth. (And creatively looking at which “exercises” are needed and helpful). It parallels the way I look at people and sometimes say, “Where did these unrealistic expectations come from?” It parallels the way I celebrate with people when they have a victory, and help them connect it to their goals of who they want to be and what they want to do.
I’ve learned some ways to be better at what I do, and I have this experiential memory of what it is like to have someone cheering me on in a long, painful, difficult process. I am encouraged and inspired by what a difference this has made for me – and the possibilities of what a difference I can make with others as I encourage them in their journeys.