I was about half-way through my workout when my ankle gave out. My foot rolled, twisting my ankle under my weight with a loud “pop.” I crumpled to the ground, unable to stand, and grabbed my leg. My ankle was on fire with pain. I held it in the air, gasping in agony, and begged my brain to get a handle on the pain so I could breathe. My ankle swelled immediately and I could see the blood start to pool under the bone.
The next several days found me confined to the couch, my ankle propped up on pillows and loaded down with ice. The kids gathered around to assess the damage.
“Your foot looks really fat,” Kya said, noticing the way my flesh puffed up around the Ace wrap.
“And it really, really stinky!” Micah said. He didn’t care for the herbal ointment I had rubbed all over. It created a strange, bluish-gray hue over my deeply bruised skin.
“And your skin is all different colors. Like a crocodile,” Jonathan added.
“I think your baby toe looks like a beluga whale!” Faith concluded. They all giggled.
But Paul was worried. “Your leg is broken? You need to glue it,” he advised. Then, every so often, he stopped in to pat my leg. “That make it better?” he asked, patting.
“Yes, Paul, I think it does.”
“Good (pat, pat). I make it better.” He brought books and snuggled next to me and told me he liked me.
The pain subsided after a few days, but I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without my entire foot swelling up and throbbing. The only thing I could do was sit on the couch and give directions. The kids scampered about, eager to help. Faith made scrambled eggs for breakfast, helped the boys to the bathroom, and changed a set of wet sheets. Jonathan set the table. Kya dressed her brothers. In tutus. They unloaded the dishwasher and swept the floor and got out their school books, working diligently despite many interruptions.
When my husband came home from work, he was met at the door with a day’s worth of requests by five kids who didn’t have a mother to help. All of the household responsibilities fell squarely on his shoulders as soon as he walked in the door. Dinner, jammies, brushing teeth, grocery shopping, cleaning up the kitchen—no matter what the task, he did it all cheerfully and scolded me if I so much as thought about getting up.
My neighbors sent over crutches and cookies, friends offered to bring meals, and my mother-in-law stopped in with a big pot of soup and cornbread muffins. She washed the dishes in the sink and cleaned up the kitchen that had been neglected all week. The children bragged to her about how much they were helping. Their faces glowed.
But by Friday, I was exhausted. Sure, my foot hurt, but it was more than that. I felt discouraged. Helpless. Worthless. I felt as if somehow my value as a wife and mother had diminished along with my ability to do.
Day after day, I was a mother who couldn’t take little boys to the bathroom or get children ready to go outside. I was a wife who couldn’t make dinner or pack a lunch. I couldn’t make my own coffee or carry my own dirty laundry to the hamper. I couldn’t even feed the cat.
It was strangely terrible, being in a place where I had nothing to offer, where I was broken and needy and unable to do a single thing about it. I could only ask for help and beg for charity from those who were already stretched thin and worn out with the demands of daily life. I dug in my pockets for something to give, desperate to contribute so I could feel better, but I found nothing except my own insecurity.
Who am I when I have nothing to give? I am a coward. It’s one thing for you to know that I’m weak and broken, generally speaking. It’s another thing for you to get close enough to diagnose my disease. I do not want you to get up close into my specifics and see my dirty dishes and my daughter’s failed math test and hear the way I talked to my kids when I had to give the same directions three times in a row. I do not want you to know me like this.
If I can’t be left alone, I will insist that I’m getting better. I may be broken now, but I won’t be broken later. I am not this needy, not always. This is a fluke, a one-time deal. Soon I will be on the giving end of grace, just like I like it. Just wait and you will see—I’m getting better.
But love doesn’t wait. Love comes into my messy house after a full day, looks into my blotchy face, and gets to work setting things straight without saying a word. Love is my husband’s arms, enfolding me, carrying me up the stairs even though I say I can manage myself. Love is my children’s hands, bringing me water and pillows and sweetly accepting my injury as an opportunity to serve. Love is a friend who brings dinner even though I say I’m getting better. Love knows I am not better.
And I find that this kind of love–the kind I don’t deserve, the kind I can’t earn, the kind that pushes into my weaknesses and exposes my fault lines–is hard to take. It is the kind of love that is bathed in grace, and I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with grace. I want to deserve it. I want to earn it. I want to believe I am getting better. I do not want to need it, and the horror of grace is that it necessitates weakness, brokenness, and emptiness. It rushes in when I dig deep and find nothing to offer.
It is the kind of love that looks at a woman shrouded in excuses and loves her in spite of the lies, not because of them. It is the kind of love that smears mud on sightless eyes and raises servant girls to life and replaces the ear of an enemy. It is the kind of love that heals ten when nine will forget. It is the kind of love that gave up the strength and power I crave in order to take on the weakness I abhor so that I might be saved with the grace I find so difficult to accept.
Who am I when I can’t give, when I can’t do, when I can’t be better than I really am, when there is nothing but me, on a couch, broken? Who am I when I have nothing to hide behind? Who am I when I can’t do anything to make myself more appealing to earn your friendship or your favor, your admiration and your love? What if all I have is grace?
Then I find myself in the place I most need to be.