Just generally we humans don’t like surprises much, though there are few exceptions, like surprise birthday parties or romantic marriage proposals. But when you’re out playing tennis on a beautiful Thursday evening, laughing with your grandkids, the kind of surprise you don’t want happens when you go high to return a ball, and go over backwards, breaking both bones in your wrist and getting a concussion in the process.
That surprise began quite an ordeal that I’m glad to say after two weeks and three days is finally starting to settle into a New Normal for me. As you can imagine, there’s been a lot to learn in this process. Not only am I am learning to use my left hand for all the small things in life—which is disorienting in itself—but I’m bumping into an almost constant need to adapt, continually needing to figure things out.
I decided that first day that there were a couple of baseline items I had to solve if I was going to be happy during this long recovery process. First, I had to figure out how to put my hair up. I just wasn’t going to make it through the hot summer months out in the garden without mastering that self-comfort trick. Next I needed to learn how to peel an orange—I had a lot of oranges and didn’t want to let them go to waste. When I experimented with it later that day, not only did I make a huge mess that left me and most of my kitchen towels covered in orange juice and pulp, but I discovered an idea that helps me cope with a lot of the basic obstacles I meet: life is often about leverage.
Think about it. We need pressure and counter pressure to get things done. This is true whether you need to open a jar, zip a dress, or open a dog food can. I learned to open a jar by putting it between my tennis-shoed feet, repeating the mantra, righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, and giving it a good, left-handed twist. That typically works. I discovered you can zip a dress by leaning against a counter to create the tension so the zipper will pull. And the pop-top dog food can you can get started with your thumb, but to pull the top all the way off, push it against a dishrag on the side of the sink—that gives you the leverage you need, the fabric adds just the right texture to keep the can from slipping, and also keeps it from scratching the sink.
But this kind of can-do, problem-solving approach was only part of the story. Along with the concussion, which brought a sense of extreme exhaustion every afternoon about 1:30, and the continuing physical pain, I was struggling inwardly with my thoughts and emotions. How could something so wonderful—a fun afternoon with my grandkids—result in something so awful? I had no answer to that question, and still don’t. Waves of frustration washed over me when I was forced to accept imperfection (you simply can’t get all the cat food out of the tin with one hand and folding clothes—any clothes—is almost pointless. Might as well just ball them up and throw them in the drawer.)
It took me some time—and considerable number of grumpy prayers—before the opportunity in my circumstances began to come slowly into focus. I started to see that I am being given the chance to get to know myself in a new way, with limitations I’ve never had before. I am physically unable to live up my own standards for things like folded laundry or fed cats, curtailed in my ability to be totally self-sufficient (kind neighbors and family members are now mowing my lawn and carrying bags of mulch for me). Can I be gentle and kind to myself, whether I can do all the things I used to do or not? That’s an important question for each of us as we age, isn’t it? Because some things are going to fall by the wayside—maybe a lot of things—but what is essential about each of us, love and light, the kingdom of God within and among us, who we are at the center of our souls as beloved children of God—those things remain constant.
As that new perspective began to dawn on me, I saw that I was in a new landscape and really hadn’t had much practice in learning to make peace with my own limitations. Where would I find a map for this kind of journey? I knew the only good source for me there was God, and I would know what I needed to know as the moments came along. That’s where the connection to today’s Old Testament scripture comes in. “And when you turn to right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
That’s how I understand the dozens of practical ideas that occur to me as I try to live life without my dominant hand. And some of the suggestions are joyful, too—after silent worship this week I felt led to stop and get some good colored pencils and a sketch pad, and I started sketching with my left hand to befriend it a little and let it show me what it’s capable of. I drew a picture of a guinea pig from a photo I’d saved on my phone. And you know, it wasn’t half bad. To me, that was God bringing a sense of light and grace, life and fun, into what I had been seeing as a limiting experience. Maybe this wasn’t just about losing things—my right hand, my independence, my plans for the summer—but also about gaining things—my left hand, new skills, deeper connections with neighbors, friends, and coworkers. It would be just like God, I thought, to use what begins as a painful experience to open up the whole world to us in a new way.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in our New Testament scripture he talks about his thorn in the flesh. Three times he asked the Lord to remove his burden, but the answer he received was simply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Our pew Bibles don’t reflect this but many Bible translations include the word my in that last phrase, so it’s “my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Isn’t that an astounding statement?
Back in the mid-90s there was a movie called Jerry Maguire, and in a romantic moment one character expresses love for the other and says, “You complete me.” In God’s response to Paul when he wanted to be set free of his limitations, God is promising that he does in fact complete us, in all the imperfect, limited, and sometimes childish ways we fall short.
God is in the gaps—God is already in whatever gaps we perceive in ourselves, in our families, in our world—filling out each experience to make our moments whole. When there’s misunderstanding, God is in the space between us, leading us back to peace. When there’s injustice, God is working in seen and unseen ways to bring all to light so healing can begin. God’s at work in the broken bones in my wrist and in the hearts, minds, and spirits of all those connected to my care. God has been with so many of you—as well as Friends throughout Western Yearly Meeting—who have prayed me through this whole ordeal. Thank you so much for your loving prayers—I have felt them carrying me along and lifting me up through this whole experience.
So I invite you along on this bumpy, winding, left-handed path of self-discovery and deepening faith. We might learn things that surprise us. We might find new peace along the way. Perhaps we can make friends with our weaknesses and stop holding so much against ourselves. We might be able to relax some of the expectations we hold ourselves to, or at least bring them down a few notches. God’s got this, all of it, already working to complete and perfect our best efforts, no matter how lopsided they may be. Maybe we can begin to see all our shortcomings and limitations as opportunities for God’s grace to shine through. As we become softer, easier, more gentle with ourselves, we’ll look out on our world with softer eyes and I suspect we’ll find more of God’s light shining back. We don’t need two hands for that. We just need one heart, one spirit, One God.
- OT Isaiah 30: 21
- NT 2 Corinthians 12: 6-10