“For if the Word of God is alive and active … my final word is not the final word on God’s Word.”
On December 23, 2010, my friend Larry broke his ankle. He slipped on some ice on his own front porch and went down hard on the concrete. It was a bad break. To add hardship to injury, he had no one to sue but himself.
Larry is a man who is most often on the move. He’s been active in his local church in men’s ministries and as a visiting elder and cell group leader. When my mom was, as we used to say, “shut in” during her last few years of life, Larry visited her faithfully. They talked and prayed together. He read Scripture to her and served her communion. Many a day I would come home to find Larry’s vehicle in our lane. Mom loved him like a son. My brother and I jokingly accused him of trying to worm his way into the will.
Considering the severity of the break, the surgeon warned Larry that the healing process was going to be lengthy. For three weeks he could put absolutely no weight on the ankle at all. After two weeks, if the swelling went down, they would put the ankle in an air cast. Four weeks after that, if things went well, they would look at fitting him with a walking cast. So for at least six weeks, he was to be confined to home, pretty well immobile and dependent on help to do the simplest things. And that was if things went according to plan. The impending, lengthy recovery filled both him and his wife with trepidation. It did not make for a very merry Christmas or a happy start to a new year.
One year later, on December 23, 2011, I was one of a table full of friends seated in Larry’s dining room for what, in true Larry style, was dubbed the “First annual Broken Ankle Celebration” (BAC).
Each year since, true to his word, Larry has invited friends to come and celebrate the anniversary of his bone-shattering fall. We gather around a table laden with steaming bowls of chili, baskets of fresh-baked corn bread and biscuits, and platters of sweet Christmas baking. Someone gives thanks and then we tuck into the food (did I mention that it’s men only?). Between mouthfuls we tell stories—Larry’s one of the best storytellers I know—and we laugh and then we eat some more. When we’ve eaten past our fill and begin telling stories we’ve all heard before, we clear the table, hug Larry and head for home. All of us are grateful for that slippery December day when Larry fell and broke his ankle. But no one is more grateful than Larry.
In his inaugural email invitation, Larry explained his reason for throwing a party: It’s a great time to get together and enjoy each other around the theme of the blessings we receive in life—some easily recognized as such and others that take work (or surrender of control) to come to the place of recognition that, in the midst of difficulty, God is blessing.
Let’s face it: when life knocks us to the ground, when we are broken or laid up by unexpected trouble, our first thought is to see it as a curse, not a blessing. We are more likely to ask God, “Why did You let this happen?” than to say “Thank You.” Although we acknowledge that bad stuff happens to good people, we question when it happens to us. We expect God to protect us. We’d rather not be broken. But if you spent an afternoon with Larry, he’d tell you story after story of God’s good work in his life during those long weeks of convalescence. It’s why he throws a party every year to celebrate what seemed a curse but became God’s blessing in his life.
In his book Credo, William Sloane Coffin writes, “God provides minimum protection, maximum support—support to help us grow up, to stretch our minds and hearts until they are as wide as God’s universe. God doesn’t want us narrow-minded, priggish, and subservient, but joyful and loving, as free for one another as God’s love was freely poured out for us at Christmas in that babe in the manger.”
Last year, for the third annual BAC, Larry issued a challenge to us, his guests, to write something on the following theme: “How Broken Ankle Celebrations are in some way connected to Christmas.” I took up the challenge.
A Fragile Incarnation
(for Larry on the 3rd anniversary of his Broken Ankle Christmas) You took flesh and blood, skin
and bones, hands
and feet, fingers
and toes, teeth
… and nails.
Did you ever catch a cold, split
your lip, stub
your toe, crack
your shin, chip
your tooth on an olive pit, bang
your head on a low-hung beam, sprain
your wrist doing cartwheels, break
your ankle jumping
… from a tree?
You took bread, gave thanks, broke it.
You give it to us; say, “Take, eat
this body, broken
… for you.”