During my childhood summers, there were a plethora of ghost stories floating around the neighborhood waiting to be retold on dark front porch steps after the street lights came on and when our parents let us stay outside a bit longer because it was so hot inside. A perennial favorite was the tale of an old woman who went to her garden to dig up a root vegetable for her homemade soup, but mistakenly dug up someone’s big toe instead. That night as she lay in bed, while strips of clouds obscured the full moon and breezes forced her curtains to dance in midair. she heard someone walking downstairs. She thought it was her imagination until a monotone voice groaned, “I…want…my…big…toe…” the “o” drawn out in dramatic agony. The first step of her staircase creaked. Then the second. The monotone voice spoke again, but louder. “I…want…my…big…toe…” Third step. Fourth step. The creaking continued up the stairs. Fifth step. Sixth step. And down the hall to her bedroom door. Seventh step. Eighth step. The old woman drew her blankets to her chin as the bedroom doorknob turned. The light from the hallway shone on her as the door opened. “I…want… my…big…toe….” Ninth step. Tenth step. Gotcha! At this point the storyteller would grab the arm of the nearest unsuspecting listener, starting a domino affect of screams and giggles through the group.
I only liked that story if I was sitting away from the storyteller. I admit I was a bit of a scaredy-cat and I really didn’t like being scared scared—like I was the night my friend and I took a dare and walk through the alley by ourselves without a flashlight. I was okay hearing a ghost tale on the safety of my porch if it was told by one of the older kids; someone I trusted not to turn into the monster they were telling the tale about (like a character did on an episode of Twilight Zone ). I just didn’t like the anticipation, the possibility of being the gotcha! one.
I’m thinking about this ghost story today because I really do want my big toe—to be healed. I have good health except for arthritis in my big toe and it has gotten to the point of needing surgery. That may seem minor to you but let me say that after my first operation, when I was in physical therapy, there was a grown man lifting hundreds of pounds of iron with barely a grimace, a women cycling 50 miles per hour as calmly as if she were sipping tea, and then there was me—sweating profusely and on the verge of tears because the therapist bent my toe back a hair-width more than it was.
The thing is, I never really got over my scaredy-cat disposition when it comes to surgeries. Caesarian sections, broken wrist, and several surgeries on this same toe, it just never got easier for me to face the operating room. I tried direct requests to Jesus. I tried rosaries and meditation. I tried prayer chains and positive rehearsals. I survived surgery but it wasn’t easy. I was stuck in a perpetual state of gotcha!
Then a few weeks ago I overheard a guy say that he gave up fear for Lent. I loved it! It’s not a new idea, of course. We’ve heard do not be afraid hundreds of times in the Old Testament and New Testament. It has been the theme of multiple Sunday homilies as well as dozens of secular self-help books. But the idea of giving it up for Lent really spoke to me because it took the focus of action away from heaven and put it on my lap. Instead of asking God to make surgery unnecessary (wouldn’t every family at Children’s Hospital like that), it gave me a way to take action, to do something to accept God’s help instead of expecting God to do it all. It helped me see God as the storyteller I can trust to take care of me through the scary parts of surgery–of life—to, in fact, eliminate scary and replace it with fun tingles—without a gotcha! at the end.
I want my big toe—to be healthy. And it will happen because I resolve today to take God’s advice and give up fear. It’s too late for Lent, but I’m giving it up for May, then June, and July and autumn and winter. Because no matter what ghosts float around my front porch steps, I trust my Father, the ultimate Storyteller, to give me a fairy tale ending–to see surgery as a miracle, a way to heal, a blessing; and to glide calmly through it.
My next resolution: physical therapy without tears.