For five glorious weeks this sweet, innocent little four year old became a tyrant. Not that one could blame her; she went from dancing and running about to being unable to move without effort and considerable help. It would've made me crabby, too. Check that - I would have been a miserable, mean old bear. We all pitched in, and we made it through. Finally, five weeks after that unfortunate day, the cast was removed. We were so excited! Apparently she wasn't. It was nearly ten days before she would walk. No cajoling, pleading, bargaining or bribing would bring her to her feet. Even Chuck E. Cheese failed. This was serious. At long last, on "Moving Up Day", the very last day of school, Teresa walked, albeit with a very dramatic limp, and a firm hold on my hand. The lunch ladies, who had grown quite fond of my little crunchy pumpkin over the school year, all cheered as she took her first steps. She was so proud of herself, as were we all!
Nearly four weeks have passed since the cast was removed, and still she limps. Today was her final orthopedic follow-up appointment. "The leg is healed," we were informed. But the limp, we queried, what of it? Give it time, we were told. This,too, shall pass. Humph.
Though the bone healed quickly, the mind heals at a much slower pace. She is not entirely convinced that the searing pain of a broken bone might not suddenly re-appear. She feels fragile, and worries that without care she just might break again. Hence, the limp. The careful steps. The cautious movements. It will take time. Memory has that effect on us.
I am patient with her, because I, too, have my little "limps", my little fears that prevent me from running and jumping and dancing for fear of getting hurt. We all do. Sometimes fear can make us a tyrant, cranky and demanding. Sometimes it causes us to withdraw into ourselves, to a place perceived as "safe". Fear can cripple an otherwise intelligent and healthy individual and stagnate life. It can prevent us from living God's will for us, and hinder us from using the gifts we have been given.
Pope John Paul II repeated the words, "Be not afraid", throughout his pontificate. The Scriptures are full of citations calling us to abandon fear and embrace the goodness of God's love. Joshua chapter 1 says, "I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go." And yet, like little Teresa, we limp...we fear.
There is a wonderfully talented lady I know well who assists at the Mission. She is caring, responsible, patient, gentle, and loving. She is clearly gifted with the tools to be an incredible missionary and servant for Jesus, whether here or anywhere else in God's vineyard, yet she hesitates...she is a recovering alcoholic. She fears relapse like Teresa fears the snapping of her leg bone. She can't make a commitment; she fears that if she "arrives" complacency will leave her vulnerable. And so she works, but from a distance. She serves, but with no buy-in. She will not take that step. Not yet.
How often do we hinder ourselves because of fear? How often do we hesitate to take the next step, terrified by the prospect of failure? How often do we fail to reach out to others for fear of rejection? All too often; yet the Scriptures repeat, "do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go."
Teresa took her first steps on "Moving Up Day". She did so while holding on to my hand with all her might. It was important to her that I be there, holding her hand, assuring her, and helping her to feel proud of her accomplishment, no matter how small in the eyes of the world. I think she has a good understanding of how to conquer fear. We need a hand to hold. We find that in Scripture, in prayer, and in the reception of the Eucharist and Sacraments. In these we find God's hand to hold. So, too, do we find His hand in the person of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The community of believers must reach out to one another with support, guidance and a hand to hold. In all these are gifts of grace. With God's grace we can conquer the fears that keep us from living to our potential, to the potential God sees in us. Without it we haven't got a leg to stand on...