On November 21, 2009, I ruptured my Achilles tendon during a taekwondo graduation. I was a 41-year old (thinking that I was a 21-year old) sparring a 16-year old. Trying to impress, I started to launch into a jump front kick and never made it off the ground. In fact, I ended up on the ground writhing in pain.
It felt like someone swung a baseball bat at the back of my leg. But there was no one behind me…and no baseball bat…and, for the people gathered at the taekwondo graduation, no reason for me to be rolling around on the mat before I had even been kicked. I wasn't sure what had happened but I had a feeling that it wasn't good.
A trip to the emergency room confirmed what I had come to suspect: a ruptured Achilles.
The next six months were some of the most eventful days of my life. Surgery. Casts. Wheelchairs. Crutches. Physical therapy. Learning to walk again. During the same time in my life, our family made a major move from New Jersey to Louisiana. A new city. A new church. A new ministry. And a new chapter in our lives.
Five years. It is hard to believe.
My left heel still doesn't feel quite normal…though I have gotten used to the new "norm." My left Achilles is tighter, thicker. I can flex both feet back about the same but I can't point my left foot near as far as my right. And I can't curl my toes on my left foot. Perhaps if I would have continued my exercises after my physical therapy sessions ended, then I would have better flexibility with my left foot today. But I didn't and so I sort of have what I have.
Overall, it doesn't bother me. I am generally able to walk and run without hindrance…though I simply am not as active as I used to be. I have started taking taekwondo again but I go sporadically and I am about as good as I was back then. Not very good. Perhaps the only difference is that instead of being a 41-year old thinking I am a 21-year old, now I am a 46-year old who knows and feels like he is 46.
Aging is a humbling process. The signs are all around. Diminishing strength. Diminishing flexibility. Diminishing hair. Some can extend the process further into their senior years but eventually one's age catches up to them. If there are any vestiges of pride or illusions of immortality left in a man, they should certainly be eradicated as his aging body breaks down.
But what I have lost in physical strength, I would like to think I have gained in some modicum of wisdom. At least I can say that I feel more content now than I have ever been. I don't demand as much from life. I enjoy the simple blessings that I have every day. I have 10,000 reasons to be thankful.
I can't say that all this started from a ruptured Achilles. I am sure I could have learned these lessons in other ways. But for some reason that little snapped tendon marks a small turning point in my life. I was forced to slow down, to reflect more on my relationship with God, to depend more on others, to relearn things that I had taken for granted, to come face-to-face once again with my weakness.
I can't help but think of the good Shepherd in Psalm 23.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul.
Sometimes in the rush of life, God has to interrupt us. Stop us. Make us lie down. Knock us to our knees. It is not done out of spite or hatred but out of grace and love. We can be our own worst enemies. Running after things that don't matter. Neglecting things that do.
Like a wise shepherd, God has to take His staff and put it around our stiffened necks and pull us back to Himself.
And through the process, sometimes even kicking and screaming…or whining and complaining, we finally open our eyes and see the place He was bringing us.
The still waters of contentment.
A lamb in the arms of the Shepherd.
A child in the arms of his Father.
And our soul finds rest.