Fixed on My Feet

I am not proud of it, but yesterday, my attention was on my feet. I am that way sometimes. I have had my quiet time today, and my goal is to set my sights higher. I would like to say that I was fixated on my feet because I was having my first ever manicure/pedicure, but actually, my feet have gotten my attention intermittently for a long time

See, my feet are big. I am tall, so you may not think that is abnormal, but back in the sixties, it was hard to find pretty size twelve shoes. I was teenage, and that is what I wanted. I had corrective surgery on my right foot in both seventh and eighth grade. The surgery was a blessing because it took away the pain when I walked, but the right foot ended up completely flat and, well….ugly. For a while I had to wear corrective shoes, and the only thing that was available in my size was red. My mom, knowing that I hated them, dyed them for me, but I sometimes limp when I walk, and I managed to scrape the dye off the heels so that the red showed through.

I have to say that my parents really tried. When I was about to start high school, we couldn’t find any pretty shoes in Toledo in my size, so my mom ordered a catalog from New York that had large sizes. I had pretty shoes to start school. I didn’t realize until I was a parent what a sacrifice those shoes were for my parents. I started high school in 1969. Those shoes cost $50. That was a lot of money even then.

I like shoes. It is summer, and people wear so many pretty sandals and slip-ons. My Sunday School teacher, who is just a little older than I and hails from California, has a whole collection of them. Plus, she always wears an ankle bracelet. Always. I like the ankle bracelet, but I never saw the sense in putting one above my ugly right foot.

Anyway, right before the pedicure, my daughter and I had lunch with my friend Donna. Donna is just a little older than I am, but she has had RA about ten years longer. I have to admit, sometimes I am fearful when I look at how the disease has ravaged her body. I wonder if that is what the future holds for me.

Donna has a lot of problems with her feet, and she was telling my daughter about them. My daughter works in a physical therapy clinic, and she knows a lot about such things. Donna still wears corrective shoes, not the New Balance that you see on so many people our age who are on their feet. I had a pair of slides on in preparation for the pedicure, so I stuck my right foot, the really ugly one out, and said, “Come on, Donna. It can’t be worse than that.” RA has caused the toes on my right foot to drift outward. The second toe actually manages to be under the big toe most of the time now.

Donna continued to explain. I listened. Maybe it was worse than that.

Soon we were on our way to the beauty shop. They weren’t quite ready for me, and I told the other technician in the office that I wasn’t sure a pedicure would help my ugly feet. She looked down and studied my feet, really studied them. “Honey,” she said. “those aren’t ugly feet at all. Not at all.”

It was a young woman who worked on my feet, and she really did work, for almost two hours. The whole thing started with a foot soak. My feet were in and out of that soak several times. They probably had more lotion on them yesterday than I have put on in ten years. And how did I get to be fifty and not know that people actually use emery boards on their toenails? My feet were dipped in paraffin and then wrapped in plastic bags. My previous exposure to paraffin was to make candles before it was deemed unsafe and to top jelly before the boiling bath became the recommended method. Then this young woman, without any repugnance at all, massaged my feet, even the ugly flat one. And it was heavenly! I didn’t think my feet were even particularly tired, but I felt muscles relaxing anyway. The pedicure ended with a careful application of not one, but three coats of brightly-colored polish to all of my toenails, even the toe that manages to hide under the big toe on my right foot.

All this brings back memories of another time I was fixated on feet. I was teaching junior high at a Catholic school, and I saw my first foot washing. Lutherans are not big on foot washing, although I know that some other denominations are. My school did a lot of dramatizations during the weekday masses, and this foot washing occurred during Holy Week.

The priest we had was a small man, well into his sixties. I never will forget how it felt to watch him take off his outer ceremonial robe and stand there in his tunic. He picked up a towel and draped it around the rope belt at his waist.

Before him sat twelve great big eighth grade boys.

Father Wilhelm knelt and got to work. Oh so gently, he picked up each boy’s feet, left and then right, and dipped them into his basin of water. He dried them with the towel that was draped at his waist. When that got too wet, he began to use his tunic. The boys squirmed and looked decidedly uncomfortable. The small children in the mass were silent as they watched.

What is it that’s so humbling about having another person care for dirty, smelly, downtrodden and sometimes downright ugly feet?

It brings tears to my eyes remembering the look on my daughter’s face as she watched me watch what was happening. It gave her great pleasure to see me smile at a part of my anatomy I would usually rather not look at. For her, the pedicure was an act of love. Just like the foot washing was for Father Wilhelm and, of course, for Jesus. And just like the squirmy eighth grade boys and the dusty uncomfortable apostles, it was my job to receive. Therein, I am convinced, lies my lesson. Jesus, Father Wilhelm, my daughter. They all said pretty much the same thing. It is not about me. It is about Him, the Author and Finisher of all things.

Abba, help me to keep my eyes on You, the rock that is higher than I. Not on my feet.


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