Penelope and the Crutch

girl with a broken leg
.Penelope loved life and lived it at full throttle. She admired her daddy, emulating his mischievous little grin and his love of ornery escapades. There was an effervescence about her that, at times, just had to bubble over like a well-shaken bottle of Coke.

After 9th grade gym class, her cadre of friends, full of fourteen-year-old energy, mischief, silliness, and a general complete lack of judgment tried to fill the ten minutes before their Freshman Literature Class. This was due to an unusual dilemma created by a late running appointment by their teacher.

They decided to have an impromptu “talent” show that quickly degenerated into a contest of who could be the silliest. Penelope loved dogs and had an unreasonably large number that “followed” her home from school through the years. She also loved Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip and television specials. She loved beagles so much that when she got older, she actually had three different ones as pets.

I don’t know if you have ever seen Snoopy do his “Snoopy Dance,” but it is a sight to behold, full of magnificent twirls and spins with a little break dancing thrown in. Penelope had a teenage flash of inspiration. She knew her moment in the spotlight of outlandish entertainment must be the Snoopy Dance.

Things started off fine with several twirls and some light break dancing until her left foot slipped on the shiny wood floor. She went down so fast that it seemed to her like less than a second had passed between her dancing away with abandon and her finding herself on the floor from a most ungraceful landing that forced her right leg to twist under her in a totally unnatural position. 

About then, Mrs. Ebersole entered the room. For Penelope, the shock soon wore off and the pain kicked in. Even the untrained eye of the teacher knew that Penelope had broken her leg.

Penelope was on crutches for the last two weeks of school and half of the summer. The mid-thigh high plaster cast and wooden crutches soon became an extension of her being. She had some cool looking signatures and graffiti on her cast and she became totally proficient navigating her world on crutches, steps and all. However, by mid-July she had built up a hatred for her heavy, dirty, smelly cast, but out of necessity, she became totally dependent upon her crutches.

Upon the appointed day the doctor cut through the plaster encasement with his small doctor-sized circular saw as Penelope prayed that he didn’t cut her leg in the process. At last, the cast was removed, and yes, it was filthy and smelly. Suddenly her leg felt so light, it seemed like it wanted to float in the air, but walking was another story.

She had not put any weight on that leg for six weeks, now it seemed fragile and unable to support her. Had she forgotten how to walk normally with both legs? It felt like it. It was hard to get used to walking unaided and it took a few days until she learned that she could finally trust her own leg and no longer needed the crutches. While she had sworn off doing the Snoopy Dance, she did sign up for a late summer soccer league. Like I said, Penelope was full of life.

I have been a church-goer for all of my life and was a pastor for over twenty years. Once, I got enough distance from the world of church, I came to see it as a crutch for following Christ. I loved my crutch more than anyone I know. It was so endearing to me that I never thought of it as a crutch, it was more of an extension of me. It was part of me, a very important part of me.

Through a series of circumstances, my crutch was taken away. Without it, I couldn’t walk. I thought I was totally incapable of walking on my own. It was weird and painful at first and took it took a long time to get used to, but eventually, I did just fine without the crutch. Actually, life was much better. It was free and unfettered. I had more mobility than ever. I realized my God was bigger than I thought and I begin to try to just love people without an agenda.

There are a lot of advantages to walking on my own two legs, but ultimately, I have more responsibility. I am no longer outsourcing my spiritual expression, now it’s up to me. 

It is an absolute blast to see God at work in all sorts of people in all sorts of places and to live life simply loving Jesus and loving people.

This story was a part of a synchroblog entitled, Parables: Small Stories, Big Idea and is loosely based upon my wife, Patty, who really did break her leg in high school doing the Snoopy Dance.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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  4. You’re parable reminds me how I wish the church would do better at preparing us to navigate our spiritual journey by teaching us more about how to ask good questions rather than just feeding us answers.

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