Friday, 5 April 2013

Toenails

Oh, Lord.

I'm writing this and I don't know if I'll ever press the little orange 'Publish' button because I'd rather we kept it just between you and me, but then it's already between you and me, so why write it down at all?

It's because this is how I sort out my thoughts. I don't know what I think until I write, and then I find out. Sometimes I get from A to B via P, Q R and Z, but I get there eventually. Usually. 

Last week it was Maundy Thursday. Usually at church we have a simple meal together, a subdued Communion service and then we watch the altar in church being stripped. The golden cross and candlesticks removed, the beautiful embroidered cloths folded up and taken away. It always touches me and it's a very thoughtful way of getting ready for the bleakness of Good Friday, the emptiness of Saturday and the celebration of Sunday. I love Easter.

Anyway, much easier to talk about how I love Easter than what happened last Thursday. I planned to go to the Maundy Thursday service at church and I checked the time in the Church notice sheet as evening stuff is always a bit awkward to manage around the children's bedtime. It was as I was checking the notice sheet that I noticed something. It was to be a service of Holy Communion with foot washing.

Now, I have always been moved and intrigued by the way you washed the disciples' feet at the Last Supper. I've tried to put myself into your position, and into theirs. The twelve, who sat mute as their Lord knelt before them with a towel around his waist and washed their dusty, crusty, sweaty feet. Poured water over the filthy toes and patted them dry, and moved on to the next.

Peter, who indignantly pulled his feet away saying that it wasn't right, it wasn't happening that the one he knew was the Son of God should go near his hard skin and fungal big toenail.

But you explained why and Peter opened his heart and lifted his feet one at a time to welcome you. Wash the whole of me, Lord, because you are the only thing that matters to me.

Foot washing. At church. I wondered how it would be managed; who would be washing and who being washed, and I started to feel just the slightest bit anxious about it. Not enough to change my mind about going, but still, a little worry set in.

Getting my feet out in public?

As I dried my toes after the shower that morning I realised that my feet were not particularly presentable. I made a mental note to trim my toenails and give them a new coat of polish. As you know, I'm not the sort of woman who has regular pedicures and while in the summer I try to keep my toes looking reasonable because they poke out of sandals, over the winter the nail polish has more chance of growing out than being removed and reapplied. Indeed, the big toenail one each foot had a patch of leftover purple varnish but the rest were bare.

I bent low to my toes and gave them a quick once over with the nail clippers. Is this too much information? Surely you're not squeamish about all things toenail-related like some people? There is nothing inherently distasteful about toenail clippings, in my opinion, if disposed of correctly. But let's not get into that.

Pushing on. I tidied them up rapidly, taking care not to clip down the sides and trigger anything ingrowing, and then I assessed the nail polish situation. Being too idle to locate the nail polish remover, I sort of scratched at the patch of purple with my thumbnail. Some of it came off. I rubbed at it and it became quite a bit smaller. Decided - never mind, no-one will notice.

So I reached into my bedside table drawer and found the first bottle of polish that I came across. Not particularly bothered what colour it was. Slapped it on. Indeed, the pink hid the scrappy bits of purple. It was almost as if the new polish dissolved the old and it even went on smoothly. One, two, three, four, five, change feet and repeat.

Waft toes in the air for a few seconds to dry.

Do it again.

There. Much better.

Cosmetic improvement left and right. All ready for foot washing later in the day. Made mental note to change socks and give feet a quick squirt of something fragrant just before leaving for church.

This is where my mind started working.

It didn't feel right.

As I pulled on my slippers, I began to ponder the superficiality of it all. It just about sums me up.

I'm fine on the outside. Nobody would ever suspect what I'm like. The new nail polish glided over the broken and tatty remains of the last application and hid the damage beneath a shiny new layer. No-one could see that underneath the pink there was worn out patchy purple. Two coats of gloss and it took the eye completely away from the uneven trimming and the weeks of neglect.

Washed my feet in the shower and the grime and sweat from yesterday was gone. It wouldn't take long to accumulate again.

With a fresh coat of pink, they looked like butter-wouldn't-melt-feet. Without close examination no-one would notice the small patch of low-grade athlete's foot that has been a problem on and off for (ahem) quite a while now. I could clear it up with a consistent routine application of cream but I don't tend to bother.

See? That's the thing. I don't bother. My feet are rarely on show so I don't bother to make them presentable until it seems likely that someone might come into close contact. And when I do, I do a quick cosmetic job that will just about get me through.

That's me.

To the untrained eye I'm pretty presentable. (I'm not talking appearance, here; that's a whole other story). A nice enough person. Glossy, in some respects. More or less socially adept, superficially cheerful, often remembering to ask after people, making a generally good impression, messing up occasionally. Those who know me well might now and then notice a chip in the nail polish, so to speak, or suspect that all is not fragrant all the time, but there's only one person who still sees the buried remains of previous varnish, the callouses and the infections and the tough bits prone to cracking.

That's you.

You don't care about the nail polish, do you? You don't care whether I'm buffed up on the surface and looking good, sounding good, smelling good. You can see what's on the inside. The deep-down stuff that can't be hidden from the One who knew me from the beginning and knows my most secret thoughts, worries, fears.

And when it comes down to it, whose opinion matters, but yours?

'You have searched me, Lord, and you know me
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a words is on my tongue,
You know it completely, Lord.'
Psalm 139:23

Lord, you know me.

Nobody sees me but you; you are El Roi, you are the God who sees. There's nothing I can hide from you. The jealousy when I feel that someone is doing better than me, the pride when I think I'm doing better than someone else. The selfishness, the spite, the cruel and critical thoughts that spill over into my speech sometimes. You know what I'm going to say before I say it and I suspect that sometimes the angels wince at the sound of my voice.

The times when I don't trust you, don't believe you or don't listen to you. When I say one thing and quite consciously, deliberately do another. When doing the right thing is too much trouble; much easier to look the other way, pass by on the other side of the street. The times when I'm sorry for what I've done and the times when I absolutely am not. The times that I hang on for dear life to the wrong things and let the right things pass me by.

I don't want to be polished smart on the outside and rotten on the inside.

What I am in my heart is what eventually will rise to the surface, and that frightens me a bit. I know that there's much that isn't right, isn't as you want me to be. And if I, flawed and blinkered, am capable of detecting the rubbish that lurks within, when half the time I don't even grasp the extent of my failure, then how much more is there that you can see that I can't?
'Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.'
Psalm 139:23-24
Thank you, Lord, that you love me too much to leave me like this. Thank you that you have a plan that is just for me. Thank you that I can see your hand in my life; I know that you're at work. Thank you that sometimes even when I feel like I'm stuck, stalled and going nowhere, I know that you are there, never abandoning me, never giving up on me.

I am a work in progress.

'Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.'
Psalm 51:7

Thank you that you have washed me clean indeed. 

Jesus, you died so that I might be forgiven - that I might not be held to account for all that rubbish that's buried below the surface. Keep on working in the hidden depths of me so that the bits that do see light of day are suitable for a Child of God. I want to shine as your light in the world. I want to reflect your glory. 

My feet are never going to be that much to look at, I don't think, but that doesn't bother me too much. I can always put on another coat of nail polish. And who looks closely at them anyway? Even me, I'm five feet nine inches away from them, and they're mine. They go where I go. I might leave footprints as I walk but you can't tell what sort of person left a footprint.

My heart? That's another matter. It affects everything that I do, everything that I say. I leave bits of it behind when I interact with people, and from those pieces they see who I am deep down - I can't help it. It might not be immediately obvious, but it's the part of me that makes me who I am. I am what I am on the inside.

Who am I? I am your daughter. What I am reflects on my Father. Don't let me sell you short, Lord God. Wash my feet, and like Peter I say wash my head and my hands too. 

Welcome, Lord Jesus. 

Come, Holy Spirit. Do your thing. 





PS. As it was, I didn't get to the Maundy Thursday footwashing service. I was all geared up for writing a meaningful, insightful piece about how it went, but as it was the children didn't settle down at bedtime and so I gave it a miss rather than draw even more attention to myself by being very late.

Perhaps it was for the best.

Or perhaps I didn't need to get my feet out in public for you to give me food for thought.

Thank you.




8 comments:

  1. This post was quite a feat! Don't frown at me! You started this pun business. :>)

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    1. Steven, I think you hit the nail on the head. You're definitely keeping me on my toes...

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  2. Very raw, real and moving. Many of us have lives of quiet desperation behind closed doors. Our external appearance not quite what it could be, the internal even less so. We are chipped pots, fragile, broken and messy. Yet those very things we may feel disqualify us from being on show for our Lord actually serve all the better to let the light of His grace shine through.
    This is how He sees you, Helen. Yes, flawed and imperfect. Yes, room for improvement. And, yes, a vessel fit for purpose because He has chosen you and is redeeming you day by day, from one degree of glory to another. Rest in the knowledge of God's overwhelming love and goodness that takes broken lives and makes them new. Blessings and peace to you, dear friend :) xx

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    1. Thank you, Joy. Exactly that; you put it so well. Fit for purpose - even me!
      He knows my name.
      How amazing is that?

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  3. Lovely, Helen :) And don't feel bad. I once walked out of a Maundy Thursday Foot Washing because I realised too late that I was wearing tights and couldn't face the logistics :) I love your honesty and it's comforting to know that we're all the same...a bit broken, but longing to be whole both inside and out. Thanks for sharing...

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Deborah. Tights! Oh my goodness... These things matter.
      Thanks for reading and taking the trouble to comment. Means a lot.

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  4. Thanks for writing this open and frank post. It touches me.

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