On the Other Hand …

I don’t know where all the mittens go. Just like socks that seemingly disappear into the depths of the dryer, toddler mittens disappear into the depths house. Is there a mitten thief among us? Does a mitten elf come in the night? With two toddlers and 4 little hands to keep warm, I bought 3 packets of mittens this year, but we are currently down to one pair per kid. When we bought last packet, I declared: “We’re not buying any more – take care of these or you will have cold hands! My husband took a more radical (and silly approach). He declared: “If we lose these mittens, I’m gonna start chopping off fingers!”

I didn’t think it was so bad an idea. I piped up: “I volunteer this finger as tribute.” I held up my bent, sorrowful-looking right ring finger. I hadn’t lost any of my gloves – they were safely tucked in my pockets where I put them. Yet, I figure if we were chopping off fingers, we could most definitely start with this gal.

In full 2020 fashion, my fight ring finger sustained an injury in early September, which led to 24 stitches, tendon/nerve repair surgery, 6 months of Occupational Therapy, a multitude of casts and splints, and a still gnarly looking finger. (You can read more about the incident here and here). I have to admit, despite all the time, effort, and money I have put into this little digit in the last year, there have been days when chopping the thing off seemed an easier option.

Yet I’ve pressed on to save the finger, week after week, month after month, moving, stretching, heating, exercising, straightening, and bending. I’ve thought more about my fingers in the last 6 months than I ever have in my life. For example, I recently learned that the ring finger is the weakest of all our fingers. You can’t move it properly without moving the fingers around it. Try putting up each finger by itself without holding the others back with your thumb. The ring finger is the only one you can’t get up by itself. Maybe you are superhuman and can, but I cannot put my non-injured ring finger up without the help of others. I injured my right ring finger. Which basically means that as a left-handed person (in my right mind, of course), I injured the weakest finger on my weakest hand. Chop it off? Why not? I have 9 others.

October 1, 2020

In early October 2020, I posted this picture of myself with a bandaged hand, preaching to a camera in a sanctuary filled only with pictures. I posted the picture in celebration of my last pre-recording session, for the next week we opened to in-person worship with our brand new livestream technology system. I wrote, “Here’s me preaching to no one while maimed…. b/c that’s about as 2020 as it gets.” A friend commented that I should frame this picture as a reminder that it can’t get much worse that this.

I haven’t framed it, but I do think about this picture often. I think about where I was in that space: a few weeks out from surgery, beginning occupational therapy, not able to pick up my son and change his diaper, still creating worship by pre-recording and video production. I remember feeling like I was both at the end of my rope and seeing a glimmer of hope. My hand might be bandaged, but at least I would no longer have to create worship videos on iMovie or preach alone to a camera. For worship at least, I would no longer have to stand on my own. The following week, my music staff was with me in the chancel for the first time in 8 months. We opened the pews to in-person worship (with proper safety guidelines). A livestream team (that did not include me) was running the worship technology. Even though we’ve had our hiccups with technology and had to go back to virtual worship a few times, I have no longer stood alone, maimed, and preaching to no one.

I wonder if this past year+ hasn’t made us all feel like that little maimed ring finger – the weakest link, trying to stand on our own without others to hold us up. I find it interesting that the weakest finger – the one that cannot stand up on its own – is the one that is the most connected to the others. It’s the finger that needs the other fingers the most. Traditionally, we wear our wedding bands on our left ring fingers because the ancient world believed that a vein ran from your left ring finger directly into your heart. While modern science has shown this not to be true, I find it beautiful that we continue to wear our wedding bands on our weakest fingers. If you are right-handed, your left ring finger is your weakest. Though I wonder if us lefties shouldn’t then wear our wedding bands on our right ring finger, but we lefties must always defer to the greater righty society who constantly put things on the right (ahem wrong) side … but I digress with a message for another day.

A ring for our weakest finger. That’s beautiful. For in marriage, we proclaim that we take each other in our weaknesses, for better or for worse. For in any relationship, we proclaim that we are connected to one another and that we hold each other up in good times and in bad. We are each other’s hands, ready to work together to lift up those weakest most vulnerable parts. As my hand journey has taught me, if that weak, vulnerable ring finger is hurt, so is the rest of my hand.

All the splints and casts I’ve worn to rehabilitate my finger

While I sustained my greatest injury to my right ring finger, my journey to rehabilitate it involved my entire hand. At some points, I actually lost use of the hand entirely. Because of the wrappings involved and the concern for further injury to the repaired tendon, my wrist needed to be immobilized for weeks. I still cannot fully bend my wrist backward or support myself on it – I’ve had to re-train my wrist and mind to get it to work again. For months, my wrist was in a splint that held it steadily straight or downward to protect the repaired tendon, which runs all the way down our arm.  

Before surgery, my hand surgeon warned me of two potentially worrisome outcomes: move the finger too soon and the tendon could snap; move the finger too late and the tendon could stiffen and never move again. I nearly fell into the 2nd category for fear of falling into the first category. My Occupational Therapist was really worried about snapping the tendon, so I did slow exercises every hour at home to get the finger moving. I only removed the splint when I was with her, for fear that I’d accidentally move my wrist backward and snap that tendon. In that time, our focus was getting that weak little finger to move. I remember my OT and I squinting and looking at closely at it while I tried my hardest to move it. We’d proclaim: I saw a flicker of movement! I think!

As the little ring finger began to slowly move again, my wrist stopped moving. I was unable to move it backward. So now, my therapy focused on repairing something that hadn’t been hurt in the first place. Fear of snapping the tendon leaked into my brain. Scared of snapping it, my brain decided not to move i at all. When I finally wanted to move it, my brain said: “Nope, we don’t know how to do that anymore.” I re-trained my wrist to move.  

Don’t move too much or you’ll snap. Move too little and you’ll be stuck. Stay in the middle, and something else will get hurt. The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has felt this way. Move outside your bubble, and you could be exposed to COVID-19. Stay inside, and you may become so stuck there that you’ll never leave. Stay in the middle and other unforeseen things will get hurt. We all fall somewhere on this spectrum, which means we are all hurting in varying ways.

We are all hurting in foreseen and unforeseen ways from the pandemic and the reverberations of it. At one point or another, we’ve all had to stand alone. We’ve all been little weak ring fingers, trying our best to stand up, flailing about, disconnected from the ones we need the most. Yet we’ve seen how our most vulnerable parts have been held together by our stronger parts. We’ve seen how connected we truly are. We’ve learned how to appreciate the littlest of things. We’ve retrained and found new ways to function and work and live. We’ve found new ways to strengthen one another, to hold each other up, and to care for one another … for better or for worse.

I’ve learned that even when it seems like it, I never stand alone, for I am connected to beautiful, beloved people, who continue to hold me up. I never stand alone, for I am connected to a God who cares even for me. I never stand alone, for I am connected to a God who, cares even for the smallest, most vulnerable parts of me.

Psalm 8 is a beautiful song that proclaims how God’s majesty and God’s love for us work together. Here, the Psalmist reminds us that our fingers are actually some of the greatest, most amazing parts of ourselves, for they are the greatest, most amazing parts of God. Psalm 8 ponders: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,  the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

What a beautiful image: the moon and the stars are the works of God’s own fingers. That God reached out with small, intricate, vulnerable fingers to create the most magnificent and grand things in the universe. Which makes me ponder: what grand and magnificent things could we do with God working through us? What grand and magnificent things could we do if we were connected to one another like our fingers are connected to our hands?

I have decided not to chop off my right ring finger. Instead, I am going to honor right-ring for her struggle. and resiliency. After months of wearing finger casts, my right ring finger will now wear a new ring. My weakest finger on my weakest hand will now bear a rising sun. God once created the sun from God’s own fingers. I pray that God can once again make something beautiful out of something mangled. For that is the hope we have in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again. As we celebrate this Easter season, may we always, always know: that the worst thing, isn’t always the last thing.

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