In recent years my trips to the ocean have been limited to the shoreline. The creatures great and small that reside beneath the water's surface have relegated my beach enjoyment to the sand and knee-high waters. I prefer to have a clear view of any threatening marine life.
Sharks aren't what scare me about the ocean. I've seen the statistics. The likelihood that I'll be bitten by a shark is miniscule. The stress over an attack has a greater chance at harming me than the shark itself. It's the smaller, less intimidating sea life that causes me concern - the sting of a jelly fish, the spikes of the sea urchin or the back of a slippery stingray. There are an array of creatures in the ocean I'd rather not meet or step on. To protect my toes from harm and my heart from a shock I stay safe near the sea shore.
But all of the caution in the world hasn't kept me from the pain of the claw. No, not the crab's claw. The foot claw.
The claw first took hold of my pinky toe. That little baby toe bent into a rigid position and stayed that way. I looked around for a crab to blame but the nearest crab in my northern location was on the plate of a diner at Red Lobster. A crab was obviously not the culprit.
After examining my deformed toe I came to a final conclusion. The claw was caused by me. More specifically, my brain and my MS.
MS, my chronic illness companion, has presented itself in a variety of ways. Spasticity, heat intolerance, vision loss...the list could go on but it had never come by way of a claw. After five years of an array of symptoms the claw foot was a new addition. And a painful one at that.
Throughout my days the claw foot came and went. Then it expanded its territory all the way to the middle toe. I became a pro at walking on a claw foot - an achievement that, as far as I know, does not qualify me for any awards.
After months of the claw foot I traveled to Florida. No, not to meet a real crab and give my foot an excuse for its behavior. I went for my scheduled stem cell treatment. With high hopes and many prayers the doctor extracted what little fat he could find, harvested my stem cells and pumped them back into my blood stream. The next morning I woke up without a claw foot. It was a miracle.
The blessed day the invisible crab was extracted from my foot was over six months ago now. The claw didn't return and I thought it never would. Until last week.
When my pinky toe seized up I thought it was just a cramp. An hour later I feared it was the return of the claw. A week later my fear has been replaced by acceptance. The claw is back and, once again, it has grown and flourished. The claw is having a party on my left foot with toes three, four and five.
I'll admit it. When the claw first came back I was downright angry. First I was angry at the invisible crab. Then I grew angry at my lousy stem cells. How dare they abandon my left foot! I called it righteous indignation but it was more irrational than justified and more silly than sane.
As I silently cursed my pinky toe and its clawed companions I thought back to the Bible and the beach. Then I thought back to Paul. He had a thorn in his flesh that he couldn't extract. Paul got the jellyfish; I got the crab.
When Paul was writing to the churches he told them about this thorn. He didn't deny its existence. How could he? It hurt! But Paul saw the thorn's purpose. Paul needed to be taken down a few pegs and made dependent on God in the face of temptation. So God gave him this thorn, a sting, a perpetual torment that Paul couldn't escape even when he begged God for relief. God wanted Paul to have that thorn. The thorn was actually a tool for Paul to use as a testimony to God's glory.
Just like at the beach, in life I've tried to avoid pain and suffering. When God hasn't miraculously healed me I've tried doctors, supplements and stem cells. When those haven't worked I've become frustrated and disheartened. I haven't wanted the pain of my symptoms and I certainly haven't wanted the constant presence of a claw foot.
But, like Paul, God has a purpose for my crab. And the purpose isn't a unique excuse to be crabby. The purpose is His glory. I have this crab on my foot as a constant reminder that I am captured and held in the grips of the Holy Spirit. The very being of Christ compels me and overwhelms me. God is my constant companion who has taken up residence in my heart all the way down to my toes.
So you see, this claw foot of mine isn't so crabby after all.