I looked down at my horribly dirty foot, covered in a week’s worth of filth. If it looked that bad, I could only imagine how bad it smelled, and suddenly I wanted to be anywhere else, asked to do anything else, yet I knew this was exactly where Christ wanted me. What I didn’t know was how profoundly an act of unselfish grace and humility would change my life forever.
It was a Friday night the summer of 2005 and we were wrapping up staff week at camp Alamisco. It had been a week of training, prayer and preparation as we readied ourselves for the hundreds of kids who would come through our campground over the course of the summer. This was my second year at Alamisco as a counselor and I couldn’t have been happier about the opportunities that lay ahead. This summer was already quite different than the summer before and I had no clue what all God had in store for me to stretch me and work spiritual muscles that I hardly knew existed.
It all started the first day of staff week. I joined up with a group ready to saddle up and hit the trails for a nice, relaxing horse ride. To make a long story short, what started as a basic equestrian excursion ended with this rider and her horse on the ground, rider trapped under a wagon wheel, a chunk missing from my knee, a seriously damaged finger and a trip to the emergency room. I started my first day of camp with a pretty substantial horseback riding accident (don’t worry, aside from a few scrapes, the horse was fine 😉).
I heard of accidents like mine where the ridder ended up with a crushed pelvis and extensive surgeries. We knew my pelvis was fine, but my knee was another issue. A very interesting visit to the ER (that’s a whole other post in itself) revealed that I had no broken bones, torn tendons or ligaments. I had a fairly substantial wound on my knee that would need close supervision and care and I had some tissue damage to both my knee and finger that would require physical therapy. I also had a straight leg brace as well as crutches that would be my companions for several weeks, but all said and done, I was quite fortunate.
After discussing the situation with the camp director, camp nurse, and my parents, we decided I would remain at camp. I could still do my job as a counselor if I had a cabin with no stairs. The first few weeks of camp we expected some older kids as SITs, staff in training. We would be sure I was given a very trustworthy apprentice who could walk with my cabin from event to event. I also had a switch of a secondary job. I was slated to work at the horse barn, but my injury matched with strict orders to remain on even ground made working at the barn totally out of the question. Due to the amount of wound care my leg needed and the rest I was required to take, we decided the best course of action was to make me assistant to the camp nurse (which turned out to be a huge blessing as there was an abnormally high level of accidents that summer.)
In less than a week after my accident, I had mastered the stairs with my crutches and the staff was doing a great job a catching on to when I would need a lift on the golf cart or four wheeler. Even though I had crutches, I felt unstoppable. The one thing I hadn’t figured out how to do well was wash my foot. Due to my leg brace I couldn’t bend my knee to reach my foot. I would squeeze drops of soap on it and rinse it as well as I could in the shower. Whenever I was at the lake, I would do my best to dip my feet in the water (though this was a challenging task). At times I longed to reach down and brush off the red Alabama dirt. (I wore flip flops for many reasons and in flip flops, it didn’t take long to have dusty feet.)
Yet, here I was. We had just wrapped up a wonderful vespers service and were ending with communion as a symbol of commitment to Christ to give ourselves that He may work through us to let His love reach these kids. The thing is, in our church communion is almost always accompanied by what we call the ordinance of humility. Just as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet in the upper room, we wash one another’s feet as symbol of the humility the disciples must have felt as Christ knelt down to wash their feet in that upper room. For them it was a deeply spiritual moment where Jesus was, in a small way, showing them the cleansing work He would very soon be performing in their hearts.
Humility. I never got it . . . until now. When I had taken part in this ceremony before, my feet had been clean. Sure, there was always the awkwardness of someone touching my feet and wondering if they stunk, but that was NOTHING compared to this. My foot was filthy. I couldn’t get close enough to smell it, but I was sure it stunk. It was swollen and ugly from my accident and I was not thrilled about having it be washed by the girl’s director – my immediate senior at work whom I didn’t know very well.
As Megan worked her way down the line of girl’s counsellors, I began to squirm. Suddenly I wanted to be somewhere else, ANYWHERE else. What would she say? How would she respond? I knew her well enough that she wouldn’t refuse, but would I see pain and horror in her eyes as she saw the task before her?
As she reached me, Megan looked up at me with her genuine smile and began to wash my feet. Both of them. She was oh so ginger and careful with my injured leg and made sure she wasn’t hurting me. I have to admit, the warm water felt good. She didn’t just splash some water on my foot and move on, but she gently rubbed off the gunk and grime that had built up from the week. As she prayed with me and continued working on the other girls, I sat in silence and wept. For the first time I really got it.
Before this experience, I had always come before Christ as I had come to footwashing. I may have felt a little awkward, but my feet were mostly squeaky clean and it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t until this experience that I realized what humility was all about. Now, I can’t participate in the ordinance of humility without tears. I imagine Megan kneeling in front of me with her bowl of water, gingerly, lovingly cleaning the filth off my feet. Then, I realize the filth in my heart, the wretched, stinking dirt caked on my soul. This is how I come before Christ. He takes my heart and gingerly, lovingly cleans the filth off, replacing it with peace and love like never before. What a gift. What a sacrifice. What amazing love. Now I get it. Each time I participste in foot washing, I am filled with righteous humility and it is beautiful, oh so beautiful. I am aware of my filth and it makes me ashamed to come before my God, but He never rejects me. Each time he tenderly washes me with a smile on His face and joy in His heart.