A few weeks ago, I stepped into a hidden Sophie-dug-hole in my yard and twisted my right ankle. I sprained it pretty significantly. My beloved beagle, Sophie, is an ardent mole-hunter. She busies herself any given day with the various critters that have trekked through our yard the night before. She tracks their various scents and puzzles over their different missions. She is always on a trail, always stalking something. But when she finds a live critter, especially the moles that love the back part of our yard, she tries to root them out. Sometimes she succeeds, but always she tries. This leaves small holes between 6-8″ deep in various parts of the yard. She digs less now than she did when she was a pup, so most of these holes have become grown over with grass, especially this summer when the rain has been steady. Always before, I could see the small Sophie-holes in the yard, and thus redirect my footsteps to avoid them. This year, they are impossible to see with the naked eye, because the grass that fills them has been cut level with the grass around it. There are no distinguishing marks.
I am the only one in my family who is prone to tripping over these holes. The men-folk in my family are taller than me, and their masculine feet are much too large to fit into those Sophie-holes. My feminine feet, however, fit perfectly into them. I inherited my dad’s “weak” ankles, and have turned, sprained, and torn ligaments in each of them too many times to count. I doubt there is a year that has gone by that I haven’t had at least one significant injury to one of them. And the more you injure them, the more prone to injury they become. This is why I always wear hiking boots whenever we plan to walk or hike anywhere that is on uneven ground. I protect myself with their high tops and one-size-too-large foot base. But when working in the familiarity of my own back yard, I wear my sneakers and keep an eye to the ground.
I’ve been thinking that this same issue arises in various other parts of our lives. Like most of the rest of the world, I have various issues that “trip me up”. There are weaknesses in our lives, areas that cause us to stumble into behavioral responses we later regret, areas that would not elicit the same response necessarily from our spouse or close friends. Each of us has our own “triggers”, and each of us has our own cycles of action, regret, a feeling of defeat, and then a picking ourselves up and trying again. Oh, that our Sophie-holes would always be clearly visible to us!
I find this to be a common issue of struggle for many other people. If they feel comfortable enough to share their struggles with me, they will often share the nature of their “Sophie-hole” and their profound struggle with despairing that they will ever be able to successfully avoid the cycle of defeat. We often feel so helpless, as if these “weak ankles” in our lives will never stand strong and resist rolling over.
I suppose this post is mostly to remind you that you are not alone in this struggle. Our nature as human beings will always be imperfect, even at our very best, and there are certain “weaknesses” that we are left with, left there, perhaps, to drive us all the more deeply into God’s strength and care. I think that if we look back over the course of our lives, we would each agree that there are certain areas of weakness that once tripped us up that no longer do. Each of us has grown stronger as we walked with God, and areas that were once embarrassingly marked with defeat are now areas that barely cause us to blink. Those former Sophie-holes have been filled up with God’s life, shored up with growth and maturity, and no longer even exist as weakness. Sometimes, God even turns these areas of previous weakness into strength (Hebrews 11:34 NIV). Perhaps God planted something in those former Sophie-holes that now grows beautifully like a flowering tree. It is a reminder of God’s miraculous transformation process. Aren’t we so fortunate to have a God who desires to transform our former defeat into areas that magnify His glory?
After my recent ankle-sprain, my husband Terry had me point out the hole in which I had tripped. He pushed my gardening spade into the lush, grassy spot so that he could remember to fill it in. My son, Jake, later cleared the yard of debris from one of the rain showers, and in the process, he removed the spade. I felt a sense of deep dread when I realized it. I hobbled about the back yard on my sprained ankle and crutch, determined to mark the hole. I carefully tested out the ground and slowly discovered, with my crutch, that there were quite a few hidden Sophie-holes in this area where I’d injured myself. I found twigs about 12″ long and stuck them into each hole I discovered. By searching for the one hole that had injured me, I had discovered many others that would easily do the same thing. The twig-marked patch of ground represented areas of potential injury that had been averted. When Terry returned from his trip, he set about filling in those risky places for me.
I’m praying that I can carefully do the same for the other areas of “Sophie-holes” in my life, that I will mark them well as I await God’s filling-in process. And I am praising God that He has already strengthened areas of former weakness, and is even now in the process of strengthening other areas. Until these areas become stronger, I’m keeping my eye on them, determined not to let the ones I know about trip me up; I’m keeping them twig-marked so that I can stay away from them. Will there be more Sophie-holes in other areas of my life, new areas needing growth and maturity? Sure, but God has proven more than faithful. And no matter what the injury feels like at the time, it never does more than slow me down for a while. In the end, I learn and grow and become stronger. And who knows? Perhaps my experience with these former weaknesses will help someone else better see their own Sophie-holes, twig-mark them, and avoid them while God works to fill them in. And that, dear friend, makes my former injuries much less painful in my own life.