August 28, 2014
Today I’m sharing a pretty personal post but it is something that has been on my heart for a couple of weeks, since my sweet vacation. (I promise a recap of the trip is on its way!) The entire trip was so good for my soul; there is much value in retreating from the world, soaking up the beauty of creation, unplugging (as much as possible…) and re-connecting with your loved ones. I was able to fully relax, calm my mind, focus on the little things around me… Each day was a sensory overload. I was overwhelmed by the vastness, the majesty, the loveliness of the many views we took in on our trip. I was also taken aback when one day, I was overwhelmed by another feeling: fear. Okay, before this gets too dramatic, let me rewind and give you some backstory…
When I was still in utero, my mother fell very ill with meningitis and was even hospitalized. This was the early 80s when ultrasounds were not yet commonplace. Having recovered, she went on to give birth to me and was devastated to learn at that moment that her firstborn daughter had a serious birth defect. Though they will never know quite why (it’s not genetic), they presume it was related to her illness during pregnancy. My condition is called fibular hemimelia and it basically means that I was born missing my fibula in my left leg. Although it wasn’t visually discernible when I was just a 7 lb newborn, the doctors explained that as I grew, the differences between my left and right leg would become dramatically obvious to the point where I wouldn’t be able to walk without a clunky Frankenstein-esque shoe, cane, or more… My parents made the difficult but wise decision to amputate my left leg via Symes amputation. This would allow me to wear a prosthesis and lead a more normal, active lifestyle. The Symes amputation is different from the typical amputation you see in most movies or on TV, where they will show the leg cut at the knee. In my case, they basically removed my foot (near the ankle) which means I have my entire left leg (though much smaller than my right leg) and my prosthesis is more like a boot than a pirate-esque peg. haha I underwent a few more procedures as a child to alleviate some of the dramatic differences in my left and right legs. If you see me sitting in person today, you’ll see how my knees are in very different places and my left femoral shaft is a lot shorter than the right. But all in all, my surgeries made me appear to most as a fully-able-bodied woman. Before I was born, my parents were planning to name me a very French-sounding name (it ended up as my maiden middle name, actually) but because of my unexpected birth defect, they decided to call me Angel.
ummm was I chubs or what?? This was at 2-3 months old, after my first surgery.
not just being sassy, but popping my front leg shows the difference in length between the two legs
How many of you didn’t know this?? I am still surprised when a long-time friend of mine will realize one day that my left leg isn’t real. They’ll see me wearing sandals, or perhaps a knee-length skirt, and exclaim, “What’s that??!” I suppose that because I grew up as an amputee, I forget about my ‘difference.’ By God’s grace and mercy, I didn’t experience any teasing as a child. I attended public schools all my life and never was taunted or ostracized. Of course people stared (as they still may), but I’m human… I realize that we are all curious about things that are out of the ordinary. It doesn’t bother me when people ask me about my leg. My parents raised me to be proud of who I was, of who God had made me to be, and I was confident in that. Thanks to advances in modern medical equipment, I had every state-of-the-art leg possible and learned to run, swim and snowboard with my prosthetics. I felt invincible as a child. I wore shorts without shyness, I swam at the community pool while others gawked. I was just a normal kid in my mind. I realize that having my amputation and successive surgeries during childhood was a great blessing. There was no real transition period; I learned to take my first steps with the help of an artificial limb. In that sense, my prosthesis was part of my original concept of self.
I led an active lifestyle throughout my youth and college years and still feel nearly 100% unimpaired physically. So, it caught me off guard when on our recent vacation, Erik suggested we take Olive for a bike ride. I was thrilled about the idea, because Lake Tahoe has some gorgeous bike paths to explore. As we were signing papers and getting our helmets on, I felt a wave of panic wash over me. You see, I hadn’t ridden a bike in four years. And four years ago, I only got on a bike because we were on vacation (in Tokyo) and there was a fun opportunity to ride around the Imperial Palace. It seems that vacation brings out the biker in me. Other than that isolated experience, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a pre-teen.
As a child, I remember being fearless on my bike. I would ride so fast, standing in the stirrups, racing the neighborhood kids, being wild and free. I have the scars on my knees and elbows to prove it (where there are tiny fragments of asphalt buried deep under my skin — not joking!). But for some reason, I stopped riding my bike and got into other things. And though it may be true that you never forget how to ride a bike, I was terrified to get on one again. I sat down in the seat and put my left foot (prosthesis) on the pedal first, then tried to quickly balance and get my right foot on. I wobbled. I stumbled. I didn’t fall (thank you Lord!) but I immediately turned beet red and got flustered and embarrassed. I was thinking that the bike rental guy must have been laughing at me on the inside, wondering why a grown woman couldn’t get on a bike. Did I really want to rent a bike and ride a 3 mile trail if I couldn’t even board one without stumbling?? I told Erik I was scared I might not be able to make it. I felt my heart beating faster because I was humiliated and nervous and anxious and fearful. Erik is one of the most athletic people I know and of course, he is a brilliant biker. He loves mountain biking when he gets the chance. Olive was buckled up in the trailer he was pulling and was so excited for the ride. I felt like I was about to ruin the perfect family vacation moment. I am pretty sure I told Erik I couldn’t do it, and he couldn’t possibly understand because of my leg and blah blah blah. I mean, really?? I was going to use that as an excuse? I was grasping at straws.
And then. Erik gently told me to just get on. To just wobble and be scared but put my right foot on the pedal and GO. I did. And I pedaled. I was sure that the dozens of bikers who passed me on the trail must have been laughing or at least feeling sorry for me. (Honestly, they probably couldn’t have cared less. But isn’t it funny how we think all eyes are on us when we’re fearful? We need to get over the audience mindset.) I had my hands gripped so tightly on the handlebars that I got a cramp, I kid you not. I was constantly braking because I felt like I was going too fast. I would freak out when I saw oncoming bicylclists and wanted to pull over and stop to avoid what I thought would be a guaranteed collision.
holding on for dear life, but doing it
teensy Angel on the bridge
But it wasn’t. I didn’t. I never fell, never hit anyone, never had to call the rental company to pick me up halfway down the trail (like I feared). I did it. It wasn’t pretty, guys, but I did it. And as I pedaled, even white-knuckled, I felt wild and free again. I actually cried a little! Cue the emo tunes. I realized that my fear was holding me back from experiencing the tranquil bliss I enjoyed on that ride. Erik and Olive rode behind me at a safe distance (I wanted to ride without distraction, haha!) so I felt truly immersed in the beautiful surroundings. I could breathe in the crisp air, feel the breeze, listen to the whoosh of the wind through the trees. It was wonderful in every way and I am so glad that I took the leap, I went for it, I listened to my husband’s gentle push. I was still scared. I was still nervous. But I just went for it, fears and all, and it was worth it.
So many things in life are like that. We worry about the audience. We look at our perceived weaknesses. We make excuses and at the first sign of a stumble, we back away. We refuse even the possibility of being bad at something. I know I do. But why?? Why not go for it and fall and make a memory? Why not try it and at least be able to say you did? Erik and I agreed that that bike ride was one of the best experiences of our vacation and to think I almost missed out on it because I was scared. I was looking at myself and my leg and thinking I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t equipped, I wasn’t able. But God gave me the courage in that moment. I was reminded of childhood-Angel, the fearless Angel, the one who never saw my leg as a weakness but just another part of me… like every hair on my head, every freckle on my face. Sometimes we’ll succeed, and sometimes we’ll fail. But it’s worth a try. It’s worth the leap.
post-ride, feeling amazing.
from where i stand. try to ignore my un-cute real toes (I promise there’s a fifth one hiding)…
That bike ride caused a shift in my heart. It sounds so dramatic to write that but truly, it did. Whatever you might be fearing right now, I pray that you would find the strength to take the leap and give it a try. Whether it’s trying that new hobby that intimidates you, or pursuing a new career, or even having a tough conversation with a friend. Go and do. Even if you stumble, even if you fail, it’s worth it. You tried, you did your best, and you made a memory. Now it’s your turn to get on the bike in the forest. Or, something like that. ;-)
Thank you for reading — see you next time!