“Take your elbows off the table, Laurie Haller?”

(Originally posted 3/10/2008)

Take your elbows off the table, Laurie Haller,
Take your elbows off the table, Laurie Haller,
We’ve seen you do it twice, and you know isn’t nice.
Take your elbows off the table, Laurie Haller.

Do you remember that crazy old song from church camp as a kid?  It came back to me last week because of my newly acquired interest in elbows.  On Wednesday, while jogging early in the morning before a cabinet meeting in Okemos, I slipped on the ice and landed directly on my left elbow.  After 30 years of injury-free running, I guess I was due for a bad fall, so it didn’t really surprise me.  What did surprise me was that I needed a metal plate and 5 screws to put my elbow back together.  Although one person wrote, “Are you sure you didn’t really elbow the bishop or another cabinet member trying to get someone appointed to YOUR district?” I really am telling the truth!

So I now have a love-hate relationship with my elbow.  When googling the word “elbow” to determine the severity of my injury, the first thing that popped up was “Elbow; official site with news, pictures, audio and video clips, releases, gigs, biography, lyrics and merchandise.”  Wow! I thought.  I didn’t know elbows were so popular.  Then I discovered it was a web site for a rock band from England.

I stumbled across Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates, with stores in Kansas City and San Francisco, “where the art of chocolate is expressed in a single, beautiful, decadent piece that’s hand-created one at a time.”  Fasting before surgery, I quickly passed over that site before temptation set in.

I also read numerous etiquette sites, which offered reasons for the elbow prohibition on the table:

  • Elbows on the table invade your neighbor’s personal space.
  • Elbows on the table can squeeze the stomach, which is bad for digestion.
  • The more body parts there are on a table, the less hygienic it is.
  • It is okay to rest your forearms on the table because slightly leaning forward indicates interest in your neighbor’s conversation (always good advice for pastors).

My adventure into the world of elbows has taught me a few lessons that have been around for centuries but often slip our minds when things are going well.  My primary learning is that God’s angels are all around us when we need them and if we humble ourselves to accept their help.

  • Joe was plowing the parking lot of an elementary school when I fell.  Seeing that I was in trouble, he asked if he could help, then drove me back to my hotel.
  • My brothers on the cabinet were right there to assist, and Bill Dobbs spent the morning with me in the emergency room at Sparrow Hospital. 
  • The tech taking the x-ray was as gentle as possible, and when she said, “Well, you really did a number on your elbow,” I had a reality check.
  • Linda Heisler spent the afternoon with me and had the unfortunate task of being present when the doctor contorted my arm at an excruciating angle for what seemed like hours while fashioning a temporary cast.  I hope I didn’t break Linda’s hand by squeezing it so hard.
  • It just so happened that Neal Niswonger, chair of the PPRC at Grand Rapids First UMC, was at Sparrow Hospital on business that day.  When he read Gary’s email on his PDA, Neal stayed until I was discharged, then carefully drove me home.  There are no coincidences.
  • Bishop Keaton demonstrated in a powerful way why he is the chief shepherd of our Michigan United Methodist flock by driving to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids to pray with me before surgery on Friday.
  • My husband, Gary, is an outstanding caregiver and even stayed overnight in the hospital when it became apparent that I was too sick to go home. 
  • My last nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital was so selflessly compassionate that when I told her, “I will never forget your kindness,” she said, “Really?  We nurses don’t hear that very often.”
  • Parish nurse Marj Timmerman helped me through some very tough post-operative difficulties.
  • Angels too numerous to mention have sent cards, emails and food.

Here’s what else I learned.

  • Life can change for any one of us in an instant.  What does not change is the evidence of God’s love all around if we have but eyes to see it.
  • It’s so important for congregations to have intentional systems of care in place so that others can have the same level of support that I’ve had.
  • Millions of people the world over experienced trauma and woundedness the same day I did.  I yearn for the day when every person has access to affordable, excellent health care. 

As we approach Holy Week, my broken body will feel the pain of the broken body of Christ in a new way.  Yet the pain of the body broken is far surpassed by the love of the body knit together in Christ.  Out of brokenness come wholeness, healing and new life.

Oh, the most important thing I’ve learned from this experience is that there is only one reference to the elbow in the Bible, and it’s only found in the New American Standard translation of Job 31:16-22.

If I have kept the poor from their desire, Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
Or have eaten my morsel alone, And the orphan has not shared it,
But from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, And from infancy I guided her,
If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, Or that the needy had no covering,
If his loins have not thanked me, And if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, Because I saw I had support in the gate,
Let my shoulder fall from the socket, And my arm be broken off at the elbow.

May that be a lesson to us all.

Blessings, Laurie

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