Character Muscles (& Crutches!)

The life of a relief & development worker is never easy at best, but sometimes added challenges make it super hard to cope. Here’s one of Virginia’s first blogs from July 2011 about how she managed to build a few character muscles in Africa…

The measure of a person’s character is: what does it take to stop you?”

I shared these words with Domeka Kelley, a dynamic young pastor my Papa mentors on Mondays, as he slowly hobbled in with a swollen sprained ankle. Ouch! It’s hard getting around on crutches (painfully hard getting motivated to get around) but Domeka determinedly made it into the living room for his time with Papa.

Papa emailed this quote years ago when I fell (splat) on a patch of unwieldy pavement, fracturing my ankle during Christmas holidays in South Africa. It became a mantra of sorts as I struggled to cope with life on crutches in Africa.

Here’s the thing, I didn’t travel home from Tanzania that Christmas since I couldn’t bear the 30+ hour journey after neck disc surgery the previous June in America. I had returned to Tanzania in August a wee bit (too) early figuring half days were possible, but not figuring how the long journey would set the healing process back, and, well, HURT.

God is good (ALL the time) and going back early assisted the birth process of a large malaria project for the whole country of Tanzania (those half days thankfully paid off.)

Back to Christmas in South Africa… Hobbling through the airport on crutches with a scary neck brace did serve as an effective male repellent on the short trip back to Dar es Salaam, but that was just the beginning. After four weeks wearing an ankle aircast, hopping & hobbling (while still driving, mind you, and keeping a regular work schedule in Dar) I went to Dr. Ype at the International Clinic who x-rayed the misbehaving-still-very-swollen ankle to find it was actually badly fractured.

On went an immovable cast (no more driving) and stern instructions: you must use crutches for three (gasp!) months.

Egads. My apartment was located up 3 flights of stairs. Our office was – guess what – up 3 flights of stairs. January, February and March are hotter-than-fireballs. (In the August winter of Dar es Salaam temperatures are a chilly 80 degrees.) 🙂  In the heat I dripped to work, dripped to meetings, and dripped home on crutches.

What does it take to stop you? (hop, hop, breathe, rest arms, drip, drip…) What does it take to stop you?(hop, hobble, hop, hop…drip, drip, drip…)

My travel schedule was heavy: a conference in Uganda, Roll Back Malaria regional meetings in Nairobi, important meetings in Arusha. African airports generally tend to have lots of stairs and few elevators. I learned the intrinsic value of flash drive sticks (dragging a laptop around on crutches increases the puddle factor, tremendously.)

Then, while up in Arusha (still on crutches) I met malaria up close & personal: 104 fever and zig-zagidy joint pain like you can’t believe. Somehow I wobbled (hobbling in a wobbly fashion) to meetings at our National Office as a walking advertisement for our malaria programs.

Throughout God was extremely generous in the grace department (I am a rather wimpy amazon woman with very limited muscle-development inclinations) but this whole-do-Africa-on-crutches thing did build up character muscles. Here I previously thought climbing up the Stairs of Repentance on Mount Sinai in Egypt a hard feat, but wobbling about on crutches in Africa was definitely harder!

To be sure, I asked for God’s help (note ‘wimpy amazon’ is understated) and to have made it through those months on crutches – in the heat – is nothing short of miraculous. But I also thought of the many children, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers suffering from malaria, HIV/AIDS and many other challenges. Their courageous examples of not giving up also motivated me to keep going – and then there’s my Papa, who can’t move anything and yet he faithfully keeps on, keeping on.

What does it take to stop you? There are all sorts of crutches that keep us from moving forward after our spills (splat) on the pavement of life: bruised egos and empty pockets, tears and fears, maybe sprained hearts too hurt to love anew.

Why not let God keep building up your character muscles? Instead of asking ‘why?’ focus on taking that next step – drip, drip, puff, puff, wobble, hobble – and you might find yourself before long casting those crutches aside walking healed in God’s Love.

“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be disjointed, but rather may be healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

grace, peace & character muscles

Virginia : )

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7 Responses to Character Muscles (& Crutches!)

  1. Cindy Kranich says:

    That is a great quote of Dad’s and a good word for me today facing office moves, new hires and work deadlines. I remember what a trooper you were, not only with the crutches, but also traipsing back to Africa so soon after neck surgery with your neck brace driving the stick shift SUV through bumpy terrain and a full on schedule with national malaria project —amazing to reflect on the big things that were accomplished while facing major health challenges❣️

    • Virginia says:

      Cindy – as always, many thanks for coming back with me to TZ after the surgery to assist your RPN(royal pain in the neck) sis for a month. Your help made the initial foundation of that big proposal possible! We are so blessed with Papa (& Mama’s) example of not giving up – which makes temporary crutches a small thing compared to full blown quadriplegic paralysis. Love & hugs & gratitude!! 💜😎💜🙏💜🌷💜

  2. TMH says:

    I like your dad’s quote: ‘What does it take to stop you?’ That really boils it down. I’m inspired…to show courage in my never-ending search for White Lily Flour! ;-] And for a dog-adoptee! [Met one today who just had his eye removed. Talk about character…We may just make that next visit after he’s healed.] Keep writing, V! And your revisiting your experiences as a relief worker are valuable for us folks who ‘struggle’ through ‘First World Problems’, that those in developing countries would beg to suffer through.

    • Virginia says:

      Thanks for your encouragement, Tim. You may laugh, but I have a history of ankle challenges – as a 25 yr old on the first day of a new job in DC, I fell UP the stairs & fractured my ankle. Had to wear a cast (& use crutches) for 6 weeks. Great way to ‘break in’ to my new job! Hope you find a good dog-adoptee! 🤪🤗🤪🤣🐶🤗

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  4. elvagreen123 says:

    Love you and your Dad! Thanks for such great encouragement.

    • Virginia says:

      It’s great to have inspirational dads, Elva. Think of all the challenges your dad faced, but he blazed a trail for himself (& others) without letting anything stop him! Blessings & hugs! 💜🌟😎🌟🤗🌟💜

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