Lessons in Disobedience, Forgiveness, & Consequences Through A Missing Toe


"Scars are tattoos with better stories."  - Random Bumper Sticker

I grew up in Southern California in Rancho Cucamonga about 40 miles east of Los Angeles.  Imagine a ranch-style stucco home in a development with a bunch of other ranch-style stucco homes; that's my childhood environment.  Don't imagine fancy, but picture suburbia in a "California style" way with a half-acre plot of land complete with a pool, a horse corral (along with horse trails between the houses) and 9,000 foot mountains as a backdrop.

Got it?

Most of those things factor into the story that I am about to tell you.

I had just finished 6th Grade, and it was the first day of summer vacation.  My parents, who were teachers, were heading to a Dodgers game after their last day at school, and I was left with my older siblings hanging out by the pool.   My older brother and sister had friends over, and it didn't take long before I became the favorite target (as usual) for being thrown in the pool, dunked, and generally tossed around.  I was soon frustrated (as usual), and so, in a twelve-year-old huff, I grabbed my cover-up, slid on my sandals, and decided to take our horse, Rusty, out for a ride.  (See the wonderful, off-center, 70's photo above for a shot of both of us!)

Before long I was in my friend Sheila's neighborhood, and I let her and her neighborhood friends ride Rusty while I played.  Unfortunately, not everyone was an "accomplished" rider, and one girl got to the end of the street and couldn't make Rusty turn around to go back up the street.

I went down to help.

I was able to grab Rusty's reins and get him to turn, but, as I did, he saw something off to the side that spooked him a little. Instead of making the turn as I was leading, he shied away and stepped sideways...directly onto my foot.  Normally, this little hoof-to-foot encounter wouldn't have been a big deal because I usually lived by strict rules that my parents gave us for when we were around the horse... chief among them being to wear proper shoes.


Alas, my sandals and my baby toe were no match for Rusty's hoof.

I'll spare you my drama, but you can imagine shrieks of pain, lots of blood, me crumpled in the middle of the street, and a big brown horse roaming aimlessly  in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood.

All the friends who saw the accident happen instantly ran home screaming in abject terror.  This left me alone to crawl up the street and "look" for help.  (Though they were running for help,  to me it just looked as if they ran off...leaving me to momentarily question my choice of friends).  Fortunately, the neighborhood moms came running outside to help at the same speed that their kids ran in.  Before long, I was in an ambulance heading to the hospital to see what the doctors could do with my mangled pinky toe.

Unfortunately, they couldn't do much.

I ended up losing my entire toe, and actually had to make my own pre-surgery decision (as a 6th grader) on whether to amputate or attempt reconstruction (with little hope of it looking remotely normal again).  (Keep in mind that my parents were headed to the Dodgers game through all this).  So, I chose "no toe," but gained a great story in the process.  (As an FYI, and because I know a few of you thrill-seekers want greater detail, the official definition for what happened to my toe is here, but be warned, you won't like the description. And, for heaven's sake, avoid Google images with this topic!).

That fateful day I learned a few important lessons about disobedience, forgiveness, and consequences that come to mind as frequently as I put on my shoes.  They are as follows:

DISOBEDIENCE:  I remember being in the hospital waiting for my parents to get there and dreading what was going to happen.  I thought they were going to be furious.  I was convinced that I was going to be grounded (or worse!) for the entire summer...for losing my pinky toe.  First of all, someone tracked my parents down between work and the baseball game.  In my 12-year-old brain, I could barely fathom HOW AWFUL it would be to miss a Dodgers game!  Second, my parents had been very clear with the rules around Rusty.  I never would have worn sandals had my parents been in eyesight, but I regularly ignored this mandate.  I always thought they had over-emphasized the whole "shoe thing," and so I did it my own way whenever possible.

FORGIVENESS:  By the time my parents arrived at the hospital, I was coming out of surgery.  When I saw them, I was shocked that they weren't mad at all.  I had no choice but to confess that I had ignored the rules, but I told them how very sorry I was.  They immediately said that they forgave me.  "So am I grounded?" I asked.  They laughed and said that they thought I had had enough "punishment," and they were pretty sure they could trust me to wear proper shoes in the future.  Of course they were right.  I recall the relief of that moment as if it happened yesterday.  No more baby toe, but not grounded.  I'll take it.  (Ah, to be a 6th grader again).

CONSEQUENCES:  However, what no one could change was the consequence of my poor decision making.  Even though I was completely forgiven, disobeying the rules brought about a lasting, visible consequence that I could never fix, even if I tried.  My foot scar doesn't have a huge impact in my daily life because it no longer hurts.  Not every wound is like that.  I've learned to live with it...er... actually without it ("it" being my toe).  I've grown accustomed to explaining what happened, and I buy/wear shoes with "strategic straps" (i.e., shoes with straps that mostly cover the little toe - NO FLIP FLOPS!).  Still, all of the apologies and regrets don't do a thing to repair my foot; my consequence lasts.

I often tell this story to my kids to remind them of three facts of life:

  1. Rules provide protection - The more dangerous the environment, the more extensive the rules.  Rules always feel restrictive.  They are.  On days when they don't divert injury or damage, they seem irrelevant.  They are.  On days that they save you, you are glad you live by them.  On days where you ignore them and you need them, they don't help one iota.  Appreciate them for their potential help and their actual help on days they protect.  Don't let the days that don't demonstrate a rule's safety woo you into dropping them.  Use rules to protect your  health,  integrity,  marriage,  relationships, and anything else that can be damaged or broken when you get careless.
  2. Forgiveness is always available - Our love should be unconditional.  Sometimes mistakes and accidents demand a heightened sense of emotion to make a point.  Often, the adrenaline that comes with accidents pull emotions out of us, and we lambast the person breaking the rule.  Still, our emotions around failure and accidents should NEVER supersede our love.  This takes planning and effort.  Love and forgiveness must always lead.
  3. Consequences for disobeying rules happen independent of forgiveness - and many times, the scars last forever.  You can be relationally forgiven or loved and still suffer significant consequences.  Consequences are like gravity.  You can't schmooze your way out of them...no matter how much your loved ones would love to take them from you...or you'd love to take your rule-breaking back.

...and that is the story of how my littlest toe went wee, wee, wee all the way gone.  Hope that you enjoyed it, and, this week, that you will look upon your rules, your ability to forgive, and your life's consequences just a wee bit differently, too.

What kind of stories do your scars tell?