The days of small steps

George has the greatest smile I’ve ever seen. It is the first thing I notice when I meet him. He flashes his grin, refers to me as “young lady” and immediately becomes my new best friend. George can’t hear worth a darn, though, but that doesn’t keep him from talking. His booming voice fills the whole clinic as he and I endure our physical therapy sessions together twice a week. George can count to 30 slower than anyone I know, but his smile makes it all okay.

A few weeks ago I wrote about this issue I have been having with my knee. If you missed it, you can read that story here. In order to correct my knee problems, I have to go to physical therapy twice a week for the next month.  And this is where I meet George.

We share a time slot and a therapist. We twist and turn and lift and stretch right next to each other while George does all the counting. And smiling. 10 sets of 30-second stretches can feel like an eternity, but he makes me laugh; so I forgive him.

George tells me every session that he thinks I faked my injury just so I could hang out with him. He says I walk just fine. Wish he could tell that to my orthopedic.

He had a stroke a few months back and is relearning how to do many of the things that came naturally to him before. “Used to spend my mornings climbing mountains with the dogs. Now I spend them stepping over cups. Things can sure change in an instant, “ he shares some of his story with me as he attempts to steadily step over the red and yellow cups arranged on the floor. He makes it all the way to the end of the obstacle course without falling.

Well, would you look at that!” he proclaims joyfully pumping his fist in the air, “that’s the first time I’ve made it all the way without stumbling!” The therapist asks him to do it again, but he doesn’t hear her. He just keeps marveling at his accomplishment. Eventually, she gives up trying to get his attention and just starts to celebrate with him.

“Here’s the thing young lady, ” he turns to me as the therapist hands him his sheet of homework stretches, ” these little exercises may seem stupid and silly. They may seem like small, inconsequential things. But they add up to a big deal. Never thought I’d be so excited about walking over cups!” He shakes his head and waves goodbye to the whole clinic.

I’m pretty sure God told George I needed to hear those words.

Small things matter. Small things aren’t inconsequential at all; they are important. They are how the big work gets done.

Maybe you need to hear that too? Are you stuck in the days of small things? Wondering if the little stuff you do makes a difference?

It was the prophet, Zechariah, a mouthpiece for the Lord himself, who encouraged the Israelites on this same issue thousands of years ago. They were attempting to do the tremendous job of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. The holy place had sat in ruins for over 70 years when God sent them to reconstruct the rubble.

But rebuilding a temple is not for the faint of heart. Especially in 519 BC. The temple was only going to be a mere shadow of the once great structure Solomon had built. Why should they even try? Their effort would be too small; the result too small; too small to even matter.

But, the Lord sends this message through Zechariah to those tired temple builders. “Do not despise the day of small things,” he has Zechariah tell them (Zechariah 4:10). Keep going. Keep doing the small things. And watch how the Lord will make them matter.

Brick stacking. Log cutting. Piece by piece temple building.

God loves the days of small things. It’s where he does his best work.

But I am impatient. I want to get on with the big stuff. My attitude about physical therapy mirrors my attitude about life.  I want to climb the mountains before I learn to take the small steps.

What difference can a few stretches make in the big scheme of all this?

What difference do my small words, my small acts, my unseen prayers make? Do they matter?

Well, George makes me realize I’ve got it all wrong.

“He really shouldn’t be able to walk. But he’ll be back on that mountain with his dogs come spring,” my therapist tells me as she ices my knee, “you see, he knows it’s important to do the small things well. We could all learn a thing a two from that man.”

He knows he can learn to climb a mountain again if he first learns to walk over the cups.

Big and important work is done in our small moments; in our ordinary days. God chooses to move through us. He chooses to be present in the peanut butter and jelly sandwich making, in the dinner dishes and the homework projects, in the quiet conversations, the stacks of work and the endless meetings. The Lord, himself, whispers over the hum-drum of it all,  Do not despise the days of small things.

Emily Freeman’s words from her book Simply Tuesday paint their way into my mind as I slip on my shoes and take my PT homework from the therapist.

“There is a daily-ness to my work, a small-moment perspective that whispers for me to connect with the work in my right-now hands, not because it’s going to become something Big and Important, but because Someone who is Big and Important is here, with me, in me, today.” 

These days of small things remind us that we serve a big God who chooses to stoop down and walk right here next to us every little step of the way.

“Go be like George!” my therapist sends me out with a smile, “and I promise you’ll be climbing those mountains soon enough.”

Yeah. Go be like George and know that God is with you every step of the way.


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