Personally, I don’t have much use for toe rings.
It’s not that I dislike toe rings; it’s just that I don’t see much purpose in them. But recently, I’ve discovered a few purposes.
The first occasion came when I met a mother whose 14-year-old daughter, Adriana, was a cancer patient. The mother offered her daughter a costumed toe ring she’d bought in our gift shop, but her daughter declined calling it “dorky.” I told her I thought it was pretty.
“If you think it’s so pretty, why don’t you wear it?”
Toe Ring Lesson #1: Never dispute the opinion of a sick teenager.
“OK,” I said. “I will.”
Hoping the mother or daughter would stop me I began removing my shoe. No word of protest from either of them.
So I removed my sock, which, knowing how nauseated cancer patients can get, wasn’t a good career move. Nevertheless, I slid the ring on my little toe and put my shoe back on. That’s when Adriana’s medicine kicked in and she started howling in laughter.
Toe Ring Lesson #2: Helping a 14-year-old bald girl laugh through her cancer treatment is a good use of a toe ring.
Later that day, I had a doctor’s appointment which caused me to formulate Toe Ring Lesson # 3: Don’t let your doctor see you wearing a plastic toe ring – especially if she has powers to place a “psych hold” on you. So, I removed the toe ring and stored it my shirt pocket.
Later in the day I found another use for it when I had a chance encounter at the nurse’s station with a 12-year old patient. The nurses were trying to cheer her up, but she seemed determined to find nothing amusing.
I asked her if she liked toe rings. She did.
“Would you like to have one?” I asked. She would.
I removed the ring from my pocket and swabbed it with alcohol.
“Here ya go. Good as new,” I promised.
She kept her hands at her side as if to ask, “How come you had to clean it?”
I held it out and she took it briefly in her hand, but she still wasn’t smiling. By now, it was feeling like l really needed some help out of this awkward gift giving. I got some.
“Chaplain,” a nurse interrupted with a question out of the blue. “Could you marry me?” Despite the fact I knew she was likely needing someone to “perform” her marriage ceremony – not someone to be her husband – I couldn’t resist having a little fun with this commonly misspoken request.
Turning to the patient, I momentarily took back the toe ring and extended it toward the nurse, saying, “Well, I do have a ring, but I should tell you that I’m already happily married.”
The nurse and the child looked at each other for a brief moment and then burst into a chorus of laughter. Toe Ring Lesson #4. Toe rings don’t make good wedding rings.
From toe rings to wedding rings, I’d have to say that my day had an unexpected ring to it. I never would have thought that a toe ring could teach spiritual lessons, but I was beginning to see at least two.
First, while I don’t recommend recycling gifts, I suspect that the best kinds of gifts we can give are recycled ones. And by that I mean that our individual lives are a gift from God and they are best enjoyed in recycling them to others in ways that show our own vulnerabilities.
Second, I meet a lot of people who like to tell me what a tough job I have, but the truth is that you don’t need a seminary degree to be a minister. You don’t have to know theology. You just need to know that God works through individuals willing to recycle pieces of themselves and give them away as God’s gift to all. Because at the end of the day, it will never be about the faith you keep – it will always be about the faith you give.