Walking on Water

A True Story from Home

The church sanctuary hummed, moms herding their kids in from nursery, guys in khakis talking deer hunting, and a blonde boy who got away, darting between folks’ legs with a Sunday school paper in hand. Anna stood at the front row, looking across the aisle to where her friends were huddled. Her walker had already been tucked out of reach, so it would be a long way without any help. She looked around, then lurched forward, placing one orthotic in front of the other. The aisle pressed in on her. She tried maneuvering around people’s feet, but their backs were turned and they sidestepped right into her way. Her heart thudded with the exercise, but even more with the fear.

Can’t fall. Not here. Please, not here.

The brown carpet felt like moving water. She stepped forward again, just as the blonde kid swept past, catching the back of her leg and making it buckle. Anna gasped. She couldn’t lift her foot fast enough to catch herself and felt the ceiling tipping, the people flying sideways, the floor surging toward the back of her head.


Anna looked up. She was still standing on the front row, hands sweating, once again imagining what had never happened. She let out a breath.

Why do I have to be so afraid?

Walking hadn’t always turned her knees to water. Anna’s Cerebral Palsy made her move haltingly, bent forward at the waist, but she was moving. As a little girl, she’d been brave enough to walk and even ride a bicycle, latched on behind her dad’s bigger one. And sometimes—sometimes—Anna would walk without clutching her dad’s hand, though it always made her heart catch in her throat.

As Anna’s body grew, she leaned more fiercely than ever into what strength she had, but it wasn’t always enough. While her friends played Sharks & Minnows and threw the Frisbee around, Anna watched. She soothed herself with the fact that she could outdo them in schoolwork, that she had read every book on her shelf, that she beat her friends to the Sunday School answers every time. She was smart, and she was strong. 

But Anna’s physical strength came from something false, something called spasticitya resistance which drew her muscles tight as bow strings. Most days, spasticity kept her from falling, but only because it yanked her muscles into a constant tug-of-war. That contraction could trigger an involuntary reaction called clonus that bucked Anna off balance. She hated when thunderstorms rolled over the Missouri hills after dark, lightning flicking across her walls and thunder cracking. Sudden noises could spark her clonus, so she’d wince, afraid she would fall on her way from the bathroom. And one day, she did.

It was Sunday, and she’d just taken a hot shower that made her more spastic than usual. Anna stepped out of the bathroom at the crest of two flights of stairs, started for her bedroom, but then gripped the hamper. Her head spun and her body seized. One miraculous moment before she hit the top stair, she twisted away and sprained her knee instead.

Sure, she’d fallen before. Sure, her clonus had been triggered by heat or startling noises, but this was something different. Anna and her parents realized what could have happened if she hadn’t pivoted away from the stairs, and that unless she underwent a surgery to correct it, spasticity would only make walking more treacherous. 

Anna woke from that surgery, a Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy, on a golden morning in October. When the anesthesia wore away and she went to pull her knees up toward her chest, they flopped over on the hospital bed. She laughed, because the rigidity was gone. No more spasticity. No more clonus.

No more false strength.

Anna remembers that the day of her surgery, October 25, 2019, was one year since she had given her fearful heart to Jesus, when he had called her away from her Sunday School answers— from everything she was capable of— just as he’d called Simon Peter from his fishing boat. Anna always knew walking by faith could be a blind leap, but she had no idea it would mean taking real steps on her weak feet. She had never expected to feel so “loosey-goosey” after surgery. Spasticity had made her muscles feel strong, when really, they couldn’t even keep her standing. When she got fitted for a new pair of orthotics that held her feet in an unfamiliar grip, her last bit of confidence drained away.

Suddenly, she didn’t know how to take a step.

Gray morning trailed gray morning. Therapy sessions at home were followed by therapy sessions in the big room of mats and machines at Children’s Hospital. Anna didn’t want to get out of bed, because she knew she’d be asked to move her feet, lift her legs, step onto a stool— and that she wouldn’t be able to do any of it. She had said Yes to SDR surgery, just as she’d said Yes to Jesus a year before— but now, Jesus was asking her to take the first step toward him, and Anna felt like she was back in the church sanctuary, the floor heaving beneath her. Jesus stood across the aisle, beckoning, “Come,” but like Peter, she only heard the waves thundering. When she looked down, she saw crooked feet that couldn’t move, and the only thing that could keep her from sinking was what kept Peter walking on the sea. 

Anna would whisper, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Then she’d take one more step than the day before.

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”

~ Matthew 14:30-31

Spring came, and Anna found herself in the bright church foyer. The crowd hummed a louder tune today, on Easter Sunday. Her friends wore new dresses at the front of the room, and Anna had bought one, too. It was blue and flowy enough to walk in. Anna’s knees felt like water and her heart pounded like thunder, but this time, she didn’t imagine falling into the sea of people. She whispered, Jesus, then looked at her friends’ faces, let go of her dad’s hand, and walked down the aisle. 

One shaky step, then a strong one. Then three more.

She surged into the arms of one of her best friends, who wrapped Anna in an embrace. The floor stopped rocking. The hum died away. All Anna knew was her friend’s arms, and in them, the strong hug of Jesus, who whispered:

Why did you doubt?

7 thoughts on “Walking on Water

  1. I’ll never get tired of hearing this story! So well captured and crafted sweetheart! And a big thank you to Anna whose story and courage draw us to Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

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