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The Woman Who Got Me Going Barefoot

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Today is a sad day for me. Nedra Hawkins died this afternoon. Nedra was a person I really cared for a lot just for who she was. She was someone I especially appreciated because she is the person who told me to go barefoot – and that has changed me forever.

Ten years ago I was dealing with hip bursitis something fierce. I tried insoles, I tried new shoes. I tried pain medicine.

I went to the doctor because I thought I had broken my hip. He x-rayed me and said there was nothing wrong. He gave me a cortisone shot and sent me on my way. Two weeks later, the pain was back as bad as ever… they wouldn’t give me another shot.

I was walking with a cane… my daughter was on a mission in the Caribbean in January and brought me a beautiful, carved cane that I cherish.

That’s when Nedra came along.

Nedra (right) with her daughter, Julie.

Nedra and her late husband, Glenn, operated a Health Food Store in Fort Wayne for a long time. While in that business, Nedra learned about the benefits of Reflexology. She began to practice it and had quite a large clientele.

After Nedra and Glenn moved to Timbercrest, she continued her reflexology practice with others who live at Timbercrest. I went to her a number of times.

If was on one of those visits that I was telling Nedra about the difficulty with my hips. She listened closely and attentively. After she got done with my reflexology treatment, she said to me simply (and straightforwardly):

“You should try going barefoot for a few days.”

You have to understand that I’m not a big fan of bare feet (ironic, isn’t it?). When she told me that, I sloughed it off a little but. I had all the usual prejudices people have about bare feet: they’re dirty, offensive, rude, slovenly and more than a little hillbilly-ish. It was okay for kids, but I was 45 years old (at the time) and it certainly wasn’t a fitting thing for a middle-age man to do.

But when I got home, I took my shoes off and didn’t put them on the rest of the weekend.

By Sunday, the pain was gone.

I was flabbergasted. The pain was gone. No meds, no insoles, no cane.

I began reading a lot about going barefoot and found that many people were in the same boat – they found their health and posture to have improved considerably by such a simple and harmless action as going barefoot.

By that summer, I was dedicated to going barefoot all the time – as much as I could. I did and I do.

I wear sandals or slides at work, that I can get out of easily. I wear my sandals a little at Church, but most of the time not, and the people of the Church love me in spite of it (I love them, too, by the way). Otherwise, my shoes stay in the car. I wear flip flops in stores that are ignorant enough to have a “no shoes” policy (foolishness) and I wear my sandals when I am representing my company in the community.

Honestly, I don’t understand why people wear shoes at all. In most cultures, all around the world, there is a strong heritage of going shoeless. Last week I officiated a funeral of one of our Church members. (I wear regular shoes for funerals and weddings.) It was wonderful to bless her family and to commend Marcille into God’s hands, but I couldn’t wait to get those shoes off! :-)

I will miss Nedra a great deal. She had some significant health issues in the last few years of her life, but she never failed to be encouraging and witty. She had a deep faith and a personal peace that “passeth all understanding.” She loved to sing the old hymns and was a woman of prayer.

She and I would talk about her time “doing feet” as she called it and I often told her about how important her advice had been to me.

I will keep her family in my prayers this week as they mourn. May she rest in well-deserved peace.

 

 

 

 

Timbercrest and Roann

If you’re a history nut, you may enjoy a few thoughts here about our little town of Roann and the place I work, Timbercrest, in North Manchester.

The connections of Roann and Timbercrest actually pre-date Timbercrest. They go back to the days when Timbercrest was located in Mexico, Indiana, and it was called The Old Folks and Orphans Home of the Church of the Brethren (or, more fondly, The Mexico Home).

Today, Timbercrest is in North Manchester, Indiana, having moved with 37 residents of the Mexico Home. And Roann is situated about half-way between the two.

Many leaders of the Roann Community have lived at TImbercrest over the years.

- Dale Kinzie, who lived in a delightful brick and gingerbread home on Church Street, called TImbercrest home for a number of years.

- Carl and Gretchen Pence lived at Timbercrest. Back when Roann had a “drug store,” Carl ran it. He had family in the Roann years for many years. Carl recalled playing basketball for Roann High School back when the old school stood where the Bryan Apartments are now and the teams played ball in the old Unitarian-Universalist Church. Carl said they played with a modified court and the only room for spectators was when people could look in the windows from the outside.

- Lloyd Miller had a locker plant where the Roann Fire Station now stands. For many years, Lloyd was active in the Roann First Brethren Church, but he grew up north of town. One of my favorite pictures is of Lloyd as a 5 year-old boy fording a team of oxen across the Eel River near the Covered Bridge.

- Gretchen DuBois still lives at Timbercrest. She and her husband, John, used to own the gas station that stood where the access to the “new bridge” is. She and her husband built the house that still stands on that corner, from scratch. Gretchen found Roann to be a place of healing. As a young bride, she lost her first husband in World War II. She and her new husband found great friends and a good place for their children in Roann.

- June Wolfe is the widow of the legendary pastor of the Roann Church of the Brethren, Claude Wolfe. Claude worked at Manchester College. June was a character in her own right, though, using her gifts of great love and service in the Roann Church and community. She remained a member of the Roann Church of the Brethren all her life.

- Katherine Carr always considered Roann home, even though she and the family farm south and east of town.

- Phyllis LIttle and Mary Miller hail from Roann. They still live at Timbercrest in the Neighborhood Homes.

- According to orphanage records, several families from the Roann area helped with orphans and the orphanage before that ministry closed in the mid-1900’s.

People are the main (but not the only) connection of Roann and Timbercrest.

Back after World War II, someone in the Roann Church of the Brethren got the idea of going to the Mexico Home each year for Christmas to help decorate. And they’ve been doing it ever since. Even as Timbercrest has grown – 37 opened Timbercrest, 310 live there now – a team of diligent women from Roann have come to decorate trees, hang garland, assist residents with their won décor, and just to bring the spirit and joy of Christmas. Today, that legacy has been taken up by the Walk By Faith Community Church, with the same spirit and joy of Christmas.

In addition to that, Roann Church of the Brethren women made countless noodles to help fund projects at Timbercrest. And Walk By Faith Church women still come for birthday dinners and other events on campus.

Back when there was an orphanage, quite a few children came from the Roann, Chili, and Denver area and several families from Paw Paw Township helped house orphans. This part of the Mexico Home closed long before there was a “Timbercrest,” yet their heritage is in common with Timbercrest today.

I’d love to hear more stories of connections of Timbercrest and Mexico Home to the Roann Community. If you have a story, please send it along to me at bdaniels@timbercrest.org  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Thanks!

What A Great Barefoot Winter!

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Pictured above is me on Mar. 12, 2014, after we got yet another blast of snow. I had just walked through the ploughed snow from my car on my way to the door at work (note my sandals in my left hand).

I can’t deny the fact that I love going barefoot in the cold and snow. I’m going to try and explain why in this little post.

This was a great winter to be barefoot. Much of the time it was so freezing that the snow was light and powdery, soft to the touch and easy to get through. It was also easy to shovel, except for the fact that it was often windy and  blew some of the snow right back to wear it had been cleared.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because the very cold (often sub-zero) temps meant less chemical ice-melt used. It is really ineffective to use when the temps are below 15, so lots of places didn’t seem to use as much. Regular rock salt is tough to deal with, but it’s bearable and I like it when it’s mixed with sand or cinders. But to me, going barefoot through those chemicals is worse than going through the ice and snow. If you see me in flip-flops in winter, it’s more likely the chemicals than the cold!

It was a great winter to be barefoot because of “warming.” I don’t know what the technical term is, but when you come in from a super-cold day, the process of the warmth returning to your feet feels almost hot… like a “super warming” effect. There were lots of opportunities for this during this past winter.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because people seemed to be so pre-occupied with their own issues with the chill that they didn’t bother me. A few people stared, but most people were shaking in their parkas and not caring about the barefoot guy walking near them.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because it challenged me to think about why I do this. Living a barefoot life is a personal choice. I do it for my health – and my hip – and because I love the connexion with nature and life. I like the spiritual sense of walking with God and the mindfulness of the present moment being barefoot brings. I empathize with those who are poor in the cold… I am not poor, thankfully, and I need to be intentional about understanding those who God loves most: those who have no heat, who have to sleep outdoors in the winter, and many others who experience the freeze through no choice of their own. Being barefoot helps me empathize with them.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because this was a great winter. Have we ever had a winter this long before? From the week after Thanksgiving it hasn’t let up until late last week – and we still have piles and piles of snow everywhere that may take through April to melt. It’s a winter like no other and we’ll be talking about it 30 years from now, just like we still talk about that Blizzard of ’78. And I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren, “I went barefoot through it every day!”

There are those in the barefoot sub-culture who refer to going barefoot in the winter as “Snowfooting.” I like the term. Here are a few thoughts on that:

1) Just like going barefoot the whole rest of the year, going barefoot in the snow and cold is a sensory rush. People ask me all the time, “Aren’t your feet cold?” Yes, often, but the challenge and the rush (I can’t think of a better word) is amazing.

2) There is a unique sense of feeling the snow melt against your warm skin. On the soles, it’s a functionary thing, treading to go and not slip. On the tops of the feet and toes, it’s a mixed message. The cold can be brutal on less-used skin, like the tops and toes, but it’s also physically amazing to see what your skin can withstand.

3) Frostbite, well, maybe. I’ve never had a confirmed case, although this winter I may have had a touch of it. If it is what I thought, then it’s really not so bad. I wouldn’t want to lose a toe to it, mind you, but in general it was no worse than a sun burn (and peeling after).

4) In that string of super cold, sub-zero days in January, I was forced to wear boots (!?!?) for the first time in nine years. I hope it’s another nine years before I have to wear them again. But it did remind me that being smart in the cold is important, too.

This was a great winter to be barefoot :-) and there are still four days left ’til Spring! :-)

Were You Really Barefoot There?

The question is right from the non-barefooters playbook:

“You didn’t go barefoot while you were there, did you?”

My answer: “All the time.”

Response: “Don’t you know they have ________ [name the choice of vermin, disease, or other danger]?”

My answer: *Sigh*

I just returned from a medical mission in El Salvador. And the barefoot questions have started since I got back… the questions about picking up strange worms or diseases and such.

These questions are interesting to me because they presume, perhaps, that in the U.S. we have no strange worms or diseases. I suppose there are critters I’d rather not deal with in a place like El Salvador, but they are the exception rather than the rule, just as they are here.

There is a lot more litter in El Salvador than in the U.S., there is no gainsaying that. My observation is that there is a lot more “dangerous” debris laying around also – broken glass, bits and pieces of wire and metal, plastics and biological refuse.

That being the case, however, I also observed that people in shoes were also avoiding all that dangerous debris – just like the U.S., oddly enough.

It is also my observation that many Salvadorans are less “hygienic” than North Americans. Perhaps if we were a land with very limited hot water, and irregular water service at that, we might be a little less ‘hygienic” also. If the choice to be made is between water for a shower or cooking for the family, I might choose the food myself.

There are people I know who think going barefoot is less hygienic. They don’t seem to realize that there are likely more germs on the shoes of people than there on the soles of my bare feet… I wash my feet every day – sometimes twice a day. When was the last time someone who wears shoes washed the soles of them?

The Salvadorans didn’t seem to think being barefoot was unhygienic. They DID think it was curious, but no one minded in restaurants, Church, or anywhere else. Some even took the effort to try and question about my barefoot walking in as good English as they could muster (and I tried to response in broken Spanish).

One member of the medical mission team I was with kept on the alert for me: “I hope you step on a screw worm… you’ll see what that’s like.” He even said, “I think there are scorpions on this path. You don’t want to step on those!” Another team member felt I needed to wear those blue shoe covers, but not everyone in shoes needed them. What’s up with that?

The fact of the matter is that screw worms have been eradicated in El Salvador since 1995, and prior to that they preferred dead flesh to living flesh anyhow. And scorpions, while dangerous, are “more afraid of us than we are of them.” And if I had a dangerous germ on my feet – again, no more dangerous than anyone had on their shoes – those flimsy blue shoe covers are just a ruse… they wouldn’t have kept anything out.

In reality, I would rather be barefoot in El Salvador – and anywhere – than to be there – and anywhere – in shoes.

We visited this awesome volcano, Boquerón, outside of San Salvador. Mountains amaze me anyhow, being from the flattest parts of Indiana, but this volcano was great. It was very steep… the road to the top was roughly paved and cobblestone… great toughening surfaces to feel. While the sun beat brightly on us as it began to set around the volcano rim, the ashy dust of the path was cool to the feet. The roots that traversed the path were a tripping hazard to shod and unshod hikers, but to feel their knotty fingers was invigorating. In short, being barefoot enhanced my experience of Boquerón in ways that the shoe-wearers couldn’t understand.

We also visited a UNESCO heritage site, Joya de Ceren. It is like Central America’s Pompeii, an entire Mayan village covered with ash and debris from a nearby volcanic eruption in the late 6th century. (No human casualties, thank God.) Everyone oohed and aahed at the remarkably well-preserved buildings and sites, but I couldn’t help but think that I was the only one who really walked in soil that those same Mayans enjoyed barefoot 1400 years ago.

So, yes, I was barefoot there. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. El Salvador is a wonderful, mysterious, inviting place. Barefoot is the best way to experience it.

Bravery

“You’re so brave…”

I hear it all the time. (Bow, bow, humble nod)

Here’s the scenario: It’s 15 degrees out and I’m walking over snow-salt-ice-slush and I meet someone bundled up like an Eskimo. I am in a coat, sweater, and pants: they look like they’re wearing half their wardrobe and three pairs of socks inside their fur-lined boots. Our eyes meet as I approach the store. I look away because I can tell by the look in their eyes what they’re going to say…

“I don’t know how you do it, barefoot in this cold… you’re so brave…”

I usually smile and nod or make some kind of inane remark and keep going.

But I always think someone missed the day they were defining “bravery” in school.

“Bravery” is the fire fighter who rescues a child from a burning building.

“Bravery” is the nursing home staffer who braves the blizzard to get to work because she knows others can’t make it in.

“Bravery” is the Christian who still says their prayers in nations where faith is persecuted or outlawed.

“Bravery” is the teacher who risks breaking the rules to provide Christmas for children in her school who may have to go without.

“Bravery” is someone with a handicap or disabling condition who gets up daily and leads a fulfilling life without flinching or complaining.

By comparison, going barefoot in the snow is really foolish. It doesn’t stop me – I’ve been foolish before and likely will be again sometime.

I think we need to rediscover what bravery really is. Like many other character traits, bravery seems stronger in some than in others. How many times have we seen or read about someone who has done a heroic deed, only to read their response, “I was just doing what anyone else would do under the circumstances?”

I wouldn’t. I would like to, but I don’t know that I would. I’ve lived in Roann for 17 years and have yet to even think about joining the volunteer fire department. I was unable to get to work in last week’s blizzard. I pray freely in a country that protects my freedom to do so. I help out people doing charitable work but I don’t know how much I actually do.

I am a barefooter because I am weak. I have a hip that gives me trouble when I wear shoes. In the nine years I’ve gone without (most of the time) I have walked in many different places and on many different surfaces. But I prefer the grass or the cool water or a smooth sandy beach. I walk on hot and cold sidewalks, but I don’t seek them out. Why not? Because underneath it all, I’m weak.

I’m just doing what we’re made to do: walk without shoes. People who are brave go beyond what they’re made to do and risk themselves for the benefit of others.

My hope is that the next time someone sees me walking barefoot on the ice or in the snow, they would think, “That guy’s a fool” and remember the people in their own lives who are truly brave.

 

 

 

No Fear

 

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Saw a preview of a new TV show the other night:

A lovely young woman, dressed in Victorian-style clothes, sits in her boudoir brushing her lengthy tresses. Unbeknownst to her, a man has entered the room, looking dark and mysterious. As the music builds suspense, the room slowly swirls as flashbacks to events between the young woman and young man quickly appear and fade.

Finally, at a pinnacle of suspense, the young woman catches a glimpse of the man in her mirror. Terror grips her.

The man steps once more and we the TV audience see what the young woman can’t…

,,, a bouquet of flowers and a card that says “Happy Anniversary.”

Okay. So this wasn’t a real commercial or preview. But I wish it were. Halloween brings out the worst in TV’s new offerings, but those shows are simply a reflection of the culture.

The times have twisted Halloween, too. When I was young, costumes were amusing and child-like. Casper was the worst ghost and witches were about as evil as it got (yes, witches are evil). We even used to collect money for UNICEF.

As the years progressed, Halloween became grotesque, with more and more of the usual objectionable costumes – vampires, zombies, chainsaw murderers, mangled bodies, demons and devils, etc. It was mildly disturbing to see teens dressed this way, but just nauseating as younger ones imitated their older peers.

In a particularly weird twist, recent years have seen these horrific beings take on an erotic approach – vampires are no longer Nosferatu and pasty white tortured souls: they are sexy young adults, out for a good time and, to paraphrase Englebert Humperdinck, “After the lovin’, I’ll take a bite of you..”

Englebert Humperdinck

A children’s evening of collecting candy has become a festival of the macabre, a night of fear and terror with a touch of sexy.

The thing is, it’s all a ruse. I’ve identified ten particulars about Halloween that are especially heinous:

1) Death is to be feared. There may be circumstances leading to death that are fearsome, but death itself is natural. Death is the end of life. We may fear how we’ve lived our lives and death’s approach reminds us of our regrets and failures, but death itself will come. Death may come at circumstances beyond our control and those circumstances may be fearsome, but death itself is inescapable. For the Christian, death is the beginning, our participation in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is certainly not to be feared.

2) Older adults are to be feared. This part of Halloween galls me most. Notice that witches and scary masks are all of old people, wrinkled, warty, grey-haired, toothless and misshapen. Halloween characters are expected to act like people dealing with Dementia, a sadly real condition faced by many older adults. Hunched over and sounding unnatural, Halloween characters act out very difficult situations that very real older adults cope with daily. Halloween’s mockery of older adults isn’t amusing to me at all.

3) Post-mortem life will be gruesome. In reality, post-mortem life will be wonderful. Eternity with God, everlasting love and peace, wholeness of spirit, the presence of Christ, the joy of the saints, and all those things are the marks of eternity. Port-mortem life will not be lived in the shadows or as walking dead smeared with the mud of the grave – it will be lived in the land of endless day.

4) Cemeteries are scary places. Again, reinforcing a fear of death is reinforcing a fear of where the dead rest. Cemeteries are sacred spaces. They are places of honor. They are lawns of memory. Cemeteries are peaceful places. People rest there whose lives are free of the encumbrances of their years on years. The saints rest from their labors. The weary rest from their labor. The lowly and the lofty share the same status, asleep in the ground.

5) Demons are powerful. This may seem like word-play, but demons can be powerful, but in reality they have very little strength. Demons only have the power that is given to them. For the Christian dealing with temptation, the tempter has only the power we give him. Demons are on an eternal leash, one tied by Christ through His own death and Resurrection. Like the Little Rock Nine entering Central High School in 1957, whose anti-segregation taunters were noisy and rude but held at bay by federal troops, so the Christian walks before demons, whose taunts are held at bay by the One Who has risen from the dead.

littlerock-topper

6) Candy will take care of your fears. This is the modern mantra. Give me a pill, a shot, a quick fix for my problems. Let me run – and don’t judge me – from my debt, my relationship problems, my job, my emotional issues, etc. The legend of “Trick or Treat” is that giving the Halloween visitors a treat will keep them from “tricking” the fearful patron. In medieval times, a farmer may have given his virgin daughter to the Druids to keep the evil-doers at bay. Today, a Snickers bar will keep eggs from being thrown at your house. But the principal is the same: a quick fix will solve the problem.

In reality, dealing with fears takes hard work. The Druids (and others) didn’t stop harassing peasants and villagers until Christianity took firm control and cast them out. It took centuries. Likewise, pills, shots, pay-day loans, etc., only deter the symptoms. Real fears need real work.

7) Hell is amusing. The usual descriptions of hell not withstanding, I read an Orthodox perspective on hell that I think makes very real sense to me. Because God is love (and always is), to those who reject Him, love will burn like flames. Because God is light (and always is), those who prefer darkness will find His light to be particularly torturous. Because God is peace (and always is), those who refuse Him will find His peace eternally besetting.

In no way is hell amusing. There is no eternal party in the dark caves of the grave. The gates of hell have been eternally broken down by Christ, Who “conquered death by death.” Those who find themselves in hell are there at their own hands because God sends no one there.

8) “Good character” is for nerds. I don’t know if there is scientific data on this, but I think it’s somewhere between third and fourth grades that kids reject being Bob the Builder and Sponge Bob Squarepants for Halloween and begin asking for costumes a little more grim and dark. Depictions of good people are scuttled because good people aren’t scary or cool. Being a good person is more scary. It would be interesting to see trick-or-treaters dressed as St. Francis or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Ghandi or a Boy Scout, wouldn’t it?

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9) Autumn and cold are dreary. Overcast skies, rain, slowly defoliating trees, shorter days and browning greens are negative to many people. There are those who deal with “Seasonally Affected Disorder,” a very real emotional state influenced by the changing seasons, and I’m not diminishing their condition. But for the rest of us, Autumn ought to be a season of hope and beauty. The departure of greenery is a reminder that the beauty of Winter is right around the corner. The cleansing of Winter brings the joy of new life in Spring.

The real affects of seasonal change should be embraced. Longer nights are nature’s way of reminding us that we need rest. Darkness and cold bring out our human creativity: how to stay warm and light with the resources available. Cold weather requires preparation and it offers time for preparation for Spring. Autumn is a time of opportunity.

10) Committing evil acts can lead to a satisfactory existence. Whether you’re a sexy vampire nibbling on teen girls or a buff werewolf slashing through passive partiers, doing evil is never satisfactory.

Those who commit real evil know this to be true. Hitler’s suicide is perhaps the pathetic best example. Grandiose dreams of a thousand year Reich built on the backs of Eastern European slaves and soaked in the blood of non-Aryans came to a simpering finale when Hitler – ever the coward – died not leading troops to a final victory but in a bunker with a pistol shot to the head. The evil he engendered was insatiable and unsustainable. And in the end, unsatisfactory. Hitler turned on his own people, accusing them of cowardice, accusing them of rejecting the Aryan ideal. His psychosis found fault not in his own evil but in the incompetence of those who were no longer worthy of his presence. And so, his suicide.

Hallowe’en, the Eve of All Saints day, should be a time and reflection on the good things God has in store for the faithful. There is no fear in that. Recalling the lives of the saints and martyrs, Hallowe’en should remind us all that God plays no tricks on us. He assures us that life is good and that eternal life is His remarkable gift.

 

New Blog for Theology

Howdy -

I’ve created a new blog for theological issues: barefoottheology.org

This blog, “barefootbrian” was intended to be more about barefoot living and that sort of thing. More musings than anything. Instead, it has become a catch-all for all sorts of posts of mine.

I hope you’ll subscribe to my new blog and feel free to comment and share.

Thanks – and bye! :-)

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