bend – verb | \ˈbend\

: to use force to cause (something, such as a wire or pipe) to become curved
: to curve out of a straight line or position
: to move your body so that it is not straight


Outside, the bare branches of the rose bush and last summer’s basil and even the tulip poplar bend lows in the wind. It’s sunny now — the bright white light bouncing off the snow-covered ground. But it’s frigid. How those tender branches don’t just snap right off, I couldn’t say.

Sometimes they do. They bend too far in the cold of winter or even in the tumult and bluster of spring and summer, and they break off. We have a wooden bin in the back corner of our fenced in yard loaded with the branches that couldn’t bend any further.

There’s nothing all that unusual about the casualty of a few branches each season. Picking up sticks has become a rite of spring and a regular chore during the summer and fall months. I suppose the way some branches stay and some go is a type of pruning, too. Pruning I’m too lazy or ignorant to attend to. In the long run, it’s good for the trees and bushes to be cut back and managed. It’s good for the land to receive back the organic matter as the branches decompose. It’s good for the animals who take shelter in their cover.

But it wasn’t good for the branch left rotting on the ground. To the branch, the breaking marks the end. Of course the bending was painful, taxing, stretching, almost unbearable. But it’s the bending that would have saved the branch.

If you bend, you survive.

Branches Blowing in the Wind

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My husband is facing a different kind of bending. After a torn patellar tendon and a surgery to repair it, he’s now enduring physical therapy (which the doctor called physical torture) to get the knee moving and operating as normal. Slowly but surely Steve has begun putting weight on his leg. He’s using just one crutch to maneuver around now, and he can even climb stairs one at a time. His pain has diminished significantly, and he faithfully performs exercises at home three or four times a day. The only problem: his knee won’t bend.

It might hurt you, but you aren’t hurting it. In fact, it’s gotta hurt a little if it’s going to get better.
Of course the doctor doesn’t want it to bend all the way yet. Knees typically bend from about -15 degrees (think of a leg so straight that the knee is caved in downward) to about 130 degrees (feet tucked up tight under the hamstring). This is the full range of motion for a healthy knee. Steve’s knee bends from about 0 degrees to about 40 degrees (with a physical therapist putting her weight on it). When he gets to 70 degrees, he can ditch the final crutch and start driving again.

“Bend!” we urge his knee, as he is pushing and pulling during his therapy exercises. But it’s not just as simple as wanting the thing to move. The mechanics of injury and repair mean tendons and muscles have to be stretched and massaged and slowly extended to regain their range of motion. Push too hard, and it feels like things will break again.

But they won’t, the doctor assures us. “Apart from a wipe-out, you can’t hurt your knee,” he told us. “It might hurt you, but you aren’t hurting it.” In fact, it’s gotta hurt a little if it’s going to get better.

So every time Steve takes off the black hinged brace, pulls out the towels and the styrofoam tube, and starts his exercises, he bends his knee as far as he can — sometimes a little further than he can. Though it feels like it’s going to break, it doesn’t (just like the doctor promised). And he feels a little more confident about pushing it farther the next time.

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I’ve had to bend a fair amount myself lately, pushed over by the weight of circumstances and the heaviness of emotions. Life hurts a little lately, and I fear that all that’s going on around me might break me. It feels that way. What’s keeping me from being the branch flung to the ground?

But though it hurts, this season of life isn’t hurting me. With each dip down, I grow stronger, better prepared for the next gust and the next. I am pushed to the brink, past where I thought I could endure. But I do.

“[The Lord] won’t break a bruised reed,” the prophet says, “he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice.”

And maybe that’s what hope is: believing we can walk into the wind without being broken or extinguished. That when we bend we grow.


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Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.