Wrestling with Shoes

Originally published Wednesday, 24 June 2020.

Step through my front door, and you’re greeted by shoes. Running shoes. Slides. Rubber boots. Loafers. There are shoes for playing soccer, shoes for playing baseball, shoes for church, and shoes for band performances. Oh, we can’t forget,  shoes for stuffing your feet in when you have to run through the rain real quick to grab the mail from the mailman because someone has once again let the dog into the front yard. All these shoes, and this morning my youngest still managed to go outside barefoot and pick up a glass shard with his toe. 

Currently, there are no fewer than fifty-eight shoes massed up into four giant piles around our front door. We don’t even have a “no shoes in the house” rule. I’d be thrilled if each member of the household would wear their shoes all the way through the door, up the stairs, and into their rooms. Maybe even all the way to their closets? But, no. The shoes never make it past the threshold. 

Sometimes I bark at the owners of all these shoes to come pick them up, and sometimes I enlist a child or two to help, but all too often I take the path of least resistance and just swoop through myself, tossing shoes into cubbies, rows, closets, or even straight into the garbage can. The front hallway looks clear again, finally—for an hour or two, until everybody runs back inside and starts kicking off their shoes. 

Lately, with everyone home all the time, the shoe situation has felt especially out of control. We’re not even going to church or soccer or the beach these days, so why are all these shoes even out right now? The whole house feels out of control, really—everybody running in and out all day long, to ride their bikes or go for a run or play in the backyard—and this introvert mama, who ordinarily relies on the regular school schedule to provide at least a few hours of sanity-restoring quiet each week, is feeling inundated by people, their noises, and their shoes. 

Picking up shoes is a metaphor for my life right now: repetitive, domestic, insignificant. Everything that used to feel like it gave purpose to my life is on hold. There are no more appointments, workdays, meetings, or speaking engagements. There are only shoes. There are days when my kids wear four different pairs, and I never put on a single pair, myself. I never make it out the front door. I just stay behind, constantly reshuffling the mess left behind by everyone else. 

Then, a few days ago, I got an email from my friend Janay. “Are you open to receiving a word from the Lord?” she asked me.

I don’t belong to a faith tradition that proffers frequent words from the Lord. I was raised on cautionary tales about people who claim that God wants you to go off your medication or give away all your money. But I trust my friend Janay, whom I met in grad school a few years ago. And I was curious, surprised that she had been thinking of me at all. “Of course!” I wrote back. 

So she sent me a voice memo. “Here’s what I saw when I was praying the other day,” Janay told me. “I pictured you bending over in a dark hallway, arranging and organizing tons and tons of shoes.” 

I was stunned. Janay has never been to my house before. She has never seen our shoes.  

“And you were feeling like what you were doing was useless,” Janay’s voice continued. “Like you were so tired of doing the same thing over and over again. And I think God wants you to know, what you are doing is important. I see you. You are precious to me.” 

Well. That was a word from the Lord, all right. I felt like Hagar, in the book of Genesis—“You are the God who sees me!” How gracious of God, how unexpected, to send word through a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a year, that He sees exactly what I’m up to these days. 

In the days since I heard from Janay, I’ve been mulling on the importance of shoes. Two Bible verses, in particular, keep coming to me: Isaiah 52:7 and Ephesians 6:15. In both verses, people are able to run and spread the good news of God’s peace because their feet are fitted properly (even, in Isaiah, beautifully). 

We buy shoes for our children to equip them for many different activities. Shoes for soccer, shoes for baseball, shoes for church, and band. But ever since I heard from Janay, I’ve been asking myself: how am I equipping my children to run through the world, spreading peace? 

Shoes were never insignificant, of course. As my youngest found out with his glass shard, they’re essential. But when the shoes piled up in the hallway serve to remind me of the importance of my children’s spiritual footing, they are more significant than ever. 

Neither this stay-at-home-time or this kids-at-home-time will last forever. Someday, I’ll go back to tending things other than shoes. Someday, my children will walk out that front door, and they won’t come back—not to live here again, anyway. Meanwhile, it’s valuable to be reminded of the significance of every little shoe. 

Meanwhile, it’s good to know that I am seen.

Sarah L Sanderson is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom of four. Find more of her work—including updates on the memoir she is currently writing about abuse, mental illness, faith, and her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother—on www.sarahlsanderson.com, or follow her on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter