If Mom hadn't mentioned the iron that day, I would have walked right past it without a first thought, let alone a second one.
But, she warned me off, saying "I've been downstairs ironing all day, so that iron is hot. Don't touch it."
Of course, that meant I had to touch it. After all, I'd been home from school for at least 10 minutes. Surely it wasn't still hot. No half measures for this 9-year-old. I laid the palm-side of my right hand fully on the face of the iron. It took a few seconds for the heat to register, but when it did, I pulled back and knew I should have listened (again) to my wise mother.
Since I had acted in blatant disobedience to her warning, I couldn't go to her for help. The pain grew more severe. I went into the bathroom and turned on the cold water. The relief was instantaneous, as long as I kept my hand under the cold stream. But, there were seven of us in the house, and just the one bathroom. I couldn't stay in there indefinitely.
Back and forth I went, the pain seeming to intensify between drenchings, drawing me back to the faucet, the time between bathroom visits growing noticeably shorter.
By the time we sat down to supper, I was nearly undone. Asking to be excused from the table for the second time, the question I almost longed for Mom to ask finally emerged. Finally able to release the tears that had threatened all afternoon, I quickly confessed to my misdeed.
Instead of anger, instead of condemnation, instead of punishment, I received a deluge of mercy, full and free. Mom took one look at my hand and made her way to the party-line telephone, clearing the line so that she could call the emergency room to find out what to do.
Their advice, which Mom followed to a T, is a far cry from today's treatment of similar injuries, and the next day, I showed up at school with my hand and fingers slathered in Vaseline, wrapped in layers of gauze so thick my hand looked like a big, white club. I spent the rest of that week trying to write my classroom assignments with my left hand.
There are no visible scars and although the hand ached through the night, no blisters ever emerged. (It is God's own mercy that I instinctively held it under that cool stream of water as long as I did, dissipating the heat before the Vaseline could trap it.)
I'd like to say that from that point on, I listened to every warning Mom issued. Yeah, right.
It seems to be a particular human weakness, to immediately turn toward the one thing you've been warned against, supposing that somehow the rules don't apply to you.
They do. Even if you don't get caught.
Because, even if you don't get caught, another uniquely human characteristic comes into play. And, if the situation isn't dealt with, it will play and replay over days, weeks, even years, breaking into conscious thought -- jarred by a phrase, a song or a scent.
One night of viewing prime time television quickly reveals that sleep doesn't always come easily. A myriad of remedies, even those with serious side effects, are offered, with increasing frequency as bedtime approaches, all promising a deep, restful sleep. (Trust me, Madison Avenue doesn't let go of a single dollar unless there is a market for their product.)
Some may assert that it is simply a sign of our modern times. With all of the labor saving devices making the chores of day-to-day life easier and easier, we simply don't expend the same level of physical energy. This is true, as far as it goes. After all, Mom's daylong stints ironing Dad's white shirts and dark slacks are far behind us, thanks to the advent of permanent press. I don't think I ever had to warn my children not to touch the iron. It still spends most of its time on the shelf, next to the ironing board leaning against the wall, its legs folded up.
However, it has been my experience that expending mental energy is just as draining as ditch digging and with every labor saving device invented, we have only increased the amount of mental energy needed to operate those devices. In fact, our minds are challenged non-stop throughout the day. The TV news greets the dawn and draws down the shades at day's end. Constant contact cell phones allow for little respite and surfing the 'Net bombards our senses, even if we're just updating our status or tweeting our latest thought.
No, sleep doesn't come just because we aren't tired. Sometimes sleep is elusive, sending us either to the medicine cabinet or the liquor cabinet, because something is wrong in our world and we need to make it right.
Insomnia, like the pain that kept driving me back to the bathroom, is only a symptom. This is that still, small voice, calling and recalling to your mind that a wrong can be, and somehow must be, made right.
This promise is true. Once you set your mind to setting wrong to right, you will find just what I found on that winter's night back in 1964 -- mercy, flowing freely, pouring a healing balm over a scalded soul.
"How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?" Psalm 13:2 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.