A New Word and an Old Poem

March 16, 2009

Besmirch: to soil, tarnish or discolor; to detract from the honor or luster of; to besmear.
The American Heritage Dictionary

I love words. And besmirch is a particularly good one. In fact, I’m going to besmirch something right now. That would make me a:

Besmircher: one who soils, tarnishes, discolors or proceeds in the act of besmirchment.

Raise your hand if you have a Footprints poem in your home. How about if you know someone who has it in their home. Do you at least know of the Footprints poem? It’s only the most popular and holiest of all poems in all of Christianity. It’s what Max Lucado reads when he needs to feel better. It’s usually printed in some script-y, handwriting font with a watercolor painting of a serene beach. The beach is clear of rocks, trash, cigarette butts, beer cans and all other debris. Just one set of footprints.

For those of you who can’t immediately look to your cubicle wall to read the poem, the jist of it is that a guy is reviewing his whole life with Jesus. His life is represented by them walking on the beach. So they’re talking about all the things that happened to the guy, and he notices that whenever a tough part of life happens, there’s only one set of footprints in the sand to correspond to that even. So the guy is like, ‘Jesus where were you when all that bad stuff was happening?’

And Jesus blows the guy’s mind by saying, ‘Those places you see one set of footprints…I was carrying YOU!’


It’s a sweet poem and everyone loves it and is inspired by it. After some Wikipedia research, I found that this poem has many different versions by multiple authors. Turns out that no one knows who wrote the original text, so a bunch of copycats wrote inferior versions and then sued each other for the rights to the poem. They all loved it so much, they wanted to be the author. Nice.

Now to commence the besmirching.

If you love Footprints so much that you do not want me to blow your mind, and probably ruin the poem forever for you, stop reading!

If however, you are ready to get super pumped-up like a ninja, and you will not cry when your mind is blown, then continue.

Have you ever played with one of those little toy soldiers, or the monkeys with the cymbals? They march around randomly, playing their instrument. They keep walking until they hit a wall, then they’re supposed to turn around.

Every one of those toys I ever played with always got stuck.

That was the rub with Christmas and birthday gifts. A toy which you had been anticipating for so long could not possibly live up to the potential expected by a child’s heart. A toy always performed a little bit below expectation. So a soldier or monkey that was supposed to march around the kitchen by itself needed to be picked up and reset when it got stuck in a corner. It was the same way with radio controlled cars. I’m seeing these toy cars on TV jumping over flaming buses and fighting crocodiles, but when I actually get one, it can’t do any of those things!

That’s what I feel Footprints says is Jesus’ job. We’re a little toy soldier. And we’re supposed to march around and do our thing. But we keep hitting the wall, resulting in bad stuff in our lives. So Jesus picks us up, and says, ‘No no, over here,’ and turns us around. And then we do what toy soldiers do. We suddenly learn how to turn around, and turn right back into the wall we were just steered away from.

So Jesus is a little disappointed, because we were supposed to be better. And he turns us back around. And then we march right over to the stairs and fall and break ourselves. Or someone steps on us.

People love their free will. We love the idea that God will give us anything, as long as we ask him. We love the idea that we can accept and answer God on in our own sweet time. Any suggestion that God is infringing on our free will at all is just heresy! God can’t do that! He doesn’t have the right!

Maybe you fall into that camp. Maybe you feel very ‘independent.’ God doesn’t have the right to take away any of your human autonomy. Maybe you’re right. But, do you feel the same way about seatbelt laws? I mean, whose business is it if you wear a seatbelt or not? It’s a law to protect you from yourself, right? That’s the government infringing on your right to decide! Would you feel the same if you were already in heaven? Do you still want to have the ‘right’ to sin in heaven? To lose or leave heaven? As easy as it is to sin, it might be easier to let God take the reins and take away our ability to sin (to protect us from ourselves.) But maybe the risk is worth it to you to keep the ability to choose.

The Bible says that without God, I am helpless. With a mere breath, God blows people away like grass. Without God, I cannot prosper. Without God, the valleys of life will never profit me. They will just be failings. In other words, without God, I can do nothing. I cannot even follow a straight line like a toy soldier.

I find it more likely than a scenario of Jesus picking us up and turning us around like toy soldiers, that Jesus never puts us down. That a bit of our autonomy is sacrificed, a bit of our freewill is taken, for the protection of the Savior. But what’s the alternative?

Jesus is carrying us, turning us around, and we say, ‘I think I’ve got it from here.’

And Jesus agrees, we can handle it, and puts us down!

So we say, ‘This time is going to be different! I’m going to prove myself now!’

And then the dog comes over and eats us.

What’s more of a comfort? A partial set of footprints, or just one set, the whole way? Besmirching complete, minds sufficiently blown. Have you cherished Footprints? Have I ruined it for you? Well, I warned you. Tell me what you think. And then go besmirch something today…in a good way.