Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Waters Will Not Overwhelm You


Saturday, July 3, 2010
Aboard Providence, Admiralty Inlet, west of Whidbey Island Washington

“Many waters cannot quench your love, rivers cannot overwhelm it, oceans of fear, cannot conceal your love for me.” From "Holy Love” by Andy Park

One ship sails east. One ship sails west. Regardless of how the winds blow.
It is the set of the sail and not the gale that determines the way we go.
As the winds of the sea are the ways of fate. As we voyage along through life,
'Tis the act of the soul that determines the goal, And not the calm or the strife. Ellen Wheeler Wilcox

On December 26, 2004, at 7:58 a.m. local time, the people of northern Sumatra and other Southeast Asia countries were just awakening and beginning their days. An earthquake centered off the west coast of Northern Sumatra and registering 9.6 on the Richter scale stuck without warning.
According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake was caused by “the release of stresses that develop as the India plate subducts beneath the overriding Burma plate. The India plate begins its descent into the mantle at the Sunda trench which lies to the west of the earthquake's epicenter. The trench is the surface expression of the plate interface between the Australia and India plates, situated to the southwest of the trench, and the Burma and Sunda plates, situated to the north.” As a non-scientist, I understand very little of such technical jargon. The people inundated by the earthquake’s ensuing wave probably do not either. Scientific explanation means very little in light of the incredible suffering and death they experienced first hand. What those people did come to understand, with devastating consequences, was that an earthquake this severe, occurring on the ocean’s floor brought a tidal wave or Tsunami wave of epic proportions that changed their lives forever.

Some reports told that the tsunami that hit the heavily populated shorelines of Sumatra, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries rose to a height approximating 100 feet. The wave traveled at a speed of over 60 miles per hour giving those in its deadly path little time to find safety on higher ground. Most of the over 110,000 who were killed by the Tsunami were caught completely unaware as it swept over them and their villages with incredible ferocity. It was one of the deadliest earthquakes and tsunamis since 1900.

Water is a powerful force; one of the most difficult of all natural forces for humanity to harness. The earth’s surface is almost 70% water and does much good. Water is a vital link in the world’s complicated food chain providing drinking water for the 4 billion people who inhabit the earth, watering crops, and powering vast cities as water sweeps past huge turbines at the base of monumental dams. Some scientists are currently even experimenting with using the perpetual tidal changes as a means of generating usable energy. Water also provides countless opportunities for recreation and is a beautiful part of God’s creation – something that in the original creation order was said to be good. Indeed it is.
In spite of all its good uses, the force of water as it plummets down steep mountain canyons or crashes to the shores of populated beaches can also be dangerous and destructive. Huge ships, weighing thousands of tons can be tossed about on the storm tossed oceans like children’s toys. Man-made structures collapse under its thundering force. Individuals are powerless against it.
The Bible often uses the image of raging seas or roaring waves as a metaphor for the trials, sufferings, persecutions and losses that God’s people experience in life; appropriate because like the power of water, often those trials and losses in life seem equally devastating.
Psalm 46 says
“God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

In the tsunami like tribulations that people encounter in life, God is a refuge and strength. The omnipotent, providential God who created the heavens and the earth also controls and sustains the ocean waves is also the one who sustains and provides for human beings. When his children suffer through the tumultuous storms of life, God is the sheltered cove; the higher ground; the dry land of safety and protection.
The New Testament carries the same theme forward in a graphic way. One day, Jesus was in a boat with his disciples when a great storm arose. They were seasoned fishermen who were well familiar with the power of the sea and its waves. When a storm arose over their fishing grounds – the Sea of Galilee, the waves quickly piled up to dangerous proportions. Their experience told them that their boat and their seamanship was no match for the storm in which they found themselves this particular day. They were afraid for their lives because they knew the power of the waves. As they worried and fretted, Jesus slept. Awaking him, they complained, “Don’t you even care if we die in this storm?”
His response was calm but authoritative. His simple word of “Peace, Be quiet” was enough to silence the storm and calm the sea. They were safe and secure in him. The Lord of the Universe commanded the wind and the waves and they obeyed. Jesus was their refuge and strength in the storm. They were not overwhelmed because he was with them.
For Judy and I, another passage that we had both memorized and that held great meaning for us in the years preceding our “surging waves of trial” is found in the book of Isaiah.
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you
are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush [a] and Seba in your stead."

Isaiah’s prophecy was a reminder to post-exilic Israel, that no matter how defeated and discouraged they might have felt, God was with them and would let no storm totally consume them. That is God’s promise to all his people.
Throughout our lives we had encountered some deep waters; some storms; but nothing that threatened to undo or overwhelm us. In the early years of our marriage, we worked for Youth For Christ/Campus Life and were responsible for raising our own financial support. For a young family, there were times when we were never sure if there would be groceries in our cupboards for the next day. Somehow, God always provided and sustained us through those times.
In ministry, we experienced the same times of discouragement that others face every day. Attendance at club meetings didn’t always meet expectations; kids who had begun a life of faith in Christ often reverted back to old habits; adult supporters were sometimes critical or resistant to change; long hours, low pay, feelings of isolation and the temptation to quit were often “rivers of trial” through which we tried to swim. In those times, we found that the Lord had faithfully been with us through them all and that, somehow, we had not been overwhelmed. Had we relied on our own instincts and strength, I am sure there were times we would have drowned under the power of those waves. And those were relatively minor waters. Our children were healthy, our families were loving and supportive. We were in active and wonderful church families. We had friends. In perspective, life was fairly smooth sailing.
Each time we went through one of these storms, the Lord calmed not only the storms of life but our troubled hearts as well. We often felt the power of his calming words, “Peace, be quiet.”
Little did we realize it at the time, but those minor storms provided the background and assurance we would need when the tsunamis hit us. Beginning with the death of Judy’s mother and my father in 1996, the waves began to build.
The book The Perfect Storm and the subsequent movie detail what came to be known as the Halloween storm of 1991. A complicated collision of three different weather systems – a cold front dropping down from Canada; a hurricane from the Atlantic and an upper level high pressure front created sustained winds of 53 mph off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. According the website of the National Climatic Data Service, the storm, lasting for over a week, pounded America’s coastline with above average tidal surges and heavy wind and rain. At sea, vessels encountered waves of over 30 feet and some reports told of mountains of water up to 100 feet high.
Large container ships, Coast Guard cutters and a personal sailing yacht were all vessels caught in the teeth of the storm. The Andrea Gail, a Gloucester, Massachusetts swordfish boat was presumed to have been lost along with its crew of 13 when a rogue wave, estimated to have been over 50 feet high, hit it. The extreme height and power of this wave is depicted in the movie to have flipped the boat over on its back, sinking it in a matter of minutes. The real facts of the boats disappearance will never be known. It is safe to assume that the power of the storm’s waves overwhelmed them. Anyone who has ever gone to sea or been in a storm on the ocean understood the terror they must have faced in the teeth of the storm.
We found ourselves in the midst of what felt like the perfect storm in our lives as several circumstances began to collide at the same time; pummeling us with voracious power. The rogue wave that upended our life was the accident that occurred on May 8th, 1997. We never saw it coming. In those few, unanticipated moments, our ship was capsized. All our previous plans and dreams – so carefully charted out with exacting detail – became irrelevant and uncertain as we struggled to stay afloat.
What was even more overwhelming to us was the assurance that our God was with us and he would not let the waters overwhelm us. No matter how high the waves became, we were calmly convinced each day that we would not be overwhelmed – at least spiritually.
Each day that followed the accident brought with it new trials. During the first 48 hours at the hospital the battery of tests came back, each one in turn detailed more serious implications. The dangers of infection, internal bleeding, pneumonia and blood clots persisted. The neurosurgeon, Dr. San Fillippo, remained pessimistic that necessary surgery to stabilize my neck and spinal cord would be safe to perform. Judy jokingly referred to him as “Doctor Sunshine” because of his continuing, negative prognoses. “Even if surgery could be performed,” he told her, “months, maybe years of hospitalization and rehabilitation would be necessary. There would be no guarantees that even if I lived, I would walk again.” Slam. A huge wave hit us broadside. The Lord let the wave hit, but did not allow it to destroy us.
We are intensely grateful for God’s healing touch. My recovery has been greater than Doctor Sunshine or any of the other Doctors had told us to anticipate. To say that life has been storm free since that time would be a denial of reality. The stormy waves have continued to assault us although not with the intense frequency of that period. God’s faithful promise has continued to maintain a watertight seal against those waters.
February 22nd, 1998 my mother passed away while in a nursing home in Denver. I was unable to be with her although I had spoken with her on the phone just a few days earlier. Another trial; another wave. God once again provided the support of his everlasting arms to carry us through these waters with our faith in tact. Though we grieved her loss, the water did not overwhelm us.
In April of 1999, our daughter Kresta and her husband Ryan, lost their first child Cameron. After a troubled 5 month pregnancy that threatened her health, Kresta delivered her son still-born. I remember walking into her hospital room in Nampa Idaho thinking how tragic this loss was. Yet I was overcome with gratitude and emotion to see her and know she was all right. We could have lost her.
As we sat by the graveside, located in a beautiful, pastoral setting outside Nampa, Idaho we watched the tiny coffin being lowered into the ground and we sobbed tears of sadness and loss. We were filled with an obvious sense of profound grief. Another rogue wave had slammed the ship of our lives; threatening to capsize us. The words of the officiating pastor, Bill Wolfe, and the music and Scripture shared by Kresta and Ryan’s Christian friends provided the spiritual buoyancy of God’s comforting presence in the midst of this storm. The waters did not overwhelm.
In October of 2000, our daughter Melissa gave birth to Davis. In most ways healthy, Davis faced medical complications. His esophagus was not fully developed and he was not able to keep milk down. Extra days in the hospital provided a test of trust and patience for Melissa, Jerry and for us. It was not a tidal wave or a hurricane force storm, but a trial nonetheless. Once again, God was with us. The storm did not prevail.
The following month – November 2000 – Kresta, in a second difficult pregnancy, went into premature labor at week 27 and was rushed to Saint Lukes/Presbyterian Hospital in Boise. She delivered Samuel at a whopping 2 lbs. 13 oz. Small and at great risk, Sam was lovingly cared for in the neo-natal unit of this state of the art hospital. Kresta and Ryan stayed at a Ronald McDonald house nearby and kept daily vigil for over 2 months until Sam was able to come home. It was another stressful time of stormy water. Once again, the water did not overwhelm us.
The following year, when Kresta’s Doctors told her she would never have trouble free pregnancies because of a mal-formed uterus, she had surgery to remove it. It was a tough blow for a young woman of 27 and her husband. They wanted children so deeply. It was yet another trial that affected us all. Our children were grown but we realized that parents never stop worrying over and feeling the pain of their children. Though we were all discouraged and sad, God somehow sustained us all.
The following August, my older sister Barbara who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, passed away. Once again, we were gathering at the graveside of a loved one, asking how we could endure yet another storm. There, next to the graves of my parents, God met us and lifted us through the support of friends and the wonderful assurance of the Scriptures given by Barb’s pastors from Christ Community Church. Another huge wave swept abeam of our lives. Barb’s husband Dennis and her children and grandchildren were affected more profoundly of course. But we also were thrown into the stormy sea of grief and loss. The Lord not only threw us a life ring, God also swam in that deep, stormy water with us, insuring that we would not sink and drown.
Some might say that religion is a crutch or unhealthy emotional support. For those that have ever been tossed into stormy seas, the relief of being rescued is not a false security or a sign of emotional weakness. It is life itself. A fisherman drowning in the icy, stormy waters of the Bering Sea would not look at the basket being lowered to him from a Coast Guard helicopter as a crutch. He would grab it and cling to it with all his might and be thankful for rescue.
In the same way, people who face severe trials and sufferings in life have a rescue at hand as well. God not only reaches out from heaven to calm them. God entered into the human condition by becoming human himself in the person of Jesus Christ. This incarnation provided rescue from our most dangerous enemy – eternal death and separation from our creator. It also has given to us the life-saving and very real presence of one who stands beside us in the fires; swims with us in the deep waters and keeps us from perishing in the midst of life’s trials.
Isaiah went on to say of Jesus, the Messiah, “he was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:2) The Lord knows our weakness and our needs. He never sleeps through these storms, allowing us to perish. Instead, he comes to stand beside us and speaks to us and to the storms and says, “Peace. Be Quiet!”
And when he speaks those words to our hearts, an unexplainable, incomprehensible sense of calm assurance and peace sweeps over the decks of our lives; not the devastating waves of loss.
Judy and I had always observed that Christians seemed able to face trials with a sense of trust and assurance. Oh yes, even the strongest in faith are shaken and affected by pain, suffering, loss and discouragement. But seldom did such storms overwhelm. In spite of the weakness of our faith, we also discovered the faithfulness of God in the storm. That is also our assurance for future trials.

God still speaks to the storm: PEACE, BE QUIET. God's holy love cannot be quenched.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Epilogue - Cruising through Peaceful Water


April 30, 2009
My Study at Calvary Presbyterian Church

“Boating is a lifetime of pleasure interrupted by occasional moments of pure terror.” Anonymous

All God wants of man is a peaceful heart. Meister Eckhart

Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure. Meister Eckhart

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Then the disciples were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:39)

Today, I just spent 2 hours with a grieving family. Their loved one, a young mother of two children - 2 yrs and 13 months old - had suddenly and unexpectedly died at home. Their grief was palpable. No words could be found to try and salve their wounded souls. All I could do was to sit and be present; to weep with them for their loss, and to offer what little support I could.

One day shy of her 40th birthday, their lives were full and their plans for the future bright. In a sudden and unexpected turn, an entire family’s life was turned upside down. A bright future of exciting plans had evaporated almost instantly. The darkness of grief is like a brooding storm that envelops everyone and everything in its path in a foreboding gloom.

It’s difficult to imagine how an accident or sudden loss will affect one’s life. Seldom do you have a chance to plan for such an event. Yet most people seem to live daily with a sense of invincibility, blissfully living as though nothing can or will happen to them. That’s how we had been living life. While never really believing we were immune to injury, death or loss, it had never really been a conscious part of our thinking. It was certainly not part of our planning for the future.

In just a few, brief, grinding moments, the unthinkable, unplanned, unwelcome specter of mortality became foremost in our thinking. In those first moments, every other part of our life blurred into the background in the same way the details of a cheering crowd fade into indistinguishable blurs in a close up photograph of a sports action scene.

Earlier that day, weddings, moves, new houses, jobs and friendships had been the subjects of our conversations and private thoughts. By dinner time, all those things had been stuffed into a hidden recess of our hearts and minds as questions of life and death assaulted our sense of reality.

Today, thirteen years later, the mournful wail of an ambulance or the chaotic aftermath of a serious accident scene still cause haunting, echoing thoughts of life’s uncertainty pulsing through our souls. Not only are the vivid memories of our own experience brought boiling to the surface, we also are moved to think of how some other family’s life has been altered forever. “Were they prepared for this? How will they deal with the shock, pain, grief, uncertainty and loss that will be their portion – to some degree at least – as they enter into this new phase of life?”

Our hearts ache for them and the decisions and trials that lay ahead for them. There is also a part of us that wants to reach out, put an arm of reassurance on their shoulder and tell them it will be all right. Somehow, no matter how difficult the situation may be and how high the storm waves may seem, they will find a way through. The storm will pass, leaving the scars of its relentless power. But it will pass.

Over the course of the past thirteen years, we have come to see that the instantaneous changes that howled with gale force into our lives in those brief moments were different from what we were planning but they weren’t necessarily bad changes. Just as nature-caused forest fires actually are part of God’s way of restoring and keeping a forest ecology healthy, trials and tribulations are used by God to ultimately restore a person’s basic sense of health and priority.

The lives we had envisioned and the activities we had so looked forward to had been altered dramatically. But the lives we were given have proven to be even more meaningful and appreciated than we first imagined.

I am not sure where I first heard the story but I read it again in the book, “Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul.” Written from a first person perspective the short story “A Trip to Holland” narrates the personal struggle of a young expectant mother whose long awaited first child was born with an unpredicted condition of Down’s syndrome.

(The author) poignantly tells of the struggle she and her husband had in accepting this challenge in their lives. When asked by others how she coped with the experience, she equates their experience to that of a person planning a long awaited trip to Italy. In planning such a trip you buy travel books, you plan tours of sights you especially want to see; you even learn bits and pieces of the language so that once you arrive in Italy, you will be able to communicate with the local citizens. As you get closer and closer to your departure, the excitement and anticipation build to a fevered pitch. The anticipation is almost too much and you even have trouble sleeping because you are so excited about going on this trip to Italy.

The day for departure finally arrives and you board the plane for the long flight across the Atlantic. Finally the plane touches down and the flight attendant’s voice comes over the intercom welcoming you to Holland. You look out the window to see, not olive trees, historic ruins and beautiful Mediterranean weather, but the much, much different landscape of the Netherlands.

You are shocked and disheartened. You had looked forward so much to traveling to Italy. Now, here you are in Holland. The airline officials tell you there is nothing that can be done. You will have to spend your vacation in Holland instead.

Eventually, you come to accept this change of travel and you decide that you will make the best of the situation. As you begin to explore Holland you realize that it is beautiful as well. There are windmills, canals, tulip fields and wonderful food. There is nothing wrong with Holland. In fact it is a wonderful place and you find yourself enjoying it as much, if not more so than you would have enjoyed Italy. It’s just different.

That is much the way we have come to feel about our lives since this accident. It is no worse a life; it is just different. In fact, there are many parts of our lives that we have come to appreciate more than if it had never happened:
- sleeping next to and holding each other in our own bed;
- the tastes of food other than hospital food;
- witnessing the marriage vows of our daughters (and me being able to walk them down the aisle;
- the fresh scent of breath in a fir and cedar forest;
- standing beside a glacier fed stream;
- standing once again in the pulpit to preach a sermon
- taking the first, wobbly pedals on my mountain bike
- mowing the grass
- playing on the floor with grandsons
- a walk on a forested path around a fog shrouded lake
- simply watching another sunrise or sunset

These were all things we would have taken more or less for granted before. Now we don’t assume that any of these simple pleasures are guaranteed. We gratefully accept them as precious gifts to cherish for the moment, knowing that each of them – and so many more – are gifts of grace.

Because life has returned to a relative state of normalcy for us, we often find ourselves sliding back into those old ways of thinking. Once again, we assume that our futures are guaranteed and that our plans can’t be foiled. Over and over again, we are reminded that is not so. We need to live each moment as though it were a gift to be cherished.

During the early years of our marriage, when Judy and I lived in Bellevue, Washington, our favorite activity on a free afternoon was to drive across one of the floating bridges that span Lake Washington, traverse across the Westlake and Ballard areas and eventually arrive at the Hiram M Chittendom Locks.

The locks are a Seattle landmark and an engineering marvel. They enable ships and personal vessels to travel between Lake Union and Puget Sound- an elevation difference of 23 feet. After parking, we would first wend our way across the lockage to the fish ladder where every year, all varieties of Salmon would perform their nature-bound ritual of spawning. Then we would sit on the grassy knoll overlooking the large lock and marvel at the variety of private yachts, sloops, launches, runabouts and canoes. In the course of a busy weekend such as the opening day of boating season, several hundred boats of every shape, size and condition would pass through those locks; either traveling out to salt water or coming back to fresh.

Because we were financially destitute, we would look at some of the boats passing by and dream to ourselves, “wouldn’t it be wonderful to someday own a boat?” I have to be honest and say that it was probably more my dream than it was Judy’s. More than the dream of owning a boat, the dream of visiting one of the area’s many secluded coves, or cruising past the majestic Olympic mountains; perhaps even traveling north to the San Juan Islands or Canada captivated us.

We dreamed about it because it seemed unrealistic if not impossible. But it did sound exotic. We imagined all sorts of adventures as we wondered who the people owning these boats were and where they were headed. It was fun to live vicariously through the seemingly unattainable fortunes of others. And so, time after time, we returned to gawk and dream of faraway places and adventuresome travel by boat.

Those dreams became shadowy memories as our lives went on. We began a family. We moved to Denver where I could attend Seminary and prepare for pastoral ministry. Financial pressures only seemed to deepen as our only source of income was my part-time youth ministry job in a local church. We also managed an apartment complex to help defray the cost of rent. Owning a rowboat seemed an unattainable pipe dream; let alone a boat that could cruise the waters of Puget Sound.

After seminary, we returned to the greater Seattle area. I had accepted my first pastoral call at First Presbyterian Church in Renton. The busy demands of ministry grew leaving us little free time. Judy enrolled in a program to finish her undergraduate degree. Our girls were beginning school. What free time we did have was spent doing fun, but cheap activities with them. We would ride a Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island, or prowl the Seattle waterfront, or go camping in the Cascade Mountains. These were great times. Again, the dream of boating was a long-forgotten dream.

In 1984, we moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico. The desert is certainly not conducive to boating; although many people do own small boats to fish and water ski on some of the reservoirs that interrupt the flow of the Rio Grande River as it inexorably snakes its way from its headwaters in Colorado through the valley floor of New Mexico desert canyons and on to the Ocean.

I was busy in the pastorate. Judy began a teaching career. Kresta and Melissa – now in later elementary years – were involved in piano lessons, softball, studies, friends and youth activities at church. Enjoying our backyard swimming pool and an occasional trip to the Sacramento mountains for camping or snow skiing were our free time activities.

Then the kids were grown. It happened all too fast. We wondered where the years went. We had no regrets because we had spent lots of quality time as a family. But now a new passage of life was approaching. Kresta moved to the Oregon coast and found love. Melissa was finishing at NMSU and would soon be married. We wondered what to do with our impending “empty-nest” years.

The acceptance of the call to pastor Calvary Presbyterian Church in Enumclaw marked the onset of this transition phase in our lives. With the girls grown and starting families of their own, whole new vistas began to open up to us as we looked forward to the future. A move to the northwest offered especially tantalizing opportunities.

We were due to arrive and begin ministry in Enumclaw on July 1. Having notified our congregation in Las Cruces that we would be leaving, my last Sunday was to have been June 15th. Our plan was to leave the next day and take a scenic, leisurely drive to Enumclaw, celebrating our 25th anniversary along the way.

We had a rough draft outline of our short and long term plans. The future glistened before us with limitless possibilities of fun, rewarding and exciting plans.

Then the accident happened and all bets were off. Having survived the ordeal, a striking thought that dogged us repeatedly was this: “There are no guarantees in life.” That is what my Doctors had told us repeatedly during the early stages of hospitalization. Though their dire predictions didn’t come completely true in a medical sense, their words did have a ring of truth for other areas of life.

All of a sudden, the plans and dreams we had established for our future had changed and we did, in fact, realize that there are no guarantees in life.

We agreed that it would not be wise to live without any plans. However, our new awareness of life’s temporal and sometimes fickle nature, led us to the conclusion that if there were things we wanted to do in life and could in fact do them, we should. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today. That adage holds true for work and necessary deadlines. It also holds true for other areas of life as well.

The summer following the accident, we decided we would celebrate our 25th anniversary with the trip and romantic getaway we had not gotten the year before. I booked us a cottage on Orcas Island; a beautiful gem of an island located northwest of Seattle in the San Juan Islands. From our private deck – replete with a Jacuzzi for two – we let the warm jets of water wash over us and renew us. From our private aerie, we could sit and watch the sun set. About three times a day a chartered plane equipped with pontoons for water landings would arrive, bringing expectant guests to this beautiful hideaway.

But most intriguing to us was the constant parade of personal sail boats, motor cruisers and yachts. Some of these vessels were incredibly opulent; obviously owned by presidents; aerospace executives or rich celebrities. While interesting to look at and guess who might own such extravagant vessels, our real attention was drawn to some of the smaller boats. Large enough for a couple to stay aboard for several days at a time, these RV’s on the water threw us back to the early years of our marriage and our day dreams of some day owning our own boat.

While on a short expedition into the quaint town of Eastsound, we began to notice the for sale ads posted on the many bulletin boards. Many of those ads described used boats for sale. And most of these used boats were priced much more reasonably than we had ever imagined. Could we actually afford to own a boat and cruise as we had dreamed? It now seemed possible.

When we arrived back home after that trip, we began an earnest search on the Internet for smaller, used boats. We looked at several on line and in person. We even made an appointment with a broker to look at some of the vessels he had available. After looking at three or four, Judy saw “our boat.” It didn’t have a FOR SALE sign on it, but it was perfect. Royal Blue and White, its crisp canvass cover and well maintained appearance made this 25 foot Bayliner the perfect boat for us. To top it all off, the sellers were willing to part with all the accessories such as dishware, electronics, crab pots, charts and cruising books. It could not have been a better set up for us.

We named her the “Dawn Treader” after the ship in the book of the same name in C.S. Lewis’ famous “Chronicles of Narnia.” She was cozy, inviting, economical and not too big for people who had never boated before.

We couldn’t wait to take her out. We had great adventures in the Dawn Treader – some exciting, some rather scary, but most wonderful and refreshing. We were cruising through different waters. The storm waters of the previous year had ebbed away to relative tranquility and the beautiful idyllic waters of Puget Sound were our new cruising grounds.

Trips to places like Pleasant Harbor and Fair Harbor, Orcas Island, Jarrell Cove and Port Townsend had all seemed so exotic and far off. Now they were within reach. At times, as we would almost feel we needed to be pinched to assure us we were not living in a dream.

Two years later, on Judy’s 50th birthday, we were staying on the Dawn Treader awaiting the arrival of our children and grandchildren. They were coming to surprise Judy for this momentous occasion. Their flight was late so I had to stall. I had told Judy we would go out for a day long cruise and she couldn’t understand why I, the one who normally was so eager to get out on the water, wanted to hang around the marina for no apparent reason.

In doing so, however, we found our second, perfect boat: A 33’ Cruisers Inc. It had more space, twin engines, was well equipped and was still warm and inviting. Rather impulsively we sold our beloved “DAWN TREADER” and began a new phase of boating with “SEA QUILL.”

For three wonderful years we enjoyed many wonderful cruises on her. Some were punctuated with mechanical problems, but with twin engines, we found we could always get to safe port, even if one engine overheated or quit on us.

We went to Canada’s Gulf Islands, the San Juan Islands, Hood Canal, Fair Harbor, Downtown Seattle’s Bell Harbor and many other beautiful spots. Because we believed this was God’s gift of grace to us we often took friends out with us. We wanted to share the blessings of our lives with those we cared about. Though we sometimes encountered stormy weather and rough seas, our cruising was, for the most part, “smooth sailing.”

There are lots of jokes about boats. Two that we often heard were:
“Do you know the two happiest days of a boater’s life? The day he/she buys a boat and the day he/she sells it.”

“A boat is a hole in the ocean into which a boat owner throws money.”

A friend has a plaque in his office that says, “Boating is a life time of pleasure interrupted by a few moments of sheer terror.”

None of those jokes or statements has really been true for us. We love the boating life whether we are anchored out in a secluded cove watching fireworks over the water on the 4th of July, lazily trolling past Pt. Defiance and the Clay banks looking for the elusive Blackmouth or King Salmon; tied up at a dock in a cute, touristy town or sitting serenely in some peaceful harbor or decorating her to join in the Christmas ship parade that are customary around the Puget Sound. We love cruising through narrow passages admiring cliff top homes and beach front cottages. It is fun to watch for Bald Eagles, Harbor Seals, even the occasional Dahl’s porpoise or Orca whale that ventures into Puget Sound from time to time.

The gentle motion of the water slapping against the side of the boat at night brings deep, peaceful sleep. The steady drone of the marine engines turning big props is mesmerizing. The challenge of plotting a course –whether on a paper chart or an electronic GPS-enhanced chart plotter – adds to the experience. Food tastes best when it is cooked in our small galley or on our small propane barbecue grill that sits on the back deck of the boat.

We have met the friendliest and most helpful people in our boating experiences. There is a camaraderie or fellowship between total strangers; knit together only by the common experience of boating adventures.

We don’t know what the days, months and years ahead will hold for us. Perhaps more violent storms will assail us. I can only assume that to be true. But for now, we are focusing on the smooth waters that God gives to us.

The writer of Lamentations wrote “Thy mercies are fresh, they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) That verse became the basis for our favorite hymn of faith “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, as thou hast been thou forever will be
Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see, All I have needed thy hand has provided, great is thy faithfulness O Lord to me.”

As we cruise, I am often reminded of that hymn. God has indeed been faithful to us. We are ever indebted to the Lord for the remarkable work of healing done following the accident. But even more, we are grateful for the little, everyday blessings that once we had overlooked or taken for granted and which now, we appreciate more than ever.

Monday, April 5, 2010



February 2007
The Wellness Center
Enumclaw, Washington

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King Jr.

There are certain functions of the human body that are so automatic that most people rarely stop to think about them. Asthma sufferers or persons choking on a piece of food think about and appreciate breathing. The rest of us breathe so automatically that we are not mindful of the process. The same is true of a person’s heartbeat, of swallowing, of blinking and digestion. All these are functions automatically directed by the central nervous system. They happen hundreds of times each day; usually without any cognition by the person who occupies the body.

Another function that comes close to fitting this description is the process of walking. Though physiologically complex, a person walks without consciously reviewing the process with each step. Once a person has learned how to walk, the process occurs fairly naturally. Before learning how to control the process, toddlers take quite a few tumbles. They must learn how to use their feet in such a way to provide the balance and solid footing needed to remain upright.

The best way to describe walking is controlled falling. Each time a person takes a step, they basically lean forward and begin to fall forward slightly. At just the right moment the foot reflexively moves forward and plants itself on the ground and catches him. After the foot touches the ground, a body’s full weight is transferred to it and the knee bends to absorb the shock. The front leg then lifts the body and propels it forward as the rear leg swings up to catch them again, and the cycle repeats over and over and over.

Of course the process of walking is a much more complex combination of nerves, muscles and joints working in perfect concert to provide a smooth gait. The brain automatically sends a signal to the appropriate nerve telling it to “fire.” The nerve in turn enervates muscles in such a way that the correct joints are moved in just the right way. When the step has been taken the signal is sent back to the brain which in turn passes on the next message to an entirely different set of nerves, muscles and joints. Literally hundreds of individual signals and processes are required for a person to take one step.

Yet it happens without conscious thought hundreds, maybe thousands of times each day.

For an able-bodied person the only things that hinder the process are outside factors. Everyone has tripped over the corner of a turned up rug or stubbed their toe on the foot post of the bed. Sometimes the cat runs under foot; a step is higher than expected; a shoe or a roller-skate or a toy is left out in an unexpected place. Without expecting them or seeing them, a person’s walking could be drastically altered by these items. In most cases, when someone trips over such an obstacle a whole new set of signals and movements “kick” into effect and the person is able to self-correct so that the only damage is an embarrassing trip, a stubbed toe and perhaps, a mild oath.

Otherwise, once a person has mastered the balance and mechanics of taking one step after another, walking is a subconscious skill that, for most people, takes place automatically.

Because it is such a routine function, walking is also a benefit that most people take completely for granted. In some cases, people even complain about walking. I used to be guilty of such indifference. I used to look for the closest parking spot at the mall or the local sports arena. Able-bodied, I never fully appreciated what a wonderful gift it was to walk normally and without pain. Instead, if I had to take more than the least necessary steps I would complain – nothing serious, just mild annoyance or grumpiness.

I had forgotten what it meant to walk. Today, I am just getting ready to head up the stairs to the area of the gym where the lifting machines and free weights are kept. I have tired myself on a stationary bicycle and an elliptical trainer. Now I am standing at the foot of a staircase contemplating what it will take to walk up those steps. There in front of me is a little sign with the quote from Martin Luther King. Of course, the context in which he used the image of taking a step at a time had nothing to do with the physical act of walking. It had to do with conquering any seemingly impossible challenge; in his case the violent racism and discrimination that held our nation in paralysis for so many years. How do you ever see your way clear to change that? By taking one step at a time.

That is true of the task before me as I head up those stairs. One step at a time. It is also true of my life in general since the accident. I have learned that you can never take the process of walking for granted and that every day involves "one step at a time."

New parents’ proudest moments are often those when their children take their first teetering steps across the living room carpet or back yard lawn.. More photographs and home videos have been recorded of such momentous occasions than any other. Those first steps are preceded my weeks of coaxing, urging, prodding and assistance. Then the big day comes. Mysteriously, the child decides he/she doesn’t need the steadying hand of mom or dad or the security of holding onto a piece of furniture and they take off on their own. The pride and unbridled joy of that moment for parent and child is unparalleled.

Usually those very first steps end with a thump as the infant loses balance or heart or both and plumps down the short distance to where the ground meets with their overly padded backside. Undeterred, the awkward position of balance is once again attained and forward the child goes to the waiting arms of mom or dad.

On May 5th, Mark and Tina were with at our house to celebrate Judy’s birthday. They had brought their little daughter Allison who was just shy of her first birthday. Judy and I were like surrogate grandparents to Ally since her own grandparents lived in other parts of the country. We didn’t mind at all. We loved Ally. She had sparkling dark eyes that seemed to draw you into her soul. Most often she wore a winning, ear to ear grin. Even though it was Judy’s birthday, Ally was the star of the show that night. She was oh so close to being able to walk. She was brimming with energy, enthusiasm and glee that night.

After visiting for awhile and letting Judy open presents, we had birthday cake and ice cream. As usual, Allison crawled up to my lap where she knew that the “honey man” would indulge her sweet tooth with a bite or two of ice cream or some other delicacy. Then, almost as if on cue, it was time to practice her faltering walking steps while holding tightly to Judy’s or my hands.

I remember commenting that evening how amazing it was that a child ever learned to walk. It seemed so complicated as I watched her struggle. But she was persistent and determined. We all knew it wouldn’t be long before she was toddling around on her own. With her determination, Mark and Tina would soon have to really watch her carefully because she would be walking – even running – everywhere.

Three days later, in the trauma room at Memorial Medical Center, I remember hearing someone say (I don’t remember who) “We don’t know if Fred will ever be able to walk again.” Given the extent of other injuries, walking may have been the least of the worries at that moment. But those words rang in my ears with a stark harshness. They sent a wave of dread and discouragement through me. “Not walk? How could that be?” Something I had done naturally and repeatedly for nearly 47 years was now a doubtful prognosis. It was crushing news.

Of course there were other matters to worry about first. My injuries had to be repaired and heal enough before they would know if their dire prediction was true. Because I was so sick, the necessary surgeries to fuse my spine and to rebuild my hips and pelvis had to be postponed. The dual threats of infection and pneumonia were too great. My body was too traumatized to risk surgery.

It was 28 days later before I was able to realize the full extent of what I had been through. I had been kept immobile in bed with traction until those procedures could be done. Once they were behind, they began to wean me from the mind-numbing effects of morphine. After these two major surgeries had occurred, I was finally able to be in a normal hospital bed and enjoy limited movement.

I will never forget getting the first look at my emaciated legs. Completely inactive for 28 days, these legs which had before been able to walk, run, mountain bike, and ski now looked like some hideous anomaly that surely didn’t belong to me. All the flesh sagged flatly on the mattress and the bones protruded up in a ghastly, unreal fashion. They looked like two sticks laying in a puddled mass of skin and flaccid fat cells. I was horrified.

Even if there had been no spinal cord damage or broken bones, after 28 days of total inactivity, I doubted my legs would ever be able to work again. For the first time, the reality of life in a wheel chair began to occupy my thoughts.

Finally I was well enough to undergo surgery. First, a twelve hour operation was performed to fuse my cervical spine. Using a titanium plate and a fibular graft, the threat of further damage or injury to the spinal cord was minimized.

Several days after that, my pelvis was set and fixated with an external device that looked like something made from a child’s erector set. Of course it was state-of-the-art. But until the bones in my pelvis and hips could knit together strongly enough, it represented one more reminder of the possibility that I might never walk. Until those bones and joints healed sufficiently, I could not bear any weight on my legs. Walking was not a certainty.

On June 6th, I was finally moved from the ICU ward to a regular floor at the hospital. That in itself seemed like a huge accomplishment. It was a joyous day in many respects. From my vantage point on the sixth floor of Memorial Medical Center, I could partially raise my bed, allowing me to look out my south-facing window toward the University Golf Course. I could also see out the door to the hallway.

The sixth floor was the floor where patients with orthopedic problems were housed. As I would look out the door, I would see young children pass my room under the watchful eye of a nurse or a physical therapist as they learned how to get along on crutches. There were also older patients walking under the assistance of walkers and under the same supervision. I was envious of them all. I secretly wondered if I would ever walk again.

The extent of my therapy to this point had been the exercise of my arms. Though affected by my cord injury, they were not as profoundly weakened as my legs had been. Everyday, twice a day, Brian or one of the other PTs would come in with dumbbells and elastic straps to supervise my exercise. They told me the whole point of these exercises was to build up enough upper body strength so that, in case I had to, I could propel myself wherever I needed to go in a wheelchair. Having this upper body strength would also enable me to shift my weight in the chair, make transfers to car seats, beds and furniture. The assumption was obvious: there didn’t seem to be much hope of my independent walking.

To that point, I had lain in a supine position and had not even been seated upright. The next step in any recovery was to correct that situation. Saturday, June 7th, at around 2:00 p.m. a cadre of nurses and therapists strode into my room and announced that it was time I sat up on the edge of the bed. Filled with fear and excitement at the same time, my legs were removed from traction, a collar was put around my neck to keep it stable. A gait belt was cinched around my waist, and I was surrounded with helpers. One therapist began to gingerly move my legs over the edge of the bed. Two strong men took me by the shoulders and began to reposition me. My legs went over the side, bending at the knee for the first time in over a month. The pain was excruciating as joints frozen from inactivity were forced into an unfamiliar and unwilling position..

Even though the room was air-conditioned, I was sweating as though I had been out working in the sun for three hours. I felt lightheaded as the men behind my shoulders began to gently coax my upper body into a sitting position. I couldn’t support my own weight or hold myself upright and so they stayed behind me. I was encouraged to try and stay in this position for a minute. When the minute was up, I was exhausted. I was elated as well. It seemed a whole new world was beginning to open up once again: a world that could be experienced from a seated rather than prone position. We sobbed with tears of happiness and accomplishment.

That was the beginning of further, longer sitting experiences. By the sixth day on the orthopedic ward I was strong enough for staff to lift me into a heavily padded, specially designed wheel chair. I was wheeled into a conference room across the hall where I could receive visitors, have a different view and even take a meal or two.

This room would be the perfect room for Judy and I to celebrate our anniversary on June 17th. We had made other special plans before the accident but those weren’t going to happen. When my mind had begun to clear after the last of my surgeries, I had come to realize that I had been in ICU for 28 days and that Judy had been by my side for everyone of those days. I was overwhelmed at her love and devotion and I knew there was no way I could ever repay it or fully convey my love and gratitude. I did the first thing that came into my mind. I asked her if she would marry me over again. Restating our vows and having a special ceremony seemed like the perfect way to begin this new phase in our life. We began asking all the proper people if we could use this conference room to hold our “remarriage.”

A week after I had been moved upstairs though, I was well enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. Several options were discussed and finally it was decided that I would be transferred to Rio Vista Hospital in El Paso, Texas. It was a relatively new hospital and was said to be the best in the region. They specialized in brain and neurological injuries. Our case workers and Doctors felt this would be the best place for me to go for Rehabilitation.

On Friday, June 13, I said goodbye to the doctors and staff at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces. They had become like family to us in many ways. I was transferred to a gurney and wheeled downstairs to a waiting ambulance for the 45 minute drive to my new home away from home. This ride was much more relaxed than my first ambulance ride. But I was filled with a fear and uncertainty of what might lay ahead.

It was at Rio Vista however, that a roomful of friends and family gathered on June 17th to witness Judy’s and my second wedding. It took six staff to get me into the wheelchair that would take me to my wedding. I remember humming to myself the old tune “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” from “My Fair Lady.” Judy brought a freshly starched and ironed white dress shirt and my favorite Tommy Hilfiger tie. I didn’t bother trying to put on slacks or shoes. They simply covered that part of me with a blanket. Judy looked stunning that night; more beautiful even than the day we first were married. I was proud and excited to give her the silver ring that Mark and Tina had helped me purchase to surprise her. That night was one of many moments that made the time at Rio Vista endurable.

It was there at Rio Vista that I truly began to see that learning to walk was a long, tedious and complex process. It began with many small steps; not the least of which was a positive attitude. “Mr. Davis, we are going to help you get as well as possible. If there is a chance you might be able to walk again, we are going to help you get to that place.”

That kind of attitude is so important in every area of life. Often, a person’s accomplishments are limited only by an attitude or outlook that says something can’t be done. The staff at Rio Vista began to establish an outlook that was positive. If there was any chance I might be able to walk at all, the staff there convinced me that if I worked as hard as I could, the possibility of walking was more likely than if I chose to give up. So I worked – as hard as I could.

Unlike the miracles of the New Testament however, I could not simply pick up my bed and walk. In fact, my hip and pelvis were so badly damaged that I would not be allowed to bear weight on them for the next two to three months. For the time being I was relegated to a wheel chair. Before I could learn to walk again I had to learn how to use it.

In the meantime, the therapists began working with me to help reestablish a sense of balance; an important prerequisite to walking. At first I had a hard time sitting up on the edge of the therapy mats. My brain and body had been so conditioned to being horizontal that they resisted this effort at first. After that, they began trying to get me to play basketball or catch from this seated position. I needed to be able to maintain balance without the aid or support of my hands.

Gradually, the program progressed to the point where I was strapped into what is called a tilt table. This enabled them to raise my body to a completely upright, standing position without forcing me to bear weight on my legs. Then it was on to the standing rails.

Most people used this device to help them walk a short distance by holding on to two parallel handrails. My right hip was still to fragile to bear weight. So I would stand with all my weight on my left leg while gripping the handrails tightly. At first, I could only endure 5 minutes. Before long I was standing for 30 and 40 minutes at a time.

All the while I was getting pretty good in the wheel chair as well. I could transfer independently to my bed, to a restroom chair, and even into a car seat. I was independent enough to go with family of friends to the cafeteria for a bowl of ice cream or a coke. It was a much more pleasant place to entertain. I was able to wheel myself out into the courtyard. We celebrated the 4th of July there as well as our daughter Melissa’s 22 birthday. My beloved dog Brandon, who I had not seen for over 3 months was even allowed to come meet me there in the courtyard. I felt a sense of freedom being able to get around independently. Walking again still seemed a remote possibility, but I was determined to do everything I could to make it happen.

Eventually, I had progressed as far as they thought possible. We all decided I could return home and continue my rehabilitation as an outpatient in Las Cruces. What a momentous day it was when I left Rio Vista Hospital after 8 weeks. I left with many mixed emotions. For 8 weeks I had grown very close with the staff of Doctors, Nurses, Aides, Therapists and even the woman who came each day to clean the room. She always greeted me with a friendly, warm “Hello Mr. Davis and how are you today?”

After returning to Las Cruces an appointment was made at CORE, a local outpatient Therapy clinic associated with Rio Vista’s parent company. Greg, my new Physical Therapist was an athlete and I think he saw I had been somewhat athletic as well. He pushed me hard. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I thought I could not do one more pelvic squeeze or more repetition with a dumbbell, somehow he would coax, urge, cajole and force me into doing more.

Once I had been given clearance to begin weight bearing on both legs, he really began to push me. He made me get on the floor and figure out how to pull myself back to the mat or wheelchair. He made me stand in the rails even longer than I had before. He got me on machines that began to start building muscles back into my legs.

The good news was that everything down as far as my knees seemed to work well. I could flex the hips and the knees. I could push my feet down and move them to the outside. I could not pull them up or turn them inward. But it began to appear as though I would be able to walk again; albeit with braces and crutches.

During this time, a friend from Young Life who owned a clinic of her own had volunteered to work with me on the days I was not going to CORE. She bravely got me on a treadmill and a life cycle. One day, she brought a walker to the side of the mat and much to my surprise told me that I was going to learn how to walk with that walker. Imagine Judy’s surprise and joy when she came home from work that night and I demonstrated my newly found “trick.”

Eventually I progressed from the walker to forearm crutches. I was fitted with some heavy plastic devices called Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFOs). They mechanically forced the front of the foot to raise after each step and thus prevented my toes from dragging on the ground. We found a Doctor who was able to measure my leg lengths and build up several sets of shoes to a prescribed height and thus diminish the effects of a two inch difference in length between my right leg and my left.

My goal had been to walk my daughters down the aisle at their upcoming weddings. It appeared that might actually happen – even if assisted with braces and/or crutches or canes.

On August 31 – just three and one half months since my accident – I took my first steps with a walker. Two weeks after that I decided on my own I would try walking without the walker. I chose a place at home with a smooth surface (even if hard should I fall) and I placed the walker where I knew I could get to it and I took five independent steps.

I felt like my little friend Ally, who by this time, had already begun walking. I was every bit as proud and elated as she could have been. It was a huge accomplishment for me. But I realized it wasn’t my accomplishment. It had happened only by the persistant grace and healing touch of God. It had been possible only because people around the world were praying. I walked because a slew of Doctors, Nurses, and Therapists were well enough trained to take me ahead one step at a time. It happened because of the encouragement and love of my wife and children. It happened because all these things had begun to instill in me a deeper sense of trust and faith.

Since my childhood, I had read but not really appreciated the stories of Jesus’ healing ministry. What an incredible miracle it truly was to have touched a person who had been crippled for life and by simply telling them to get up and walk, they did. It was more than a miracle of healing a crippled joint or repairing a damaged muscle or nerve. It was a complex compilation of many different steps – all happening in an instant. Balance, nerve function, stiff joints, mental attitude, muscle tone were all touched in such a way to make possible what had taken me several months to learn and do.

Yet I considered God’s touch in my life no less miraculous. When I had first heard the ominous words that suggested I might never walk again, I was crushed. I believed it would take nothing short of a miracle for that to happen. As time progressed and evidence began to show I might walk again, it didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow, laborious and frustrating experience. Like a small infant the process of walking had to be learned anew one small step at a time. Along the way there were more than a few tumbles. There still are.

As I was relearning the process, it occurred to me that this experience was an important metaphor to help me better understand my walk of faith. Living the Christian life is much like walking. By faith a person first comes to trust in Christ. In those early stages of faith, there is so much to learn and often the new Christian has to hang on to something solid. Hopefully there is a more mature believer holding their hand while they take the first faltering steps. Such reassurance and support is essential. The “spiritual muscles” in a new or immature believer are often weak and unable to support much weight.

One step at a time. Day by day, I have found that I have choices. I can't see the future or the end of the stairway. But then I don't really need to. All in need to do is take a step; then another; and another; and another - rusting God every step along the way.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010



Longbranch Washington
August 2006


"...the human charioteer drives his (winged horses)in a pair; and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity gives a great deal of trouble to him." Plato (from the Phaedrus Dialogue)

"Forgive as the Lord forgave you..." Paul, the Apostle Colossians 3:13

"We forgive freely or we do not really forgive at all." Lewis Smedes - "Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve"

A young, confident disciple named Peter asked Jesus “how many times should we forgive someone?” Feeling smug and self righteous he suggested 7 X 7. That sounds like a lot of times…49! But Jesus replied with an even greater number. He said you are to forgive 70 X 7 times. I read that conversation many times thinking I can’t imagine needing to forgive someone four hundred and ninety times. That is until after Fred’s accident, actually after his recovery.

During Fred’s most critical time in the hospital, I was consumed with his daily progress. Everyday prior to his first surgery blood was drawn to check his white blood cell count, his liver enzymes, and other things that indicated whether his body could endure surgery. Sometimes this was the only news I could give to people. Things moved slowly.

I was also consumed with pacing the hall outside of the ICU room when he was crying out in pain. I discovered nurses have very different ways of monitoring for pain in patients. Some were strictly by the clock. If there were 20 more minutes until the next dose of morphine was to be administered, you would wait those 20 minutes. No matter how much I was in their face pointing out that my husband was really in pain and he needed relief right now, they stuck with their time schedule. Then there were other nurses who would ask Fred, “Now on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst pain imaginable, where are you right now? If that pain gets to a 7 or an 8, you let me know. We’ll give you something before it gets too bad.” I loved those nurses!
When he was moved to the rehab hospital in El Paso I started each day with going to work early and working through my lunch hour so that I could drive the thirty five miles to El Paso from Las Cruces. I wanted to be there every day to cheer Fred on in his slow recovery.

When Fred returned home there were a whole new set of challenges. These were some of the hardest days for me. I would get up early so that I could help Fred into the shower, tend to some stubborn wounds that were still healing and help put on his white, tight ted hose. Although I know wearing the ted hose was important to promote good circulation and prevent blood clots, I sometimes felt they were sent from Satan himself. What a struggle to get them on each day!

Although these were challenging, draining and even at times discouraging days, I was not entertaining thoughts of bitterness toward God or towards Bob. I knew God was a sovereign God. I had never lived by the health and wealth theology that seems to say if your faith is strong enough, if you plant enough seeds (usually money), you will be blessed. The implication being, you will be well and wealthy.

I knew that believers were not exempt from tragic things happening to them. Godly people have cancer, still born babies, rebellious children, spouses that cheat on them, and they are involved in tragic accidents. I knew that God did not take you out of difficult times but was with you during them. In the cycle of emotions that people are supposed to go through after a serious loss, I thought I was just skipping the anger one. That is until Fred was as recovered as he was going to be and I realized how life altering this accident would make his life.

One of the things that attracted me to Fred early in our relationship was his physical abilities. In my star struck 17 year old eyes, he was a hunk. He loved to hike, play pick-up basket ball, and ski difficult slopes in the Rocky Mountains. He was just generally a very physically fit person. This was quite a contrast to me. I didn’t even learn how to swim until I was in college. Backpacking, are you kidding? That was not my idea of a really good time.

Fred’s love of exercise only increased after we were married. In our first year of marriage he led a group of high school boys on a long bike trip around Lake Michigan. This was followed by many other long distance bike trips. He continued to ski, loved to play golf, and added regular running to his life of being physically fit.

I was especially grateful for his love of running. He could come home from the office or from a day of stressful visits feeling down, stressed and/or tired. After a good three to five mile run he would return invigorated and light hearted. I loved what running did for him. As many people have discovered, exercise helps to reduce stress. This was certainly true of Fred.

It was Fred who first tried to teach me to downhill ski. We were dating at the time. I wanted to learn how to ski so we could enjoy this sport together. I loved the majestic mountain views and although I was not at all inclined to athletic endeavors, I was hopeful this would be one I would catch onto fairly easily.

I found my first challenge in learning to ski. It was the time that just about ended our budding relationship. Fred was determined I needed to learn how to stand up after I had fallen. He gave me directions, plant your pole, dig the edges of your skis into the slope of the hill, and push yourself up. It all sounded so easy until I tried again and again only to slip back to the ground. Finally another skier held out his hand and helped me up. I decided to take lessons the next quarter of college.

I did learn to ski and we enjoyed many trips to pristine Rocky Mountain ski areas. Keystone became one of our favorites. I loved watching Fred effortlessly glide down the slopes, skis always parallel, unafraid to tackle even the most challenging slopes. That was the point where we went our separate ways, however. I stuck to the easy and intermediate slopes and he sped down the black diamond slopes. We would meet at the bottom and start up together again on the chair lift. These were good times. When our daughters became teenagers, skiing became a sport our whole family enjoyed.

When we were in Enumclaw going through the interview process that would lead to a call to Calvary Presbyterian, one of the things we talked about was how great it would be to live so close to a ski area. We made plans to buy season tickets and even do some night skiing after a work day. Skiing after a work day was probably a pipe dream. Even if we had arrived in Enumclaw in perfect health, our schedules would likely not have allowed for that to happen. Under the best of circumstances our idyllic dreams and reality collide.

The second winter after Fred’s accident he decided he was going to give skiing a try again. He had his skis adapted with a half inch plate under the binding of the left ski to compensate for his leg length difference. He knew it would be different and difficult but did not realize how hard it would be with the permanent paralysis that kept him from being able to life up his feet or keep them turned inward.

Now in Washington State we made the trip to Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, only an hour drive from Enumclaw. The winter day was typical for western Washington. It was rainy when we left Enumclaw and cloudy and lightly snowing at Crystal Mountain. After getting our skis on, Fred headed to the bunny slope and I glided to the chair lift to go up to the top of the mountain and ski down. He didn’t want to ruin my time on the slopes by staying with him. All the way up I kept thinking how unfair it was that he was the one that had the ability to ski taken from him. He was the one that loved it the most.

I skied to the bottom of the hill, waved to Fred and got back into the line for the chair lift. The line was slow moving so I could watch Fred on the slope with all the other beginners, most of whom were young children. He fell frequently and struggled each time to get up again. As I moved into place to get on the chair lift, I met a woman who was from our church. I burst into tears. “I can hardly stand to watch Fred. It breaks my heart to see him struggle to ski. He was such a competent skier and now he can hardly stand.” She replied to my outburst the way many people would over the next few years when I would feel discouraged for Fred. “But aren’t you glad he is alive?” Of course I was glad he was alive. But somehow that didn’t take the hurt or anger away from my heart. There were huge losses that were a result of the accident. The reality of these losses gnawed at me and made me sad and angry.

I think that may be the first time I wrote an angry letter to Bob in my mind. “Why didn’t you stop that bus? What were you thinking or not thinking? You have no idea how awful life is for Fred. You are probably just happily living your life now thinking ‘Everything is fine now. Fred is well. He is at his new church. Life is good.’” Well, it isn’t. It’s terrible.”

Fred tells me I have a tendency to overreact.

It’s true, life was not all terrible. I was so grateful that Fred was walking, that he was alive. There was much happiness in our lives but none the less, the permanent paralysis in his legs would limit what he could do physically. Some injuries can be exercised back to complete wellness but spinal cord damage is not one that any amount of exercising will help. He was permanently disabled.

Because of Fred’s foot drop, he would often trip. He would trip and fall in the middle of a street or on a sidewalk. One time we were in a Park and Ride lot rushing to catch a shuttle bus to go to a University of Washington Husky football game when Fred ended up on the cement. Later in the stands Fred faced another challenge. It was almost impossible to maneuver to our seats because of the narrow space between the legs of the people we had to pass and the seats in front of us. This was compounded because Fred could not lift up his feet. Off went another bitter, mental letter to Bob.

During the night Fred would have leg cramps. The natural thing to do is pull your feet back stretching the back muscles where the cramp resides. Since Fred could not do this, he would struggle out of bed sometimes several times a night trying to relieve himself of the pain. Another mental letter off to Bob.

Fred didn’t have these feelings toward Bob at all. I marveled at his forgiving spirit and his ability to not cast any blame on Bob. Why was I having such a hard time? I think that once I had done everything I could for Fred, once I realized how difficult some things would be for him and I couldn’t do anything more to fix it, I just felt helpless. That is when the anger toward Bob set in. More than one person told me that it was harder for the person, often the spouse, to watch their loved one in pain or suffering than it is for the person going through it.

The mental, angry letter writing became more frequent. I knew it was not right nor particularly helpful. I wondered if it was cancer that Fred was struggling to overcome. Who would I be angry at? The people who use too many dangerous pesticides on our food? Second hand smoke? Or just the gene pool that we have drawn from?

When I would have these thoughts of anger and even blame aimed at Bob, it actually sent me into a state of confusion. I knew Bob did not do anything intentionally to hurt Fred. He cared deeply for Fred. He was his friend. He was a brother in Christ and a real servant. If there was a person in need, Bob was there. I knew he felt horrible about the accident. How could I be harboring any ill feeling toward him! It was hard for me to accept that I needed to forgive him

My narrow view of forgiveness was something you gave someone who had intentionally done something to hurt or harm you. I am always amazed to hear of people who forgave someone who intentionally shot them, raped or molested them, was driving drunk and caused an accident, or slandered them. Our friend Bob was not in this category. There was not an ounce of malevolence on his part.

Bob did not do anything intentionally, but in my mind he was the one who started the bus, was behind the wheel and did not stop it. His lack of response caused Fred to suffer and sustain permanent injuries. I realized I had not forgiven him for that.

I knew that forgiveness was something God expected from us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So, my journey of letting go of my anger began with the Lord’s Prayer. Every time we would pray that prayer as a community of believers or I would pray it alone in quietness, I would think of Bob and forgive him, not for what he did but for what he didn’t do, stop the bus.

I’d like to say it just took a time or two to completely and finally forgive Bob, but it didn’t. I had to do it again and again, again and again. I began to understand why Jesus said you need to forgive seventy times seven. Sometimes it takes that many times.

It was seven years after Fred’s accident. I was part of a small group of women that was studying the book 40 Days of Purpose. I had shared in my small group Bible Study at other times my struggle with forgiveness and letting go of my anger, but this night when I shared, the women prayed specifically for me. There was not a bolt of lightening but the next time Fred tripped, I didn’t write a mental letter to Bob

In spending time in further reflection I realized that my struggle to forgive Bob was likely a smoke screen for not wanting to truly accept what had happened as part of God’s sovereign will. Was I angry at Bob or at God for somehow being absent at the moment of the accident and allowing it to happen? My smugness in thinking I could easily accept whatever came my way as something God had allowed believing He was in control was tested and I was found wanting.

I am not unlike many people of faith who wrestle with how the sovereignty of God and the free will of man fit together. Great theologians and thinkers have written volumes trying to put these two truths into perspective. I have come to think of them as parallel truths. On the very best of days there is only a tiny flicker of understanding about how these can both be true.

I am not a puppet but God is in control. Every day I make decisions. Every moment of every day, God is in control, holding together the very universe yet mindful of me. This was true on the day of the accident, it was true during the difficult days of rehabilitation, it is true today. Bob was behind the wheel of the bus but God was on his throne not surprised by one second of the events of that day.

Has forgiving Bob, accepting the accident as part of God’s sovereign will made me forget what happened? No. Do I still yearn for Fred to have full use of his legs, to be able to fully do everything he did before the accident? Yes. But what forgiveness and acceptance has done is it has replaced anger and resentment with a quiet, calm sense of peace.

Thursday, March 11, 2010



Longbranch, Washington -
August 2006

“I wrestle with these questions which do not have logical answers, wrestle with mysteries, much as Jacob wrestled with the angel. How do we even attempt to understand the meaning of tempest and tragedy, love and hate, violence and peace?”
-Madeliene L’Engle A Stone for a Pillow

It seems like a lifetime ago now - a different time, a different place, a different set of circumstances. But it's all real life; all part of the story. Here we are sitting aboard our boat MV Providence, hailing port Enumclaw, Washington. We are bobbing lazily up and down with the gentle breeze and occasional wake left by another boat leaving their mooring in Filucy Bay. I am staring out the window at Mt. Rainier to the east. Grinding accidents, hospital Emergency Rooms, Stryker Frames, Intensive Care, hospital food, physical and occupational therapy, surgeries, and traction all seem surreal and haunting. At times I hardly am able to remember that this was all part of what happened in our lives.

I am now 9 years removed from all those experiences. They were life changing to be sure. Trying to process my thoughts and feelings today seems to be a mix between post-traumatic stress syndrome, and complete gratitude to God. Life seems normal once again - no, better than normal. Life is good. I can't shake the haunting memories though and that is part of my gratitude.

What’s it like to wrestle with God? Is it possible to contend against the almighty and not be completely destroyed or consumed? Does it betray a person’s confession of faith to cry out to God and ask “why?” While I was hospitalized – 28 days in intensive care, 10 days on the 6th floor orthopedic ward, and then 8 weeks at Rio Vista Rehabilitation Hospital in El Paso – there were numerous times when I felt I was wrestling with God.

Yes, there were times when I did feel an utter and complete serenity about all that had happened. In fact those times were more the rule than the exception. I had forgiven Bob (my friend who was behind the wheel of the bus). It was an accident and under different circumstances, the situation might have been reversed.

I didn’t know what the future held or what physical outcomes I could expect –would I ever walk again, would I live a life in constant pain, would I be able to continue in my ministry as a pastor? However, I knew God was good and that I could trust him for whatever the days and years ahead might hold. I can’t remember even a fleeting thought of lasting resentment towards God. I trusted him – and do trust him still – implicitly.

I am human though and I asked the same questions that most people ask? I still do! “Why me, God?” Did I do something bad for which I am being punished? What if I had left the parking lot that day one minute earlier and not been there to meet the men who wanted to buy the bus? What are you trying to teach me? What do I need to learn through this?”

After the initial critical hours were past, I began to heal. Laying immobile in a bed for 4 weeks gives a person a lot of time to reflect. As I recuperated, I also wrestled with God regarding some of the other changes and losses that were to come my way. I remember the first day I arrived in my room at Rio Vista Rehabilitation Hospital. It was Friday, June 13th (that had an ominous ring to it). As part of a course of standard admission examinations and consultations, I was beset by a steady stream of Doctors, Nurses, Physical, Speech and Occupational Therapists, Social Workers and Counselors. They all asked the same questions. They all checked the same things for signs of reflex, range of motion, strength, ability to chew and swallow, and speech. Judy thought they might also be concerned about my mental acuity and whether I had sustained any brain damage. Often they would talk to her or ask her questions instead of asking me those same questions.

One of these interviews was different though and very disturbing. A therapist came to talk to me (us) about bathroom function. With spinal cord injuries that occur higher up in the spine more of the person’s body is affected. A very common problem is incontinence of both the bowels and the bladder. The thought had never even crossed my mind. We (Judy was in the room with me and, once again, the things I experienced became her experiences as well) were stunned and devastated. Up to this point, I had assumed that all the assistive medical procedures and personnel were just helping with this as a course of my initial recovery. Eventually, it would pose no problems.

She wanted us to watch a computerized video program so we would be fully informed. Then we could ask her questions and she could arrange for counseling to help us deal with this humbling news.

We couldn’t watch the video. Maybe later; maybe some day; but not then. We set it aside in silence and refused to consider that option. To watch it suggested a tacit acceptance of something we didn't want to think about. Denial is one of the initial stages of grief and we were definitely in denial.

Other realizations presented themselves as well. The next day, Saturday, I began to realize how different my life was going to be, beginning with my total lack of independence. It took six people to transfer me from my bed to a wheel chair. Eventually I would learn to make that transfer myself using a sliding board, one end placed on the edge of the bed and the other placed on the seat of the wheel chair allowing me to inch my way across the short distance between the two. But at this point I was still too weak. So a squad of nurses and aides arrived bright and early in my room that Saturday morning to transfer me to my chair and then help roll me down to the dining room for breakfast. Down the hall, I could see a locked door to the outside world. I would not be allowed to roll my chair past that door without a therapist or nurse escorting me. Anyone who came to visit, had to be approved for admittance and then rung in.

As we rolled into the activity area/dining hall, the room was full of people needing various levels of assistance with feeding themselves. I began to feel that I was not in a hospital but a nursing home. Was I really in that bad a state?

After breakfast, therapy sessions began for most patients. I was left sitting in the hallway. No one had given the weekend staff any orders for a program of therapy for me. Out of curiosity, and after about an hour of wondering what was going on, I rolled myself down the hall and into the small gym used for therapy.

It was a busy, noisy and active spot. Therapists were working individually with different patients. This part of Rio Vista was called the Brain/Neuro Ward. Each patient on this floor had some form and degree of neurological problem. Many of the patients were older – the victims of strokes. There was a young adult man who had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident. There was another young man who had been shot in the head in a drive-by shooting. Tony was a 11 year old boy whose leg had been crushed in a serious accident and had suffered major nerve damage in his leg. Each of them were laying on mats or were situated in some other kind of apparatus, performing exercises as directed by their therapist. Some were throwing large plastic balls. Others were struggling to manipulate small wooden blocks around a board. It was all fascinating and just a little scary. What would they have me doing? As easy as I had once considered such tasks, they now looked daunting and fearful.

I sat there observing for some time. No one seemed to be aware of my presence. Finally I asked one of the therapists if there wasn’t something I should be doing. Looking at me rather strangely, she finally got out a large box of metal plumbing pipes and pipe joints, each with threaded fittings that could be screwed together. She said, “Here put these all together in any shape you want. Then take them apart and put them away.” Off she went.

For an hour I struggled with those small sections of pipe. I could barely lift them, let alone twist them into place. Finally, exhausted, I got them back in their box. Still, no one was paying any attention to me, so I decided I would wheel myself back to my room.

I had not seen the inside of a bathroom for nearly 6 weeks. I wheeled myself in and tried to get situated under the sink. I couldn’t get very close because my wheel chair was partially reclined with my feet elevated. I had also been fitted with a strange device called a metal fixator. Four 12” carbon fiber rods were connected by titanium brackets. The entire apparatus had been screwed into my hips in order to secure my crushed pelvis from further damage. This apparatus stuck out in front of my body making it even more precarious to maneuver in tight spaces.

With great effort, I found the small set of personal items that had been given to me. I couldn’t wait to brush my teeth myself; shave a two day old stubble of whisker, and maybe even wash my hair. Picking up the razor and the shaving cream I began to attempt to shave my scraggly beard. I made a mess. Water was everywhere. I cut myself and was trying to stop the bleeding when a nurse walked in. “Mr. Davis, what are you doing? You should never do anything like this by yourself again.” There it was. I felt my life was really no longer my own.

Everything I had taken for granted – every daily routine, every bodily function, every moment of freedom and independent life – was gone. I was as psychologically crushed as my body had been under the bus. When they put me back in my bed, I sank into a period of depression. “Why, God?” The wrestling match continued.

As time went by, some of those feelings dissipated. Yet each day brought another realization that my life was to be unalterably different. Deo, a young African-American aide came to my room one day. “Mr. Davis, I am here to take you for a shower.” Whoa, that’s great. How will that work though? You know I am unable to stand or walk, don’t you?”

“No problem” He wheeled in a different looking gurney that was covered with a large, plastic basin. One side folded down and he brought it next to my bed. I was slid, with some effort, to the rolling wash tub, the side was raised and off we went down the hall to the shower room specifically designed for showering patients in the supine position. There I lay, totally naked, completely helpless, dependent on another person to give me a shower. “Why, God?”

Every day, we spent time in the activity room with a recreational therapist. Knowing that I had been somewhat depressed during the first week, she had asked a former patient to come in and play checkers with me. He was a man in his thirties who had been in a motorcycle accident five years earlier and was a paraplegic. He came by regularly to talk with other spinal cord injury patients. I have to admit he really knew how to handle a wheel chair. He could go up steps, do wheelies, turn on a dime and my guess is he had the world land speed record for a wheelchair. It took me about an hour before I figured out that he was there to show me that a person could live a fairly normal life in a wheel chair and that I should begin to consider accepting that as a real possibility. It wasn’t the end of the world…or so he said. I felt like a ton of bricks had just fallen on me. Was that the message I was supposed to be hearing? I left the room, more depressed and afraid that I might spend the rest of my life in a chair. That was the first time I really had even thought about that. “Why God?” The wrestling match continued.

Gradually I too became fairly proficient with a wheel chair. I could turn on a dime, go up over curbs, and ascend steep ramps. Yet I still was unwilling to acknowledge I might have to do this the rest of my life. I figured I might as well work at it now. I was getting pretty tired of my room. And once I could transfer myself, I wanted to get out in the hall or the gym as much as I could endure. It wasn’t much. By the time I finished 4 hours of exercise each day, I was pretty exhausted. “Why God?” I pondered as I continued to struggle.

Those days weren’t all bad. They were filled with enjoyable visits from friends who made the effort to drive from Las Cruces to El Paso, a 45 minute drive under good conditions. I was overwhelmed with the support and affection. Blake brought me picture of the two of us doing a skit at the previous year’s all-church retreat. Someone snuck in a secret stash of Oreo cookies and hid them in a closet. Ben brought me some super-hot salsa, something I hadn’t had for over 2 months. DeVon always brought a cooler with Sprite and lots of ice because he knew how much I loved the icy cold, carbonation and the way it felt on my tight, dry throat. Scott and Kayla brought me a Vente sized cup of good strong, Starbucks coffee (quite a contrast from the bland, translucent "coffee" the hospital serverd)the first I had tasted in a long time. There were stacks of cards everyday – from people in our new church in Washington; from friends and relatives; even from people we didn’t know.

Even all this love and attention played into my wrestling match. I always wondered why I was so surrounded with support when many of the other patients I had come to know languished day after day without a visit from anyone. I felt I wasn’t deserving. “Why God?”

One hot summer evening, on their daily visit., Judy and Melissa brought my dog Brandon to visit also. He practically drug Melissa across the courtyard as he excitedly bounded to my side. We had been constant companions for 6 years. He was my running companion. Now I knew he and I would never run in the desert again; maybe never even walk side by side. “Why God?”

Each day brought new challenges and dredged up new feelings. Judy brought a laptop computer and modem so I could be connected to the internet and read emails. I didn’t really want to. She was concerned. Further tests and therapeutic procedures revealed that I was not regaining any nerve function in my lower legs. Walking was still a huge question mark. I was still discouraged and afraid. “Why, God?”

Because I had been confined in bed or a wheel chair so long, my therapists decided they needed to start preparing me for attempts at standing upright. The body adjusts to its environment. Mine had adjusted to a prone position. Standing vertically would be a shock to my system and my blood pressure could suddenly drop. Each day, a tilt board, a padded cot like apparatus, was brought in. I was securely strapped to it and it was gradually inclined; 30* the first couple of times, 45* after that. Eventually it was raised to 90* and for the first time I was able to view the world from an upright position, even if I was strapped in this contraption. The first few times I almost passed out. I wondered if I would ever be able to stand independently.

With my daily regimen of therapy – 2 hours of physical therapy in the morning and 2 hours of occupational therapy in the afternoon, strength and movement began to return. With the assistance of Gina, a woman roughly half my size standing close by to support me and/or catch me if I began to fall, I would be wheeled in between standing rails and with considerable effort, pull myself to a standing position. Because of the severity of the injury to my right hip, I was not allowed to bear any weight on that side. When I stood, I had to keep that foot on a telephone directory so there would be no temptation to bear down. The first day, I stood for 10 minutes. Within a few weeks I was standing for 30 minutes at a time. It was boring to just stand there. Yet there was a sense of exhilaration as well. Perhaps someday, I could, with the aid of braces or crutches, walk again. The wrestling went on though. “Why Lord? What purpose do you have for me in all this?”

Friday, August 1st, just less than three months after the accident occurred, I was released to go home. Initially, Doctors had prepared us to think in terms of six months to a year of hospitalization and rehabilitation. Now, almost miraculously, it appeared as if things might return to a degree of normalcy. We could begin to plan for and schedule our move to the Northwest. I couldn’t return to work right away, but I could begin meeting new people, establishing my presence as the pastor and sharing thanks with the people who prayed for and encouraged us long distance. What an exciting day.

On the way home, we stopped at the Mesilla Valley Mall where I rolled my wheel chair into the Dillards Store like a child who had just mastered a two-wheeled bicycle. We went, me rolling, Judy walking beside, directly to the women’s accessories department where our daughter Melissa was working. We had a joyful, tearful reunion.

The following Sunday, we returned to church at Northminster Church – the sight of the accident and, more importantly, of 13 plus happy, productive years of ministry. Sitting in a wheel chair, I preached again for the first time since May 3rd. It was exhilarating. The congregation welcomed us back like long lost relatives. They even held a potluck dinner to celebrate the occasion. By the time we returned home, I was exhausted and hurting.

Over the next three months, there were times of triumph and progress- taking my first assisted steps with a walker; stuggling up the steps of our two story home to our Master Bedroom for the first time; going out with our whole family to The Hacienda, our favorite Mexican restaurant; being able to drive the car alone after hand controls had been installed; going to Evangelical Ministerial Association again, preaching at several area churches and telling my story; and most importantly being home with Judy and being able to begin making plans for the future.

Those times were tempered with frustrations as well. It was easier to focus on the things I couldn’t do than the things I could. I got so tired. Even sitting up for long periods of time was draining. I took lots of naps. I continued to wonder “why.” The wrestling went on.

Those are still questions I ask. Now, 10 years later, I have added a few questions; the most troubling one being, “Why, with the severity of my spinal injury, have I been allowed to recover as well as I have? Why am I not in a wheel chair or even dead when people who have suffered similar or even lesser injury have not had as good an outcome? It doesn’t always make sense to me. I struggle with feelings of guilt whenever I see another, more seriously disabled person than me. Somehow I feel I should be the one in the chair.

In the fall of 1999, Darrell Green, the star cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs, was playing in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He made a tackle – the kind of tackle he had made hundreds of times before – hard, clean, efficient. This particular tackle was different though. Somehow, the way his helmet hit the opposing player, caused his head to snap. His neck was broken and he crumpled to the ground, completely paralyzed. After a long cautious examination, field doctors asked for the ambulance and he was driven onto the field and he was immediately transported to a nearby Level 1 trauma hospital that specialized in treating severe spinal cord injuries. There, the news reports said, Doctors had determined he had broken his neck at the cervical spine level between number 5 and number 6; the very same place my injury occurred.

The same, standard course of treatment was given him immediately. Steroids were introduced to abate the swelling and pressure on the spinal cord, he was placed in a Stryker Frame and tongs were attached to his head so that weights could be hung in traction and the damage minimized. I followed his case via the internet with almost compulsive interest; reliving the nightmare he was going through.

I found an address for the hospital and wrote to him, telling him and his family that if they ever needed the ear or the support of someone who had been through something akin to what they were going through, Judy and I would be willing to correspond and talk with them. We never heard back.

It was just a few days later, we heard that a different and silent killer took his life. A pulmonary embolism; a blood clot had broken free from his immobile legs and had traveled back to his lungs and killed him instantaneously.

This was one of the dangers they had warned us about. Taking every precaution known, my Doctors did everything possible to see that such a clot did not form. I am sure Mr. Green’s doctors had followed the exact same protocol. Why did he die of a blood clot and not me? I sustained essentially the same injury. It is a question I keep asking but never seem to be able to hear an answer. I wrestle with God about that.

I have always been drawn to the character Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob was a man chosen and loved by God. He was by no means perfect. In fact at times he was devious, conniving and stubbornly resistant to God. I think that is why I identify with him. I sometimes feel much the same way. I know I have feet of clay and am by no means a spiritual giant.

My paternal grandfather was named Jacob and my father’s middle name was Jacob: another reason why I feel a kinship to the Old Testament patriarch.

For another, more personal reason, Jacob has become my model. In spite of his imperfections, he refused to let go of God. As he returned to his home land to reconcile with his brother Esau, he sent his family and servants ahead. He camped under the starlit, desert skies. In the middle of the night he encountered a man (some feel an angel, others, the pre-incarnate Christ). A wrestling match ensued. The two struggled through the night, neither willing to let go or concede. Finally morning came and the stranger finally realized he was not going to overpower Jacob. In the course of the battle, though, he had touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that it was severely sprained or dislocated. Jacob still would not let go. His grip was tenacious.

The man even pleaded with Jacob to free him. Jacob refused until the man gave him a blessing. “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Jacob then realized that the one against whom his struggle had been was God, so he named the place Peniel, saying, “I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.” As he left the place, he did so limping because of the injury to his hip.

Over the last 8 years, as I have asked God “why?” I have also been struck with the reality that in my encounter with a yellow school bus, I saw God face to face and my life was spared. I may not know why nor do I always feel warm and fuzzy about the fact. As I have been on this odyssey, I have seen God face to face in so many different ways.

I have even found that most of the time, I am happy about the limp that is my constant companion. Because my legs were in traction for 4 weeks before I was well enough for surgery to be performed on my pelvis, it had begun to heal, only in a twisted position. I was left with a 2” discrepancy in the length of my legs. I have to wear a built up shoe on my left leg to equalize this problem. In addition, because of persistent nerve damage, my feet are still partially paralyzed, leaving me with an unusual walking gait; a limp.

I have learned that I have to think about every step I take. If I become careless or unaware of what is around me, I will catch the toes of my right foot and stumble. Often the momentum of a 225 pound body is enough to send me sprawling face first onto a sidewalk, parking lot, downtown intersection or church stair (just some of the places I have fallen). I wonder if people who don’t know me think I am just clumsy or if they are laughing at me. If anyone asks, I simply reply, “Yeah, it happens all the time. It’s no big deal. I was run over by a bus, and I am lucky to be up and walking – a little fall doesn’t bother me.” The limp, the stumbles, the falls, the awkward gait are all reminders to me that I wrestled with God and am still alive to talk about it. God was there with me everyday. He still is.

I will never let go. I may continue to ask questions. I very likely will struggle to understand and to accept God’s providential ways in my life. But I know that every time I have asked why, I have been reassured that the why is not as important as the Who; knowing that I have encountered the God of Jacob.