Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering.
Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.
“Blessed Be Your Name”
lyrics by Matt and Beth Redman
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“I doubt whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
While this Monday may dawn in its typical way, interloping on those who find it hard to get motivated for another long week, it will carry some special significance for me. It was on a second of October in 1981 that my life was forever changed. One moment I was walking, running and standing. In a fateful next moment, I no longer laid claim to these simple luxuries. Before October 2nd, I could stand in front of a urinal just like any other guy. Showering? No problem. Just run into a shower stall, do the job, get out. I could pull my pants legs on and be none the wiser. Twenty minutes. From the time my feet hit the floor, through the morning routine and out the door, twenty measly minutes.That all changed on the evening of October 2, 1981.
Twenty-five years ago, this Monday, the strongest bone in my body snapped like a twig and a crazy little string that runs inside it, called a spinal cord, was mangled, smashed, bruised and nearly severed. Turns out, you really need an intact cord in order to stand, walk, run, shower upright, dress upright and, uh, how to say, expel upright (sorry…oversharing?). How did I break my back, you ask? Gravity. More specifically, gravity and a rock at the end of it. You see, I was out in the mountainous woodlands of Tennessee with some college friends and during our outing together, I took a spill off a cliff, fell twenty feet, and landed squarely on my back on top of a triangle-shaped rock. C-c-rack-k!
Paralysis is what Dr. Herndon Murray called it. From the middle of my chest to the very tip of my toes there is no feeling. None. A complete injury, he said.
Will I ever walk again, Dr. Murray?
No, he said.
That was twenty-five years ago this Monday. (What do you buy for that anniversary???)
Now life is shower chairs, hoyer lifts, special beds, catheters, wound dressings, BPs (don’t ask), hand controls, checking for cloudy urine, checking skin for redness, getting dressed flat on a bed (try that sometime!), and, oh yes, wheelchairs. And van lifts and callused hands. Leg bags. Sitting higher at a table than anyone else. Getting stared at by foreigners in whose culture those with disabilities are shut away in institutions. Not sitting with friends at stadiums because you have to sit in a special area while they sit with the “normal” people. Wanting to be independent and push yourself yet struggling up hills knowing you cannot be.
“In all these things…” That’s what Paul said. He had a different list, yes, but my list and your list work just as well. Just as true. “In all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer…” (Romans 8:37) You have to know what was in my spirit as I was jotting down those “inconveniences” of disability. I was not even close to despair nor was I whining and martyring. No! A thousand-million times no! There is rejoicing in me and it’s been in me for the past quarter-century. I’m often asked, Scott, are you bitter? and I can answer with untainted integrity that I have never been bitter over it. Frustrated? Bothered? Mad, at times? Put off? Isolated and self-conscious? Humiliated? Yes, most assuredly. I confess I’ve been bothered by it from time to time but never bitter.
Why? How can this be? First off, let me tell you it’s not because of anything in me. Well, that’s not entirely true. Christ is in me. It is HIS Life and victory that upholds me. Through the suffering, through the rugged miles, through the pain and loss, it’s Him, always Him. This is gonna sound strange but if given the choice to relive my life, I would still choose His way over mine even if my way offered a delectable smorgasbord of riches, fame and ease, minus Him, and His way was, well, what I’ve gone through these twenty-five years.
I’m not saying I’d enjoy reliving the summer of ’97 when a skin sore nearly took my life and the wound was so deep one’s fist could disappear down into its nefarious cave. I could do without New Jersey in 1990. And Fall of 2003. And early winter of ’05. I’m not saying that I would prefer to have a humiliating “accident” and wet my pants in front of my friends or fall on a floor of our vacation villa and have to wait for a couple hours until someone can hear me calling and come to my rescue (long story). I can live without the memory of what happened after my wedding on the way to our honeymoon. Right out of the gate, Sandy was becoming “one with me” whether she was ready for it or not. Ah, Sandy…could I write volumes in honor of this woman? Through every wound, accident, gaining weight and strangers’ stare she never, ever made me feel small, in the way, embarrassing or troublesome. Saint Sandy…
No, these things can be so upsetting and humiliating. Who wants to cry themselves to sleep? Yet, in all these things, God is there, looming larger and more defined than even in the sweet by-and-by times. He comes as Warrior, Friend, Succorer, Comforter, Healer…think of it! When would you ever know Him as Healer unless you were broken? When would you ever know His infinite power unless the enemy was picking on you? When could His comfort lay you down to rest unless you were crying yourself to sleep?
I choose His way. The road marked with suffering is the road less traveled because of its thorns and thistles, gloomy places and dangers. But I still choose His way because it is where He bids me and meets me. It is where I learn to lean harder into Him and trust Him with my life. It’s where He brings heaven’s nectar out of stony places and sweet bread from the sky. Funny thing, my sandals never wear out on this road. I joke with people that I never have to buy shoes because I don’t walk on them. I still wear shoes from years ago. They may get scratched on top but they never wear out on the soles. They may fall victim to the fashion police, but they are still road-tested and road-worthy.
When Monday dawns, some will yawn, hit the snooze button and groan to face another week. I’ll get lifted into my shower chair, strap on my leg bag, dress while supine, get hoyered into my wheelchair, struggle up more hills and get more callouses. Just like any other Monday. But I’ll do it gladly because my Friend will be there smiling and telling me “Chop-chop, Scott. We got a few more weary miles to go, but soon we’ll be home. Wait’ll you see what I’ve got up My sleeve for you then! C’mon, some pretty cool adventures lay ahead…”
And then I’ll smile back at Him and say, “Right behind You, Lord, right behind You…”