I have a disability. I am not, however, defined by it so I don’t consider myself a disabled person but, rather, a person with a disability. More to the point, my paralysis is what God is using – my platform – to demonstrate the out-raying of of His glory to the broken and hurting world around me.
Regrettably, in 1981, before I was introduced to handicapped status, my life was anything but a bright and shining testimony. Rather than traversing about about as a vessel of honor, I was a shipwreck waiting to happen. Had I stayed that course, you would not be reading this version of my testimony, but God, who is wise and merciful, saw an opportunity and put me in dry dock for some woefully needed reparation.
Before our man Job’s colossal Trial, he was a man of moral honor and of blameless character. Here, he and I part company really fast, with a wide berth between us! Before my own divine appointment, while supposedly preparing for a life of ministry at a Christian school in Tennessee, I opted rather to trip the light fantastic my junior year and explore options more cosmopolitan and earthly. Actually, I was more titillated by the prospect of a season in sin than falling headlong into it for fear of turning permanently away from God. That notion did horrify me. So maybe not the far, far country, but a few zip codes away suited me just fine.
Soon, however, the gravitational pull of Vanity Fair overtook me and I reached inside my soul and eagerly picked out some coins and paid the fare of some of its carnival attractions. The labyrinth of neon-lit avenues soon led me down darker alleyways and the introduction to even more seedy venues. These dens of iniquity were not for those who were merely playing at sin but for those looking to be actively employed by it.
Here I felt less in control. No longer was I picking the rides and selecting booths for momentary pleasure but felt they were somehow choosing me. Thanks be to God, my skin prickled. My gut told me to run for dear life. There opened before me a way of escape and I gladfully took it.
Wending my way outward through the maze of attractions, penitently reversing my travels, the carnies looked less friendly than at first, the places and atmospheres more insidious. Just you try and leave, they threatened.
You are trapped here forever…
The tangle of sideshows kept rearranging themselves, confusing the senses, prompting me to feel less hopeful about leaving. I kept running down promising lanes, expecting to pop out onto main arteries only to run into dead-ends leaving me exasperated and hopeless.
The profane grinding of a carnival organ and its incessant melodies sped up creating even more confusion. Sadistic people with snarkish smiles whirled about me and their faces blurred and morphed into visages macabre and demonic. There, in a grotesque blend of Grimm-worthy music and amusement, in the very nexus of Vanity Fair, I stopped and cried out for a supernatural deliverance from my agonies, to the only One who could. If He would even have me.
Miracle of miracles, not only would He, but He came to me with great tenderness and mercy.
The Call of the Carnival is undeniable but the Rescue of the Redeemer is epic!
It was during this episode of Divine Intervention that a friend placed in my hand a golden gift. This friend was well aware of my forays and foraging in the far country and came alongside me to buttress me as I wobbled on renewed legs. His “gift” was a plastic case, no larger than a paperback book, containing four cassette tapes, each a separate sermon from a pastor out west. The sermons were a four-part series of encouragement for those who were hurting.
The title on the cover read, “Gold In The Making”. I was captured.
My friend told me he had listened to Pastor Swindoll’s sermons over the summer and had also been accosted by the teaching that had seemed so alien to our theology: that God uses and even prescribes suffering for His children, that they might deepen in value and expand in power, being made weak in their trials. In short, we need fire in our life to purify, mold and empower us.
The fire softens us toward God and others.
The fire turns us to God in absolute dependence.
The fire increases the brightness of His glory in us.
Whatever this “fire” was, I knew I wanted it. I needed it. One of the sermons was a gem about Job. In that particular homily, Dr. Swindoll focused on Job’s crowning confession as we near the final stages of the debate with his trio of counselors, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.
“He know the way that I take and when He has tried me, I will come forth as gold.”*
The insightful pastor offered an unforgettable lesson, zeroing in on one of the primary Hebrew words in the text. He said the word “way” translates the word ‘derek‘ in the original. He explained it means “bent” as in the bent area of an archer’s bow. When an archer crafted his bow, he was well-acquainted with how much force of pull was needed to create the arch without breaking it. With great care and exertion, the craftsman would pull on each end with his foot unyieldingly positioned in its center, applying just the right amount of pressure so as not to completely break the object, but enough so as to achieve for it maximum effectiveness.
Dr. Swindoll imagined for the listener what the bow might say about the process if it could feel. Perhaps it would question why such merciless mistreatment! But, carrying the parable further along, he explained it is not the archer’s desire to destroy his instrument as that would defeat its purpose, but to fashion it according to his own need.
The point is well struck when we yield to the truth that God applies trials in just the same way for His own instruments of righteousness, always stretching us beyond our own natural ability to learn His super-ability in us. All of this, we realize, is for His own purpose and pleasure, but also our value and effectiveness.
As I listened with heart swelling and eyes blurred by the onslaught of emotion, I decided then and there I wanted my life to hit the mark, whatever it cost me, and utterly for His own glory. Forever and ever, amen.
And so, that’s how I initially became a marked man. My story doesn’t begin at the Ingle’s Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois on the third of September, nineteen hundred and sixty. I like to think it began on the floor of my college dorm room about the time I was introduced to Job, sometime just before midnight in late September, twenty-one years later. I may as well have been a figment prior to that night, artificial and existentially challenged. Trueness didn’t find its way into my empty shell until I laid myself, body, spirit and soul, as a sacrifice to the Lord on an altar of industrial-grade carpet while my roommates slept the sleep of dreaming freshmen.
From my perspective, however, the sacrifice was an embarrassment. I seemed like an inferior lamb, a blind goat, a lame offering in the scheme of things. Would my heart’s Governor accept me on His table?** I carried the stink of sin, the scent of a far country, my carcass pitted with decay from the inside out.
Even so, the Holy One received me, warts, leprosy and all, lock, stock and barrel, though befouled and obscene, because He knows His fire will consume all my worst and produce His artistic best, transforming my drudge and dross into pure gold.
That’s God’s job and He takes His work very seriously. It’s my job to let Him.
From Job’s apogeic confession, I inherited three gleaming truths that still flank and support me as I accept life with a serious disability.
1. God Knows Where I Am
2. God Knows What I Can Become
3. God Knows What He’s Doing To Bring Me Into Fullness
Beneath the thick viscous sludge of dross that clung (and yet clings!) to me, the Divine Assayer saw a vault of priceless gold and made it His perfect plan to get to it. To that end, I made it my constant plea to call upon my Sovereign to administer His Fire to do its necessary work in me, of bringing out a fully transparent sheen, the out-raying of Christ, and making my life a glory to my God and an encouragement to His people.
One thing about ashes, they are visible reminders of a former existence, so when scripture says Job “sat down among the ashes”***, it could also point to a deeper reality that they were a graphic eulogy over his former days, that a new era was commencing, taking him from good enough**** to better, from great to greater, from former glory to grander glory, from fear to faith, from bronze to gold.
“Gold, God,” I sobbed, face buried in the threadbare carpet. “I want to be gold!”
Then: a holy, pregnant pause. “Take my life, take my legs…whatever it takes…”
My prayer ended. I’d said enough, it turns out.
The benediction over my funeral pyre that night, some thirty-two years ago as I rose on Amen legs, could only be heard in the Unseen Realm, sufficing as a Divine Directive, passing from Throne to the powers that waited:
“The kindling and the sacrifice are ready. Start the fire.”
A hasting to do the Father’s will, and these words followed His fiery cohort out of the Heavenly Temple:
“Quickly, now. There’s gold…”