On October 2, 1981, a bevy of mostly college upperclassmen, including myself—guys and gals, evenly paired—were stumping through eastern Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains high above the charmingly throwback town of Dayton and the expansive Pocket Wilderness. Around nine o’clock on that fateful night, I took a harrowing spill from one of the cliffs to its rocky base twenty feet below. Landing full-force on a jagged rock, I broke my back which permanently damaged my spinal cord. There I lay, well out of reach of my friends, paralyzed, gasping for breath, well aware my life was ebbing away.
Three nights earlier, quite in soulful desperation, I had prayed to the Lord, pleading with Him to make a difference in my spiritually paralyzed life, even to the point of saying,
“Whatever it takes, LORD, to be Your man, I gladly pay the price. Even if it means I lose my legs in an accident.”
Why my legs? I may never know except for the fact that I DO know God is omniscient. He knows the end from the beginning, so I would think He knew on Tuesday what would happen 72 hours later. I believe it is quite likely my Lord was giving me a chance to surrender fully to Him what would be taken from me on Friday night. After all, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he can never lose.”
Having surrendered my life for the ministry as a young teenager, I had kept watch over my soul and remained unspotted from the world for the most part. Until college, that is. The school to which the Lord led me was a Christian university, of Baptist origin, and served to train young people for the ministry, both vocationally and in the marketplace. It was in this era of my life, completely on my own, where new freedoms were discovered and worldly possibilities became freely accessible, I was drawn away like a fly to a spider’s web. My spiritual descent was not sudden but more like dipping my toes in the shallow end of the pool, wading out, then treading and, finally, at the end of my junior year, diving in headlong.
After the accident, thankfully and remarkably, there was a discernible change in my life. Praise be, I was coming into intimate knowledge of the revelation of Paul who said, “That I may (experientially) know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…” Now, twenty-seven years later, I look back and see the journey has been worth it. By God’s grace, He is making me an overcomer, one who has come to know Him in the valley as well as on the mountain.
My life’s text is taken from Psalm 37:23,24—
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he will not be utterly cast down, for the LORD upholds him with His hand.”
I do not pretend life in a wheelchair context is easy. It can be hard labor, seven days a week, hour after hour, year by arduous year. Not walking is the easiest part. It’s the other stuff that comes with the package that can break your heart over and over again.
But that is not THE story, dear reader.
The Lamb that was crucified is worthy of the reward of His suffering. This has been the work of the cross in my life and I do not regret it. It’s worth it. And I want more than anything for my life to be a praise to the One who is teaching me what walking really feels like.