twenty five years
twenty five years ago. on this day. april 25th, i fell from the top of the third story of my friend Shaffe’s house while painting a chimney casing. almost half of my life ago. admittedly, there have been times since the accident that i didn’t think i would ever live this long as a cripple [or as a “physically challenged person” for those who may insist on political correctness]. twenty five years. yet, here i am. typing and rambling about this long-time companion of mine called paralysis.
just a few months before the accident I was part of a group of musicians that did a community variety show in Harlan, Iowa. I pounded on the piano and sang a few songs that night. one of the songs was “I’m Gonna Fly” by Amy Grant. It seemed appropriate at the time, as not long after that I left for the University of Michigan to study psychology. i left what was familiar. safe. i took off to pursue a new dream. and a few months later, the scaffold that I was standing on tipped and i fell. i didn’t fly as i had sung about months before. i just fell. over thirty feet. back broken. i have dealt with paralysis and wheelchairs and stairs. narrow doors and narrow-minded stares since that day, to name a few things.
this is Shaffe. one of the most trusted and loyal friends i have ever known. we were working together on that day. spent the morning painting and enjoying a beautiful intro to spring. each other’s company. oblivious to how much our lives were about to change in just a matter of seconds. oblivious to the detour in the road we would be traveling from here on. just soaking in the moment. laughing and talking about what seemed important at the time. when i look back to those moments i have a tendency to elevate them to sacred somehow. the blessing of normal body functioning. the freedom that comes with that. the countless things that i took for granted up to the point of the fall. from this angle of looking back, it is easier to see the sparkle of those things golden in life.
over the years of being paralyzed i have felt perpetually caught in a tension between playing it safe and taking risk. looking for places of protection, while at the same time trying to get out of them. i long for safety. i long for adventure and freedom. a crazy dynamic perhaps. the stuff of survival to me. the stuff of life and growth. the photo of the nest in the upper corner; while it is protected and not easy to get into, it can also be difficult to get out of…
i cannot encapsulate twenty-five years of life here. am currently working on a book that tells that story. but i would say this; i have learned so much of life through this. so much of myself. so much of the human condition. so much of the “God of hidden purposes” as Gordon MacDonald refers to Him. and even though there have been times where i did a lot of kicking and screaming [minus the kicking part] about this lot in life… even though i have spent a great deal of time in mental/emotional anguish about the why’s and why nots of it all… i opened my eyes this morning and was aware of so much that stirs gratitude in my heart about this life i live.
when i met and started getting to know this wild woman. Mare, as i call her. when i couldn’t help but fall in love with her. there was so much about this relationship that scared me. so much about a “cripple” marrying a “normal” and all that i would have to ask of her. all that she would have to sacrifice to spend a lifetime with me. the fear of rejection and being too much trouble. staying in some kind of nest seemed safer. more protected from risk. from hurt. yet we’ve had more than twenty years together. Jonathan and Maggie together. such rich stuff of relationship and life together. such real struggles. such real joys. obvious as well as subtle examples of God’s presence and companionship in our lives. all along the way.
on one of the April 25th’s along the way Mare gave me a card with a quote from hemingway. “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” that card still sits on the shelf above my desk at work. it is a reminder to me that the most important thing in life is not the break. the brokenness. the weak. more important than the broken is the response to it. “My grace is enough for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” i have come to believe that there is purpose that runs deeper than the tire tracks made by my chair. i have come to trust more deeply in the Creator of the universe. the Creator of my soul. the Giver of Life. and let me be balanced here in what i am saying about myself. because there are moments, days, where if i could, i would still kick to go along with my screaming about the frustrations and anger that still accompany this companion called paralysis. i would love to stand up right now and pull on my sweats and running shoes and do a four-mile run like the last one i did on the morning of april 24th in 1986. and if i let myself go there in negative ways, i could let that completely ruin the rest of this day. this life. most of the time, i am grateful that i have the gift of choosing something so much greater. following something so much more purposeful.
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:2-5
check out a song i really like called “Faithful“ on the And If Our God is For Us CD by Chris Tomlin. available @ iTunes.