It was June 2003 and my 20-year-old heart weighed heavy as I sat on the floor of my bedroom.
I had just returned home from babysitting three of my favorite kids down the street so that their mom could go visit a 27-year-old guy in the hospital who had been badly injured in a motorcycle accident; the phrases traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury didn’t sound promising.
This guy was a mere stranger to me, but I hurt for him and for his family. The heartache and shock of waking up from a coma, not able to identify your closest loved ones, your quality of life now unknown, and faced with the words complete spinal cord injury at the T4 level with no known cure—what in the world would that be like?
So, I prayed. I don’t recall my words—but there on the soft carpet of my bedroom floor, I prayed.
Spring 2004 rolled around and that guy I had once prayed for, rolled into my life.
A miracle, right before my eyes. He survived a crash that could have taken his life. He was in a coma for days with no brain activity—but there he was—alive with a charming grin on his face.
How could someone who once climbed 14ers, bare-foot-water-skied, scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef, and worked in the South Pole…have so much joy after losing control of two-thirds of his body? No longer able to run freely but now dependent on a wheelchair to navigate life—where does one find joy not based on circumstances?
Over the next few months we spent time together, mainly in group settings—rarely just the two of us. We would see each other at church and exchange hello’s. Sometimes he would ask me to come hang out with his family; his family was a rock in his life. I heard stories of how his family and friends gathered in the hospital to pray for him, and I remember seeing the beautiful blue prayer quilt woven together with prayers. So many people came together and prayed big prayers for him; so many still pray to this day.
I wish I could tell each of them thank you—thank you for being there and loving him and hugging him, when I could not. Thank you for praying for him and continuing to fervently pray.
By February 2005 we started dating. I was falling in love.
We didn’t blend in, we stood out—far from the average couple. The stares, the glances, the looks, the curious children—they made me self-conscious at first. Every time I unloaded the wheelchair out of the car it felt like all eyes were on me. Every time we rolled into a restaurant, a movie theater, a shopping mall—all eyes were on us.
After a while I stopped caring and stopped trying to read people’s minds.
My world had changed and never again would I view things like stairs and narrow doorways in the same light. My boyfriend had a ‘don’t give up’ attitude, but the challenges still stung. As I learned over time, not being able to walk was just a small part of the struggle. Pressure sores, fatigue, sore muscles, obstacles everywhere…problems piled on top of problems.
My human flesh cried out:
God, I’m not you’re girl for this. I’m not strong enough, not brave enough…you picked the wrong person. God, why? Why can’t you just heal him, make him all better? You’re the God of miracles. You can set his feet a-dancing again, so why don’t you? Please God, I’m begging you—I love this man, but I can’t do this alone. I don’t understand. This. Is. Hard.
Reality overwhelmed me at times but I was learning some of my most important lessons through this man I had fallen in love with—that you can still have joy, you can still live alive, you can still praise God even when, especially when, life hits hard.
It’s in our weakness that God’s strength shines mightily. Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to take away the “thorn in the flesh” but the Lord responded:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. -2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
And Paul went onto to say:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insult, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)
Boast about weakness? Grace and weakness mixed in the same string of words? How can that be?
In a world that praises “feeling good” this makes no sense. But Jesus didn’t come to make us feel good temporarily. He came to save us and set us free and to satisfy us eternally—to give us abundant life which can be ours because of the suffering Jesus endured.
Suffering? Because He suffered for our sins, we can live—eternally? What kind of a God writes the story that way?
It’s in our pain and sorrow and deep suffering and weakness where God’s Grace and Love have the power to shine brightly and breathe life into the dead spaces.
Isn’t that the story of the Cross?
When pain hits we go about trying to figure out how we’re going to fix it—how we’re going to make the ache go away. But what if we just sat there, right in the midst of our messy pain—breathing in the Savior who wears scars that offer hope?
That’s what this man I had fallen in love with had learned to do. He could have raised his fist and been angry at God—but instead, in the following months and years proceeding his injury in the wee hours of the night when he couldn’t sleep, he opened up his Bible and soaked in God’s Word. He chose God. He praised God in the storm.
Sometimes praising God is soaking our pillow wet with tears as we pour out our hearts to God, believing that He hears us. Sometimes it’s getting down on our knees with our faces to the ground, trusting that He will make good of the mess. Sometimes it’s proclaiming His Promises even when it feels like everything is falling apart.
It’s choosing Him, calling on Him, receiving Him—and as we do, He fills us with a peace that passes absolutely all understanding.
We really don’t know what it means to praise God at all times until we’ve learned to praise Him in the storm—to praise Him in the place that seems crazy to praise Him. To praise Him when it seems like we shouldn’t be.
In a culture that praises materialism, fame, and pleasure …we’ve grown confused thinking that praise is all about warm-fuzzy moments. It’s easy to take the good but what about giving when it hurts? We get offended by phrases like, God is good all time, because if we’re honest—we selfishly don’t want there to be a cost to our faith.
It’s not about praising our ever changing circumstances. It’s about praising HIM, the unchanging God. The God Who is faithful, loving, gracious, kind, passionate, purely good, mighty, generous, victorious—the God Who will one day set everything right, Who will wipe away every tear, Who tells us to be strong and courageous for He is with us, Who spoke this world into being, Who humbly sent His only Son down to earth to be nailed to a rugged Cross and suffer so that we can live forever with Him in Paradise…
This is amazingly Good News. We don’t have to have to cower in fear when the darkness of life strikes us down. We have a choice.
Choose God or choose defeat. Run to God or run away from Him.
That grin. That joy. That man who came up with a nickname for me for every letter of the alphabet—he knows the road of suffering. But hope lives inside of him because Jesus lives inside of him and no amount of struggle can steal that away from him. He chose God and He continues to choose God.
Yes, sometimes the struggles weigh so heavy that I can barely breathe. But I too choose God. I am daily dependent on Him to help me through what I’m not strong enough to face on my own. God holds me close, He holds us close, reminding us that He is fighting for us and that His power is made known in our weakness.
He causes beauty to rise from ashes because His Grace is powerful enough to breathe life into our brokenness.
I’ve seen it over the years…my husband rolling into a room and blessing other people. They see his grin, the same grin I fell in love with over a decade ago. They wonder how someone who clearly knows deep struggle can be so alive—just like I wondered all those years ago.
The secret to being content in any and every situation doesn’t depend on our life events. The same Paul who lived with a “thorn” discovered the secret:
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:13 (NLT)
So yes, right there at the foot of the Cross where suffering and love collide, where the Light outshines the darkness, where pain intersects with passion, where grace meets hope…
We can praise God—the Great I Am Who is able to do infinitely more than we might ask or think. And the darkness trembles because it knows the end of the story—it doesn’t win. God does.
As I sat on my floor in the summer of 2003, praying for a man I didn’t know—I had no idea that one day that man would become my husband, the father of my son, the financial provider of our family, and one of my greatest teachers.