Everyone loves a winner and everyone loves to be a winner
We want our favourite sports teams to win. We want our kids to win in school. We want to win at work and to be winsome in relationships. We want to win the bake-off and the Monopoly tournament. We hope to win the free weekend getaway, and we wouldn’t mind winning that new car. We all aspire to be associated with success.
What looks like winning to God doesn’t always look like winning to us.
However, one of the most vital truths about triumphant faith is that what looks like winning to God doesn’t always look like winning to us. Consider the events of Good Friday: Jesus was accused, abused, reviled, and then crucified. The Messiah’s lifeless body was placed into a tomb. His followers were left devastated by this tragic turn of events. By every human measure, this was failure.
But behind the scenes God was smiling. He knew that His Son had triumphed over sin and would soon triumph over the grave. He knew that these events would lead to the ultimate success: righteousness for everyone who chooses to accept the gift of salvation that His Son’s death made available.
The difficulties of life may convince us that we’re losing when, in God’s eyes, we’ve already won.
In much the same way, the difficulties of life may convince us that we’re losing when, in God’s eyes, we’ve already won. He knows the ending of each story, and He knows that suffering leads to perseverance, which leads to character, which leads to hope (Romans 5:3-4). Just keep in mind that hope and faith are intertwined, like a plate of tangled spaghetti. Together, they feed our souls and strengthen us for whatever life sends our way.
I received first-hand some personal coaching in what it means to push through the pain and emerge stronger for it.
In the early summer of 2005, Frank and I traveled to a warm beach for what was supposed to be a romantic weekend to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. Though the trip had been planned for months, by the time we landed on Friday afternoon, it was apparent that we would spend the next few days with my dad, who was in hospice care. His left leg had been amputated, he was on kidney dialysis, and he was losing his battle with diabetes. Then there was yet another visit to another hospital on Sunday night to see my dear Aunt Ida, soon to be ninety years old.
On Monday morning I woke up and declared to Frank that we would redeem the time and have a sweet afternoon before flying home to the kids. I convinced him to rent a little motorboat and drive along the Intercoastal waterway for some lunch. One hour into the pleasant ride, a loud and long boat came speeding toward us and created a high wave that crashed under our little seventeen-foot pleasure craft. In a seated position with my legs stretched out, I went up two feet and came down with a force that broke my back in two places. My L-5 disc was shattered and my L-1 was fractured. (Captain Frank was unscathed.)
By Monday at noon, after a dramatic EMT and fire truck rescue, I found myself stretched out in yet another hospital on a morphine drip. I was sporting a white gown with blue dots just like Dad and Aunt Ida had worn.
Why me, Lord?
In my pain-filled condition, I remember asking a few questions. “Why me, Lord? Don’t you love me? Don’t you see me? Couldn’t you have calmed that wave? Couldn’t you have raptured me before my bottom hit bottom? I have been so busy serving you and now I have the summer completely off from speaking and writing and I was going to spend quality time with my kids and my husband, but now I’m in a full body brace! Why, why, why? I think I’m gonna die!”
I convinced Frank to fly home that night to be with the kids. The minutes and hours passed in slow motion. Two days later, I felt an overwhelming urge to get out of there and return to the DC area. Maybe it was the weatherman announcing that hurricane season would begin the next day. Maybe it was the torrential rain and wind outside my hospital room window. Or maybe it was the minute-long “brown out”—but it seemed like time to say buh-bye. Kicking into New York mode, I sat up in bed, “gently” demanded a torso brace, asked for an administrator, called United Airlines, requested a wheelchair to get to the front curb, hailed a taxi, and was on my way.
Upon arrival at the airport, I was placed back in a wheelchair, rolled down the jet way, and helped onto the four o’clock flight. I took just a few baby steps and lowered myself into aisle seat 1C. The flight was full (aren’t they all?) and I was grateful to have a seat. I remember uttering an anxious prayer, asking the Lord to extend the positive effects of the pain medication. As I turned my head a bit to the left, I noticed a beautiful but seemingly tired woman in 1A, gazing out her window.
I then took note of her severely disabled teenaged son in 1B. Because of an uncontrollable drooling condition, a small towel had been fashioned into a bib and placed around his neck. I promptly looked away, feeling vulnerable that the boy’s spastic flailing might reach in my direction. After take-off, my spirit settled and I looked back at that mom who was still gazing out the small window. Now I am not one who has heard God speak audibly, but He often makes uniquely deep impressions on my heart and in my thoughts. I “heard” Him quite clearly.
Ellie, this woman is looking into the sky for a brief respite. On most days, her son is all she sees. For the next two hours, you will look at and interact with her son. I will not heal this boy until heaven, but your spine will be healed here on earth. Be very careful about how you define suffering. My ways are not yours. I am the Lord.
I took a deep breath, thanked the Lord for His comfort, and promised Him (and myself) that I would make every effort to avoid a “Why me?” mentality about life. As many courageous people have said about their illnesses and tragedies, “Why not me?”
The time I spent with that young boy on the flight home often came to mind in the days, weeks, and months following my accident, particularly when I had trouble making sense of my pain and the drastic impact on my mobility and, hence, my life. I remained in a body brace for four months, used a walker and a cane, and endured extensive physical therapy for many more weeks. Thankfully, I was able to avoid surgery and any permanent paralysis.
Fast-forward almost 10 years, and I am grateful to report that I have shown marked improvement. In addition I can readily offer several ways I was “blessed” by the accident, though I’ll mention only a few.
(1) First of all, I am now literally drawn to people in wheelchairs, special braces, and walkers, and as a result I’ve met many incredible people. I go out of my way to greet these special ones and ask how they are doing. I’ve learned that people struggling in public settings appreciate not only a helping hand but also a warm greeting. Because I heard some pretty strange remarks and received many stares while wearing that brace, I am much quicker to remember that a physical disability does not equal a mental disability.
Two weeks after the accident, on the way home from my dad’s funeral, I was in LaGuardia Airport in full regalia: body brace, wheelchair, and cane. Though I was in his view and earshot, the gate agent spoke to Frank about me as if I were brain dead. I wanted to kick him (my legs worked fine), but I thought it would be a poor witness for the Kingdom—and for my three teenagers, who were very intentionally staying ten feet behind me.
(2) Another huge blessing came from “the blondes.” For all my griping about the unfriendly and formal tone of so many I’ve encountered in northern Virginia, we were blessed to receive wonderful dinners every night for three months. But I must admit it hurt my feelings a bit when my son Jordan gleefully exclaimed one night at the table, “Mom, you should have broken your back a lot sooner. These meals are great!” Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord—or your kids will do it for you.
(3) The greatest blessing is that my faith grew deeper as I watched God slowly but surely heal my body, but I would like to think that I would still be growing in faith and praising God had my story ended differently.
I thought a great deal about two women whose accidents left them as quadriplegics.
During those often sleepless nights lying in that body brace, I thought a great deal about two women whose accidents left them as quadriplegics. Joni Eareckson Tada and Renée Bondi are two mighty heroines of mine. Joni hit her head diving into a lake, and Renee hit her head falling out of bed during a bad dream. Joni’s faith could have taken a fatal dive, and Renée’s fall could have been just the beginning of a lifelong nightmare.
However, these two women defied all odds, and both have found purpose, meaning, and deep joy in the midst of their ongoing trials. I have heard Joni say that when she gets to heaven, she will stand up, grab her wheelchair from behind, swing it around with her right arm, hand it over to God, and say “Thanks, Lord—I needed that.” I have listened intently as Renée described a conversation with God in which she, too, felt compelled to thank Him for her wheelchair. That is the faith that lifts our eyes toward heaven. That is the faith that triumphs over circumstances.
You may be unable to see blessings in the midst of your trouble.
You may have been through much deeper pain than mine and your “why’s” may seem to be more valid. You may be unable to see blessings in the midst of your trouble. But let’s remember that not everything is clear in this sometimes dim and dark world. As the apostle Paul reminds us, assessing life on planet Earth is like staring into a flea market mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12). The mirror is in decent condition, but the silver is chipping at the edges and the cloudy glass offers a darkened, hazy reflection. One day, however, we will see clearly and we’ll understand all things.
The mystery of faith is that we are not able to achieve that full understanding while on earth, but we can know without a doubt that God “makes all things beautiful in His time.”
Oh Lord, bless us abundantly with the sweet fruit of perseverance!