For me personally, one of the saddest stories in the Bible is found in three of the four Gospels, but my favorite version is in Mark 10:17-27. This is the story of a young man, who is so moved by Jesus’ teachings that he runs up to Jesus and asks him: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus responds:
“You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
I grieve for that man and for what he missed out on. He was in the presence of the Son of God and he was excited and wanted to learn more. He was even invited to travel with and be taught by Jesus—but, because he was asked to give up the life he knew; because of physical wealth, he turned down Jesus’ invitation and walked away. This man made the biggest mistake of his life and it was because he was afraid of a future that was uncertain to him and different from the path he’d planned. He missed out on getting to know Jesus personally and may have missed out on heaven because of his fear of altering the course he was already on.
When Renée’s neck was broken and she became quadriplegic, I had a tough choice to make. Should I stay with Renée and care for someone confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life? Or should I leave Renée and “start over” and have a “normal” life. Choosing to embrace uncertainty was tough. Prayer gave me peace, and although I never heard a voice telling me to take this path, I got a sense of calm when I asked God if I should stay with Renée. I asked, “We’re now on this roller coaster together, do I stay on the ride or jump off?” My next thought was quiet and sure. “We will see this through together.” Today, I know that sense of peace was the Holy Spirit.
We were married in 1989 and fools that we are, we opted to go to Mexico for our Honeymoon. Well, just for the record, curb-cuts and accessibility is not as big a priority in Mexico as it is in the United States. We had a good time, but we came home THANKFUL that we live in a country that embraced accessibility.
A little bit of denial can be healthy. A short time after we were married, Renée and I were invited to visit friends in Phoenix. We hadn’t flown on an airplane since Renée’s accident; but hey, we weren’t going to let something like the fact that Renée was quadriplegic get in our way. I booked the flight, rented a convertible Chrysler Le Baron and off we went. Now, mind you, it wasn’t without some challenges. We figured out the flight OK with the assistance of some helpful flight attendants; and the wheelchair arrived in Phoenix, too. But lifting Renée’s fanny from her wheelchair and placing her in the passenger seat of the rental car was not the easiest maneuver; and then lifting her empty electric wheelchair and placing it in the backseat of that same rental car wasn’t the smoothest move either. But, I need to tell you that driving through the warm Arizona desert with the convertible top down and Renée laughing from the front passenger seat was a memory I’ll never forget. Traveling can be scary and sometimes fear of the unknown prevents us from trying new things. My advice: Go for it. Life is too short to live in a bubble.
In 1992, Renée was invited to sing and be interviewed by the pastor of a local church for their Sunday services. What occurred that day was miraculous. Renée told of the pain and loss she suffered from her paralysis, but she also shared her deep trust and faith in our Lord and she encouraged others to TRUST GOD. The congregation was touched and word spread. Five years later, Renée and I were traveling all over the country encouraging young and old to persevere in their faith. What a joy and how fulfilling to be able to use our pain to minister to others. And how awesome to give honor to our Lord for His active presence in our lives. We’ve met some incredible people in our travels. And a wonderful aspect of the ministry, is that I’m able to travel with Renée to most events because a majority of conferences and concerts take place on weekends…and my job as an Human Resources Director takes place Monday through Friday…so we get to share the ministry experiences together on most weekends. The blessing of sharing in this ministry as a family, meeting the people and hearing their stories is priceless.
In 1995, eleven days before our son was born, Renée’s sister, Michelle, had a horrible accident and broke her back…which has left her also confined to a wheelchair. The day Renée gave birth to Daniel was filled with tears and concern for Michelle who was still in ICU from her extensive injuries. I remember wondering if we’d ever feel joy again as a family…even though this was the day that the Lord would give us our only child, Daniel. As a man, I wanted to fix things, but once again, Michelle’s injury was something that I couldn’t fix and a dark cloud hovered over Renée, myself and the delivery. Within moments of when Daniel was born, as if on command, the beloved pastor of our church walked into the delivery room and asked in his deep, recognizable voice, “…Is there a baby in the room?” My heart was filled with joy at how God had orchestrated that moment to have our pastor arrive at the hospital at that perfect time. Our grief for Michelle was interrupted, our son was born healthy and God revealed to us that light would erase the darkness, as it always does.
Being a dad has given me tremendous joy. Seeing our son grow in both age and wisdom has been deeply rewarding. As I look back, I am so grateful for the years of being able to drive Daniel to school each morning and having our early morning conversations. And I wouldn’t trade the Boy Scout Campouts and other adventures we’ve shared for anything in the world. Earlier this year, Daniel graduated from high school and earned his Eagle Scout Rank. I could not be more proud of our son for his perseverance and the sacrifice it took for him to earn this achievement. Daniel is an avid singer and guitar player (both gifts he inherited from his mom). He tolerates backpacking with his dad and he loves snowboarding, reading and, yes, video games.
Last month, on May 16th which was the 25th anniversary of our injury, Renée and I drove out to Escondido and camped at DixonLake. The evening we arrived, we shut everything off around us…and just the two of us sat and reminisced on the last 25 years. We made a list of the blessings that we’ve experienced. Wow! If you’re ever feeling down or melancholy, take the time to think about all the things you are thankful for…and your attitude will change immediately. Get off the negative and focus on the positive and everything brightens.
Two hours later, we had a list of almost 100 experiences and memories that we had shared together and we both considered them blessings from our heavenly Father.
Surviving 25 years of paralysis and still loving AND even liking each other was at the top of the list of blessings.
Being able to travel and minister at churches, youth groups, prisons, conferences…and being able to point people to our Lord has brought great purpose to our pain. God never wastes our tears.
Time is precious. Don’t waste it. If I’d had known that I’d be dancing my last dance with Renée the night before her accident, I would have been on that dance floor for every song. The lesson I’ve learned? Live life to the fullest and don’t sit on the sidelines. Dance when the music is playing; and when suffering occurs, put your trust in the Lord.
So back to the story of the rich man in the gospel of Mark…I would like to think that one day he turned around and said yes to following Jesus. He may have, I don’t know. But what I do know is that blessings abound. Miracles happen. God is with us. Try not to fear change. Oftentimes, change brings blessings.
I’ve learned to give thanks for little things. Sometimes we can allow the darkness of a difficult situation to taint us and put us into a state of mind that paralyzes us and prevents us from experiencing joy. And this is not of God. Taking time to notice a beautiful sunset or the smell of an ocean breeze are gifts that we are meant to enjoy and appreciate. God gives us these gifs every day and we can make a conscious choice to acknowledge and appreciate them or to ignore them. I liken this to how we would respond if a close friend wrapped up a gift for us and gave it to us. Would we ever ignore it or even fail to acknowledge such a gift? Of course not. The same is true of the grace that our Lord has given us; and it’s up to us to acknowledge, accept and appreciate His gifts. Even when ill winds are blowing, there are positive things that can be acknowledged.
As we move forward with the next 25 years, Renée and I are going to focus on spending more time with our Lord. We’re going to take more spontaneous trips to the beach. Schedule time to visit with the friends we see too infrequently. We’re going to take walks together with our new Labrador puppy, Shasta; and we’re going to start that bible study in our home so we can continue to grow in our relationship with our Lord. God is always with us; we just need to open our eyes to recognize how faithful He is and how much He loves us. He invites us to follow Him and when we do, we open ourselves up to amazing opportunities. It’s been an incredible and fulfilling 25 years and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what the Lord does with us in the years to come.
Thanks for being part of our life,