In the last three years since an accident mangled my legs, and in the last five months since half my leg was removed, people have told me that I am an inspiration. Each time I hear that, different feelings well up. Sometimes I feel inspiration myself. I am humbled. Sometimes I feel confused. I wonder in what way people are inspired. Does it mean they will change something?
Sometimes when I’m told I’m an inspiration, I feel guilty. This is because I feel fraudulent. My family has seen how sensitive I can be. They see how my moods swing increasingly as time goes by. My wife, Kathy, as seen me crumble and cry. When I think of this, along with the number of times I’ve fallen while trying to learn to walk again, an inspiration is the last thing I could be to anyone. Or is it?
I’ve never tried to inspire someone – it just happens, I think. But let’s try this once. Meet me where I am right now – in one of my very low places. Let’s talk to our souls together and ask “why, my soul, are you downcast?” Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5).
Then let your soul answer. My soul would answer “I am downcast because my body always has pain and it doesn’t work the way it used to. It’s being fed drugs that don’t help the mood. I am stressed over a very long, gruelling legal process. I’m so tired. I feel useless.”
(You fill in the blank here – what would your soul say? __________________________________________)
Then let’s comfort our souls together and say, “Put your hope in God, for I will praise him, my Saviour and my God (Psalm 42:5).
Then let’s focus on our very real, eternal future: “My soul, I ‘…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”’ (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
“And, soul, even if my circumstances were far worse, I could still say the same: that they are light and momentary afflictions or troubles. The glory I’ll share with Christ forever in person will outweigh them all by far!”
Now read Psalm 42 and 43 until your soul agrees that he or she thirsts for the fountain of living water — God, my joy and my delight.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
Bespoke. It is a funny word. It’s one that Americans don’t use much, at least when I last lived there 16 years ago. The Oxford dictionary says it is a British word. It simply means something is “tailor-made” or made for a specific customer. It’s a good word and very handy to use. Let’s use it to set the stage as I recount a story from the last time I was in the hospital (15th to the 25th of March 2020).
I was moved from the hospital’s A&E (accident and emergency) to the very familiar orthopaedic ward. This time was because I’d developed two types of infection in my failed leg – the leg that has been under reconstruction for the last two and a half years. During this hospitalization, I was prepped for amputation. It even had the ominous black arrow drawn on it. I said goodbye. Then the amputation was cancelled due to the corona virus pandemic. But meanwhile, over those ten days, I stayed on intravenous antibiotics.
My bedroom for those days was a bay with seven beds. I was in the middle on the left. Four beds were across from me, each adorned with colourfully lit, beeping machines, wires and tubes. In fact, those beds were, in a manner of speaking, bespoke: set up specifically for each customer of the bay. There were no walls between our seven beds until someone came and enclosed a bed with the blue curtains hanging from the walls. The room was painted light green and to my left I could look out the window and see the countryside. It is one of the best views in the hospital overlooking some of the biggest hills Cambridgeshire has to offer. If you know Cambridgeshire, then you know that’s not saying much.
My roommates were older than me, except one. The men across from me (from left to right) were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (I use these names just for the sake of remembering who I’m talking about). Peter was to my left, and Paul to my right. It was an orthopaedic ward, so we all had issues with bones. To some, that is stating the obvious, but if you’ve never spent time in the hospital, it may not seem relevant. Let me just say there was a lot of pain in that room. The pain was compounded by other issues which made for restless nights.
Every night Luke would say, “Dorothy? Is that you? Where are you, Dorothy?” This might begin at about 2 or 3am and continue for the next few hours. Luke was a gentleman and very a good husband. “Dorothy, did you make that noise? Are you OK?”
Mark would stir at Luke’s words and say, “pardon? What did you say?”
“I’m sorry?” Luke would answer.
A nurse, aware that Peter and I were trying to sleep, desperately and pleadingly tried to settle Luke down. “Dorothy is at hooooome, Luke. You’ve had a faaaaall. You’re in the hoooospital.” It was a very repetitious singsong. It was a truth he could accept for a moment, but he’d soon forget.
John would wake up and be very angry about something or other. Just when things began to settle down, Matthew would determine in himself to try to get out of bed and go home. He was going to walk if he had to. He was not physically capable, but he didn’t seem to care. Was he bluffing? Paul, to my right, had undergone surgery and during the night, under the influence of anaesthetics, became a very different person. He began his socializing with the staff at about 3am.
Yes, pain, confusion and distress were three words that describe the feelings observed in my roommates. Peter was a bit younger than me. He had diabetes and he also had such bad neuropathy that he couldn’t feel his legs enough to walk. He had fallen out of bed and broken a leg (hence his stay with us). He was cheery, but I couldn’t help but be concerned for his wellbeing. This made me stop and think.
I was very unhappy about my situation. My leg decided to pack it in right when the medical professionals were ramping up for the war with COVID19. I was fed up with the 33-month long battle of trying to walk. But what about Peter? He had a broken leg too, and it had problems with infection. Not only that, but he couldn’t walk even before the break. He also had a chronic illness that would threaten his lower limbs and organs. He was destined to suffer poor health and be wheelchair bound for life. My guilt was appropriate. I wasn’t suffering as much as he was.
So, I looked around the room at the others. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Paul. No, I really wouldn’t want to trade places with any of them, with their various breaks and other ailments that coincided. Though I was crippled for life, I otherwise had good health in mind and body.
One early morning, during the dawn chorus, I had forgotten this new perspective and began to crack. My roommates were very active most of the night, like all the other nights, and I couldn’t sleep. I had been sleep-deprived for several consecutive nights and I lost most of my ability to cope. Not only was the talking, yelling and arguing disrupting my sleep, it was a very negative feeling that I can’t quite describe. So, I picked up my crutches and hobbled out of the bay and limped down the hall and left the ward. It was about 4am. I found a staff meeting room and curled up on a little sofa – a two-seater. Since my leg doesn’t bend, that didn’t work so well.
A fantastic, caring health care assistant found me and escorted me to a new room with only two other men. I’ll call them James and Jude. James had two broken legs with Taylor Spatial Frames on them and little prospect for complete recovery. He had many breaks and infections. Jude was another diabetic who had a break in his lower leg and I have become familiar enough with the world of orthopaedics to know his recovery was not straight forward. He, too, was facing amputation. James was discharged and replaced by Timothy.
Now, Timothy…finally someone who had less of a problem than I did. He had an injured knee and would probably have a knee replacement. There were no underlying health problems and I suspected he would recover nicely. He would not qualify for a blue badge. That’s when the penny dropped. I asked myself if I’d rather trade places with him. Eight other men were obviously worse off than me, at least to my mind. But here was a young man who should fare much better I will. So now would I trade places? No, I would not.
I was thankful for this object lesson because it showed me that, despite my difficulties, I love my life. I am blessed. My suffering – my trial – is mine and mine alone. It is designed just for me. It is my cross to bear and no one else can carry it. Our crosses are uniquely made for just the right test of obedience. Would I endure it in obedience or grumble and dishonour God? Will I let it do its work to conform me to the image of Christ or fight against it? Luke’s cross is made for Luke, and Peter’s is made for Peter. But I have my own bespoke cross, which I carry because God saw fit that I do so, just as he did for you as well. What shape is your cross? Do you carry it or try to leave it behind? Do you try to trade it for someone else’s? I encourage you to carry it. It will produce perseverance, character, hope and maturity (Romans 5:3-4, James 1:4). Glory to God.
My mind is very cluttered so concentration is difficult. In the midst of the pandemic crisis, I have developed osteomyelitis. This comes from old wounds from the motorcycle accident. The medical community has decided amputation should be hastened to avoid risking problems down the road. I did this video, instead of writing. I usually prefer to write, but hopefully this will do for now. I pray you are blessed by the message.
“Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction, I always look about for the wine.”
The abyss is calling. It is calling everyone with nothing. It offers nothing, takes nothing and gives nothing. Who will answer its call? Normally the answer is nobody, but when people are in pain, then nothing can appear to be a better option. This is when the abyss really re-states it’s call: “I offer nothing, take nothing and give nothing.”
It’s at this point when the call can be tempting. Pain or nothing? The problem is, the more you move into the abyss the more it calls you in. “I offer nothing, take nothing and give nothing.”
If you answer it’s call the problem is that one day you will look around and there will be nothing! You can shout, rant and rave at the abyss and it will take it all and then then still not care because all it will offer, take and give is nothing.
It will just try to draw you in all the more.
To choose life may mean to choose pain, but it is the better option. It may be the hard option but it leads to life. When you hear the abyss calling it is better to turn your back to it and choose life instead, even if it means dealing with pain and hurt. It can be the hard choice to make but it is the better choice to make.
For us as Christians, choosing life can very much so be turning to God. Choosing life can also mean not doing what you feel you want to do. We may need to take it one step at a time, but one small step in the right direction is one small step back to life. They may not be easy steps to take but they are steps that lead back to life.
Rather than allowing ourselves to be drawn into nothing it is better to try and choose life. As always some things are easier said than done. Part of the journey is to be aware that we have a choice. Then we need to endeavour to make the right choices.
This article was written by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous (for now). I am honoured to publish his thoughts for him.
Every broken bone would then become a mouth with which to bless God! — Charles Spurgeon
Broken bones hurt. When it’s a big bone, like the femur (thigh bone), the pain is among the worst a body can endure. The pain is as deep as the broken thing itself and there’s no relief to be had until the wonders of modern medication kick in. When David wrote Psalm 51 he painted just such a picture of his heart’s grief and pain over his fall. If you’re not familiar with the Psalm, it is one of King David’s Psalms known as the penitential Psalms. They are aptly named as he wrote them from the depths of despair over his own departure from God’s Way. He was the King of Israel, the boy who had slain the giant with a sling and stone because he dared to defy the God of Israel. He was called a man after God’s own heart by God himself (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). He was first in the line of kings that would eventually lead to the Messiah.
Yet he broke. His eyes betrayed him and he coveted another man’s wife. Then he took her. Then he plotted her husband’s death through military action to cover up his indiscretions when he learned Bathsheba was pregnant. The prophet Nathan confronted David with the truth and he was devastated. It seems almost like the shock of the charge woke him up from some sort of heart-hardened spell. When I think of the reality of that discussion between the prophet and king, my heart breaks for David because his story is close to home for me and countless other Christians who have dethroned God and replaced him with another.
More than once in my life have I leaned on David’s writings and mulled over the words “against you and you only have I sinned” or “restore to me the joy of my salvation.” But the last time I drank in the words of this Psalm, I had a very real object lesson to go with it. I had fallen hard and rejected God, becoming virtually faithless and wondered about the truth of Heaven and eternity. It seems we don’t use the term “backslidden” much anymore in Christian circles, but Charles H. Spurgeon used the term several times during his sermon on the 21st of March, 1869. More than six thousand words were spent that day on Psalm 51:8: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have broken rejoice” and no words were wasted. You can read it at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons15.xiv.html#xiv-p0.1A
Yes, I was officially backslidden and though the period of time was only about 2 years, it turned out to be very destructive and very painful. In January of 2017 I began to realize that I was in desperate need of The Good Shepherd and I was one messed up sheep and the pastures were not really greener but a barren wasteland that made less sense than Alice’s Wonderland. Getting back on the Way was hard mostly because my heart wasn’t where my head knew it should be. But I began to walk in that direction, knowing that the crustiness of the heart would eventually chip away.
I was gaining ground and began to really understand that God was drawing me back. Over the months, I had survived church without any lightning bolts but never completely surrendered – that is until 3 July, 2017. That’s the day I met the future king in my underwear. In short, I was in a collision on the way into Cambridge (UK). My Harley Davidson crashed into the barrier, ripping my jeans off, throwing me in the air and breaking my legs to pieces somewhere along the way.
My left leg was ripped open because it folded the wrong way at the knee and the right one was ripped open in various places because the bones broke through and the soft tissue didn’t hold up so well. There are many details which are recorded elsewhere and I do hope they will become widely available because of all that’s to be learned from the ordeal. But for now, I’m focusing on those broken bones (one pinkie-finger (wait that’s not the masculine way to say that, is it?), three toes, one femur, one tibia, one fibula and one knee that’s not a knee anymore). I don’t remember the pain, meeting the thatchers who were the first people to come to my aid, Prince William, who co-piloted the air rescue helicopter to the scene, or the countless medical professionals who worked for hours to save my life and limbs. Still, I’ve seen many photos of the ordeal and still feel the pain from those broken bones. My legs are scarred, disfigured and deformed and I still can’t walk without crutches.
While my physical recovery began very slowly and still continues, somewhere in the horrifying ordeal, the Shepherd found his lost sheep and picked him up in his arms. I came out of my induced coma six days later and began a horrific nightmare the medical profession calls “delirium.” The details of that horrifying, altered state of mind are more vivid than the reality was for about two weeks. Still, though, parts of me – the rebellious heart, the stubborn head – were all fading away in the light of an inexplicable surrender and peace. It’s like I was being cleansed and restored and I found myself clinging to the feet of the Saviour.
These last two years have been very challenging as I strive toward normality, building my strength and re-learning how to walk. There have been dangerous infections, over a dozen operations, and over 100 X-rays (one doctor said he was surprised I wasn’t glowing). But that’s the nature of broken bones. They need intervention, tremendous care and a long time to heal, especially when broken through high-impact trauma. Spurgeon said in his sermon:
But if it should come to a broken arm, and leg, and rib—if in many places the poor human frame has become injured—how exceedingly careful must the surgeon be! Often the very treatment which may be useful to one member may be injurious to the other—disease in one limb may act upon another. The cure of the whole, where all the bones are broken, must be a miracle! If a mass of misery – a man full of broken bones – shall yet become healthy and strong, great credit must be given to the surgeon’s skill.
He explains that the broken bones in Psalm 51:8 are the deep, inconsolable pain of a backslider’s heart and conscience. I couldn’t say it any better myself. For sure, it was my heart that really needed help in July of 2017. The Great Physician (the one who moonlights as a Shepherd) did intervene. He did provide tremendous care, and he has guided me through much-needed healing. This Surgeon is a miracle-working, skilled Master of his trade and I’m forever grateful. The heart was healed because the bones were broken. My deformities, scars and pain serve as glorious reminders of all this. Some people say I’ve had life-changing injuries. Yes, that’s true. I have been changed. But it’s more accurate to say that I’ve had life-giving injuries.
I am moved by the charge to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12). Please remember that eternal life doesn’t start after death. It is now! Life is there for the taking. Jesus said “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:9-10). If eternal life were to be taken hold of, I now imagine it to be with my hands, arms and everything else I could wrap around it. It is life forever with the one, awesome, holy, loving God the Father. I cling to it and never want to let it go. God answered the prayer: my broken bones now rejoice.