I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14
The miracle of a baby’s birth is perhaps one of the most common everyday occurrences, yet it is still a miracle that we dare not take for granted. When our two eldest daughters, Sarah and Helen, were born in 1965 and 1967, the custom of the day was to banish husbands and fathers from the room. I’m not sure whether it was because they were considered too delicate to share in the drama or whether they just got in the way! So, I was unable to witness the miracle of their birth. Since then, however, I have been privileged to be present at the birth of our other three children and close by as our twelve grandchildren made their appearance. It is always an awe-inspiring moment to gaze upon a tiny baby and to acknowledge that such a perfectly formed little person is a testimony to the love and creativity of our heavenly Father – and the love of their parents! The suggestion that they are simply a cosmic accident without any over-arching design is beyond comprehension. Life is a miracle of God.
In recent days I have been confronted with the miracle of life from a very different perspective. Our son-in-law Thom, husband of Sarah for more than 36 years, was critically injured in a car wreck in October 23rd. At first, he thought that he had escaped without serious injury, but once the shock wore off it became apparent that he had a suffered a severe spinal column injury (C5 – fifth cervical vertebra). After a night of excruciating pain, his body’s nervous system shut down and he was left completely paralyzed. Two lengthy surgeries later, he found himself in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit of Penn State Hershey Medical Center, unable to move even a finger or a toe and breathing with the aid of a ventilator. His prognosis was very uncertain. The dedicated team of doctors flooded his spinal column with oxygen-rich blood and a variety of medications, and his family flooded their various networks with calls for prayer.
The next few days were an anxious time as we watched, waited, and prayed intensely. After the first two days it was determined that Thom was able to breathe on his own and, once he was able to speak, it became apparent that the person of Thom was very much with us even if his body was not yet operational. He insisted on knowing every possible detail about his condition and then began to take on the challenge of bringing his body back to life. His doctor explained that he needed to deliberately engage his brain in moving various parts of his body. This process takes place for most of us without any conscious effort, but now he has to restore his own neural pathways to make things move.
Sarah watched as Thom concentrated intently and slowly, then almost imperceptibly, movement began to be restored. He started with his upper body – with his shoulders and arms – and he began to be able to move them on command. At first his fingers were stiff and unresponsive, but then he began to be able to move them a little. This process was exhausting for Thom, and he had to take frequent rests, but movement was beginning to be restored, and along with this, his hope was also growing. The next project was his lower body. To everyone’s delight Thom was able to wiggle his toes and then slowly movement came to his feet, then the rotating muscles of the leg, then hamstrings, quads and he has just got hip flexors back yesterday. As I write this, it is now a week from his accident, and the miracles continue to unfold.
Thom is still in the ICU being monitored very closely, but his team of doctors are greatly encouraged and so are we, his family. One of the doctors, not specifically assigned to Thom, told Sarah that he likes to visit him each day because, as he put it, “We don’t get too many victories here.” And he always leaves encouraged. Thom is now able to move his legs and feet on command and is beginning on the process of being able to sit up. He has also started
to feed himself and do simple tasks like adjusting his own reading glasses. The prayers continue around the world, and Thom has told Sarah repeatedly that the realization that so many are praying for him is in itself an enormous encouragement. There is no timetable for his recovery, nor is there any prediction about what he will be able to achieve. We do know that God is at work in wonderful, miraculous ways, and we are grateful for both the medical team and the prayer team that support him in his journey forward.
We also recognize that we are part of a remarkable community of men and women, and their families, who have and are battling disability of various kinds. One of the more notable is Joni Eareckson Tada, who suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae as a result of a diving accident in July, 1967. She became a quadriplegic – paralyzed from the shoulders down. During her two years of rehabilitation she learned to paint with a brush between her teeth and she also learned to write this way. To date, she has written over 40 books, recorded several musical albums, and is an advocate for people with disabilities. She is very mindful of the need for what she describes as “gospel-adorned hope.” To learn more of her ministry, take a look at her website, www.joniandfriends.org.
We have no expectations for Thom of anything at all like Joni has lived through, but it is enormously encouraging to see how God can work in even the most devastating circumstances. It is also a reminder that the church has an obligation to not only make gracious provision for the people with disabilities and their families in our midst, but also take seriously the challenge to stay faithful in prayer. We can never know how our prayers are answered by almighty God, but we do know that faithfulness in intercessory prayer is an enormous encouragement to those in need. This in itself is a great blessing. The Apostle Paul says it well:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Your brother in Christ,