Down but not out.
In 2002 in the prime of my life, or so it seems looking back, at 41 years of age, I was as strong as a mule, had a good job, three kids, way too many pets, and a wife at home depending on me to provide, I was in the middle of helping start a brand new church with huge potential while still taking night classes to become qualified to be a preacher with Foursquare, when in an instant the accident happened that would set the stage for all of that to start to come undone. I fell 17 feet off a ladder while working as a foreman on a big concrete Job for the City of Billings Water Dept.
It would take a year or so but finally the pain in my back became so bad that I couldn’t drag myself into work anymore. I remember sitting in a chair by the back door of our house one morning, struggling to bend over and pull my work boots on, telling Donna; “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” The pain was literally unbearable and just saying those words out loud to my wife was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I had to work, that’s what I do, that’s who I am, everyone and everything depended on it.
About that time my Chiropractor ordered an MRI, something my workers comp doctors deemed unnecessary, “It’s just deep tissue bruising, do more stretches.” The MRI revealed that I had two herniated discs, if not more, in my lower back that were pressing against the nerves going into my legs.
My hope in my own ability to provide with my hands for my family was gone. That diagnosis almost seemed like a death sentence to me, I remember beating on my dash board and yelling at God; “Now what am I going to do?” as I drove away from the doctor’s office.
I had no idea what I was going to do now, how we were going to get through this. After several months of missing work and surviving on workers compensation payments I finally had a very painful surgery which got me by for two more years during which time we went through a bankruptcy, the missed work being the final nail in our coffin of debt accumulated by desperately trying to raise a family on one income so Donna could be home with the kids, and by a years long drought that drove our little ranching operation into the dusty ground.
Then, two years after the first surgery, I was as bad or worse than I was before. So I went in for a second surgery, this time they just took out those discs altogether and fused my lower back together. This caused me to miss several more months of work. You know what though? The Lord always took care of us, money and groceries would just come from unexpected places when we needed it the most.
We never went hungry and the landlord of the house we were renting after having sold the house on the ranch to try to avert bankruptcy was very patient with us as we struggled to pay the rent. And the ministry the Lord had given me at Hope Center was very fruitful.
The hard part for me, the trial that challenged and threatened to destroy me was the feeling of worthlessness. Not being able to work to earn a paycheck for my family, to not be able to work on the house, to take my family camping, to help with the chores or much of anything for a while, was just killing me inside. I was wired to work, I was wired to provide, a man is supposed to take care of his family and I was now dependent on the state for a meager allowance and struggling to not get too dependent on the pain killers that often made me someone I didn’t want to be.
Stand by me
In this time a word from my wife could have destroyed me, my self-respect was hanging by a thread and respect—if you’ll remember what I have told you in the past—is the food that feeds the soul of a man. But, my wife never belittled me, she never made me feel like any of our hardships were my fault and that I was anything less than loved and respected by her—and my girls. She fulfilled her vow to be there for me in sickness and in health, good times and bad, richer and poorer, even though all the negative parts of that equation were hitting us at once.
But, then that was never an issue I really worried about, we had vowed even before we married that divorce would never be an option.
That commitment and support, along with my faith in the Lord, gave me hope, was a spark of peace and joy that got me through and even allowed us to find happiness in that troubled time, to be husband and wife, friends and lovers, to be our kids parents, and servants to our church family. Hope is knowing that someone is always there for you, no matter what. That goes for, especially goes for, our Lord, the one who gave his all for us even when we deserved it least.
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 5:1—8
I had hope, in part because my wife stuck by me, supported me and has proven time and again that she will, good times and in bad…I know someone is always in my corner, I have a faith in that, and that gives me hope. Hope is a promise that will not be broken.
Our greatest hope comes from the knowledge that our God will not let us down, that he will never abandon us, will never stop loving us. He proved that by dying for us before we even knew him, while we were still sinners with no thought toward God whatsoever.
I want to leave you with three things to ponder:
What do you hope in? Whom do you hope in? Who are you giving hope too?