Why? Why did this happen? Why, when riding my bicycle on a warm day in May in 2010, did I injure myself? Why am I paralyzed from the shoulders down?
Why? This is a question which I have consciously refused to ask myself. I don’t think about it for at least two reasons. First, I know that that the immediate reason is unsatisfying.
I resist referring to that event is an “accident.” I know this is the popular term which most people refer to it. It was an unfortunate mishap. But I recall the details well. I was riding on a country road in upstate New York at a rate of about 20 mph and approaching an intersection where I customarily made a left turn and remained on the left side of the road facing traffic for a short distance before making another left on a less traveled road. This had always been the safest way of negotiating the traffic pattern.
Just as I was about to shift lanes, I heard a screeching, presumably from tires from a vehicle approaching from the rear. I chose to move from the right side of the road to the left to avoid injury. I steered the bicycle toward the opposite side and turned my head to look for approaching traffic. While my head was turned, I apparently did not correct my trajectory. This resulted in my bicycle’s front wheel going beyond the pavement and on to a very soft spot on the shoulder of the road. I attempted to correct the error, but it was too late. The front wheel sunk in and stopped while the back wheel maintained a rate of 20 miles an hour. Not a good combination… I held onto the bicycle handlebars as I went head over heels, still clinging to the bicycle. Landing head first in a deep ditch, I was now seriously injured.
My purpose in providing these details is to demonstrate that my actions were intentional and calculated. So, referring to this event as an accident seems a bit of a stretch. As far as I can determine, my injury was a result of deliberate actions made exercising good judgment.
The second and much better reason for resisting the use of the term “accident” is rooted in my belief in the providence of God. Simply put, God’s Providence is his ultimate control over all his creatures and all their actions. People sometimes misunderstand this and use phrases like “everything’s okay” or “it will all work out”, or “everything will turn out for the good.”
These phrases are illusions to the Bible verse: Romans 8.28 reads: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)
Much could be written about this chapter, and even this verse but just noticed a couple things.
- This verse speaks of those who love God and who are called according to God’s purpose.
- All things are working together for good according to God’s purpose. This purpose is further explained in verses 29 – 30 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29–30, ESV)
As I said, much discussion could come out of this passage. My current point is that God is at work in all things, accomplishing his purpose for his people – those who love him. Personally, I know that my love is imperfect but nevertheless I do love God. Better yet I’m loved by God. This fact helps me to really know and appreciate that God is at work in each of the events of my life for good! Even things like serious injuries work out for good – my good!
By the way, there’s a third reason I don’t ask “Why?”. It’s because this question quickly morphs into self-pity. “Why did this happen to me?” I’m so self-centered that if I allow myself to focus on myself and my issues, I become completely self-absorbed. It’s always good to resist selfishness.
I was reminded of these principles because of a similar incident involving a friend and brother. On January 26, a fellow pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, Rev. Mark Rowden, was seriously injured. Mark shared with two visiting pastors that on his morning bike ride he was coming up on a truck with a trailer and tried to pass it and sped up. Sadly, the trailer hit him and he had to have surgery on C-1 and C-2 vertebrates. Following initial encouragements Mark was suddenly called home to glory on January 31, 2017.
Our stories have many parallels. Both of us had grown up in Christian homes, married Christian ladies, had children. We had both gone to Covenant seminary and became pastors in the PCA. Each of us had been both church planters and pastors. We had mutual friends and had met a few times since our initial meeting in Georgia when his church hosted a PIR event. And we both enjoyed cycling. We both experienced very serious spinal cord injuries – his C-1; C–2 and mine C–3; C–4.
Now, the question why comes to me again. Why was Mark taken while I was left behind? Why was Mark called into God’s presence and not me? As I said above, there is no knowing in the short run. Any guess will likely be unsatisfying or wrong. I know that in the larger picture, God’s will is best. So, while I remain here I will continue to strive to honor God – even by writing blogs! These are my feeble attempts to encourage you and share what God is teaching me.
Living with quadriplegia has been a blessing because it provides me with an opportunity to practice what I have preached. It gives me opportunities to trust in the Lord. In doing so, I have a few favorite scriptures which always stimulate me to keep trusting.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, ESV)
This walk of faith is by trust and not sight. This calls from my complete commitment, self-control and deference to God. My faith is built up as I put this into practice. At the same time, my good Shepherd exercises my faith by giving me greater challenges. Many times, I must go back and relearn lessons. I’m very thankful I have a patient Shepherd who puts up with my stumbling efforts. Circumstances differ, but the challenge remains: Trust in the Lord with all your heart…
I recently reviewed these verses in Psalm 37 and noticed how instructive they are. They expand on how to trust the Lord. Notice the highlights.
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” (Psalm 37:3–8, ESV)
Trust, do good, dwell, delight, commit, trust, be still, wait, don’t fret, refrain from anger and wrath, don’t fret. These are all things I can practice.
These promises were not only for the paralyzed. They are for people – people like you. So, take God at his word. Trust him to forgive your sins as you rest in Jesus. Trust him to adopt you into his family. Trust him to never leave you or forsake you. Trust him.