Fourteen years ago a one ton bale of hay rested on top of my head and neck, causing my breathing to became labored, and I wondered how long I could stay conscious. Twice a painful tingle crossed over my face, and I feared suffocation. I was rapidly losing the ability to take in oxygen. Twice I begged, “Please God, let me stay.”
Never before had I experienced so much pain. I began counting. “One. Two. Three. Four. Please God . . . “And then again. “One. Two. Three. Four. Please . . . ”
After 63 days in the hospital I was finally allowed to go home. Being home isn’t as grand as I imagined it would be while I was in rehab. I soon learn how confined my existence is.
For the first time in my life, I am bored. Excruciatingly, painfully bored. I lie on my bed for days wondering what to do with the rest of my life – no, the rest of my day – or maybe just the next minute. I watch television for hours. Judge Judy becomes my best friend.
One sunny afternoon, I sit moping in my wheelchair. Court is in recess until tomorrow. Judge Judy has abandoned me. Shondell loaded me in my chair earlier, and now I sit by the living room window, watching her play basketball with our two boys. My wife is teaching my son how to jump off the left foot and shoot with the right hand. That was supposed to be my job. They are laughing, shouting, and having a great time – without me.
I have two choices. I can continue to sit in the sun where it is comfortable and safe – and boring – or I can choose to change.
I choose to change.
I awkwardly push open the door, and wheel myself out onto the porch. Shondell and my two boys stop and look at me.
“Can I play?” I ask, hesitantly.
As we play in the wonderful heat of that amazing mid-summer day, I realize that my life is not determined by what happens to me, but by how I respond to what happens. It is not about what life brings to me, but rather what I bring to life. This thought is pivotal.
Thoughts are powerful. A change in our thinking changes our lives. Change is not always easy, though. Even a change for the better can cause us to feel uncomfortable and unbalanced. Replacing a habit or a belief requires diligent effort. Like anyone going through a traumatic ordeal, I have to make significant changes in order to survive and move forward. Most importantly, I have to change the way I think.
Losing the function of most of my body was not acceptable to me. I wanted miraculous improvements – now! It didn’t happen that way. To get where I wanted to go was a struggle. Bit by bit, inch by inch, I did the little things, the possible, the achievable, I weathered the storms to one day get the big things Done, like getting into Guinness.
After months of training, I am ready for a five-hundred-mile marathon. Every time I felt like giving up on this journey through the desert, I would break my goal into smaller increments – one day at a time, one hour at a time, one mile at a time – and now one yellow stripe at a time. In order to survive and succeed, I have to focus on the simple task at hand and do it. Keep the goal in mind, yes; but keep my eye on the task at hand. It kept me going when I was under a bale of hay – breathe, breathe, breathe. It worked then, and it seems to be working now. Maybe I can do this.
I reach down into my soul and push painfully. One last push. Personal torture has now become a way of life. I just want to get past stripe number two thousand seven hundred and sixty-three. Suddenly my bike starts rolling on its own. I have crested the hill. It is all downhill from here – all seventeen remaining miles!
I never thought about that. After going literally as far as I could go, dividing and sub-diving my goal into smaller and smaller steps until there is nothing left – in me – Providence steps in. Aching shoulders, blistered and bandaged hands, don’t matter anymore.
A cheer goes up from thousands of people I have never met. I weep and grin as I realize the value of the lesson just handed me. It’s not just about support – with which I was blessed in abundance. It’s not just about preparation and planning – which is important. It’s not just counting breaths to survive, counting stripes to progress, and doing the small things to get the big thing DOne. It’s more than that.
In his book, “The Impossible Just Takes a Little Longer,” Art Berg wrote, “Life changes. It is the nature of life to do so. For those in this life who choose not to change, life will change for you. And it is always more painful that way.” Life has changed for my family and me. However uncomfortable that change may be, it is up to me to decide how to respond.
To regret the experience is to regret the lesson – because the lesson is inextricably contained in the experience. Too often when changes occur and our circumstances are not as we planned, we tend to focus on what we lost, what we’ve missed, what’s gone wrong, who is to blame, and “why me.” We are not accepting the reality of our changed circumstance or the opportunity those changed circumstances present. We ignore the gift of change and delay our progress.
If you are facing a storm in your life – health, financial, relational – I beg you to determine right now that you WILL look for the positive in every single day. I know there were numerous days while I walked in the “valley of the shadow” that it was difficult not to be consumed by the letdowns and bad news. I also know that our determination to find the positive, no matter how small, played a large role in helping us ride out our storm.
How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t – at least not in the moment. I am not suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I am not suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life.
If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness.
Until Next Time~