January 16th, 2000. It’s a day that will forever be etched into my memory. I went to help a friend who was hurting on the evening of the 15th. I went to coffee with him and we talked late into the night. His parents were divorcing and he needed a listening ear. We shut the coffee house down at 1AM, and I drove home.
At 2:10 AM on that Sunday morning I was about 3 miles from home, contemplating snuggling up into bed and church in the morning. I was less than 5 months from my commission as a Naval officer, and life was great. I had accepted Christ 18 months previously and was on fire for Him. Everything was going as it should, full of blessing and positive change.
That was the night when life changed forever.
Driving down a dark and deserted road, a car came flying up behind me at 85 mph. I was doing 40 and barely had time to see him before he hit me; when all was said and done he was convicted of DWI and a host of other offenses. The spin into the ditch was only the beginning of the tailspin my life went into that night. I ended up having to decline my commission as a Naval officer because of my injuries, and was ultimately removed from military service because of back problems from the wreck. I went from the highest of highs to the darkest lows in the months that followed.
I remember the pain of those months following the wreck. The physical pain was certainly no fun, as two bulging discs in my back made movement painful. I ended up with two surgeries to try to put myself back together, though they didn’t come for over a year and a half. Many nights I laid on the couch in pain. Putting on socks was an ordeal, and sometimes a week would go by before I could muster up the courage to bend over to wash my feet in the shower. I played sports in high school and college, so living in constant pain simply stunk.
Worse than that was the emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain. I prayed many nights, asking God why in the world He allowed this to happen. I had worked hard to get into a very competitive and prestigious program in the Navy and the wreck took it. I had two kids who needed a dad to roughhouse with; I couldn’t even pick my 7-month-old son up if he was crying. I had a bright future in the military and in politics after that, serving God and shining His light in a place that all too often is dark. I had come to Christ 18 months before, and now my military service had real meaning! Why take it away now?
Why God? Why? What good could possibly come of this? I remember cursing the crutches I had for 3 weeks, the badge of a displaced pelvis that went undiagnosed for a long time. I had great resentment for superior officers who thought I was malingering. I saw the effect of my pain on my marriage and lamented what I was doing to my wife. I saw my daughter not understand why daddy couldn’t play on the floor and again I thought, why?
The following is an excerpt from Laura’s journal from this time (thanks, dear, for allowing me to share):
“Dec. 12, 2000
… John’s definitely at his worst point that he’s had, physically. The 2nd MRI done in Nov (late) shows 3 bulging discs and a tear in the last. It would take pages and at least an hour to put down all the feelings and emotions that we’ve had, both individually and as a family, with this progression. I know I’m struggling to hold myself together- I almost had a nervous breakdown last week…
We only have about 5 weeks of medical coverage left and we had hopes of a relatively new procedure called IDET being done. However, we only have $5k left of coverage, and the procedure’s $18-20K. Today I really saw anger and fright in John’s eyes, wondering if he was ever going to get better. Seems unfair that he should have to worry about cost caps and deadlines to get better when it was no fault of his own. Helping out a friend, no less. I can’t help but wonder what we’ll see from this when we look at it 20 years from now. I’m fighting depression every minute…
The [pending settlement] money’s so unimportant now, even having the severe financial struggles we’re having. And yet, if we had that $ now, we could do the surgery. Of course, we wouldn’t need the surgery if he’d never have gotten hit!!! Oh Lord, what do You want us to learn from this? I feel so defeated. I’ve occasionally gone through this, but it breaks my heart to see John depressed and hopeless at times- I’ve never seen him that way. I know he’s never been depressed….
It’s a vicious cycle because his depression, anxiety, anger, helplessness and bitterness reflects to me, which makes me fall apart which is hard on him… you get the picture…
Trying to hold on to my faith that God has great things for us in spite- because of- this. “
There is no way you could have ever convinced me in the months after my wreck that God was using it for His glory and my good. Romans 8:28 seemed more of a taunt than a comfort. God uses all things to work together for my good? I’m going to be from Missouri on that one. Same thing on January 16th, 2001. I had just been removed from the ship I was serving on, headed out of the Navy through a long process of doctor evaluations, surgeries, and pain. By January 16th, 2002 I was out of the Navy, a disabled veteran retraining for a new job because I couldn’t do what I trained to do in the Navy.
Fast forward to January 17th, 2010. The day after the 10th anniversary of my wreck I ran a race. It’s a miracle of God that my back pain is largely gone. (He used surgeons and physical therapists in that miracle, though I have no doubt that it is His hand at work through them that healed me) It is gone so far that on this day I was able to run a half marathon! On January 17th, 2000 I was asking my doctor if the pain I was feeling would be there for long and he was considering ordering an emergency MRI to check for internal bleeding. On January 17th, 2010 I knew that the struggle would last for 13.1 miles! My perspective today about my wreck is completely different than it was right after, or even at a year or two after. Today I count this (at the time) seeming great evil as one of the greatest blessings He has ever given me.
At about 9.4 miles into the half marathon on Sunday I got very emotional. I cried out to God right before, asking Him to help me finish the race for His glory. My mind flooded with the images of 2000, of the sleepless nights and pain medication, of the anger at the man who hit me and the struggle with my military career ending. Now here I am, living a dream. I am one of less than half of one percent of Americans who will run a half marathon this year. He has healed me so thoroughly that I can run! I can lift my kids over my head.  I don’t work on nuclear reactors anymore, which is a blessing beyond belief for me. Instead I get the incredible privilege of pastoring a church and being an instrument that God uses in the preserving of families and souls.
Today, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that what God says in Romans 8:28 has become a reality in my life. I met the man who would become an incredibly important mentor in my life during the trials of my back surgeries. He is the one who helped me see that God would be pleased if I pursued vocational ministry, who helped me pursue a seminary education. My wreck led me to the mentors who currently help me live life with Christ. It led me out of the Navy and into the life I live today. It paid for my seminary training. It led me to the opportunity to help others who are struggling with understanding why God does what He does, and how He can redeem circumstances that seem beyond comprehension.
God didn’t keep me from an incredibly difficult trial. He didn’t prevent a great evil coming into my life. Instead He chose in His sovereign will to make me the man that I am today through it. He used that car wreck to get me to give my life completely to Him, to trust Him in the unknown and with the pain of my life. He got me away from my plan and closer to His. And now, a decade later, He has even redeemed my body to the point that I can train for and run a half marathon. He made me dependent upon Him with my wreck, and the dependence I learned there has spilled into my marriage and my parenting as well as my job. To Him be the glory, because there is no way I am where I am today without the crucible of pain I went through.
What about you? You might be struggling right now, wondering how in the world God could be there if you’re going through what you’re going through. How can He care if He allows situations like you’re facing? I’ve known people who have lost parents, spouses, children, and others who have shared my cry. Why, God? Why? I know many who are out of work through no fault of their own, having their homes foreclosed on. Why, Lord? I know marriages struggling through real trials and hurts. How can God allow godly and good people to go through this? Where is He, and why doesn’t He stop this?
Though I can’t see into the future, I can see the past clearly and how it influences the present. Though you may not see the redemption of your trial or your circumstance, I can say unequivocally that God is at work. He can redeem even situations that look bleak if we will continue to trust Him. While I can’t say exactly how or when, I can say that I am evidence that God redeems bad situations if we allow Him to by trusting Him when times are tough. Where are the challenges in your life today that in a year, five years, or ten years God wants to use to bring about His glory and good in your life? Those very same struggles, pains, trials and troubles may not be what is standing in the way of you being who God wants you to be. Instead, they may be the instruments that He can use to mold you into that person, if you will only walk with Him through the fire.
Now I know why Job could say, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10) That adversity builds in those who trust Christ a depth of conviction and trust in God that can’t be built through prosperity or ease. So if you’re struggling today like I was in January 2000, I can’t tell you enough to trust Christ through all that pain. Stay with Him! Allow Him to transform it in your life, to use it as a tool in His perfect hand to build you into the person He can use. Though the path is not always easy, He is a Redeemer.
Blessed be your name, Lord. Thanks for my healthy body that I may use to run for your glory. Thanks for a wife who loves me through the pain and the trial. Thanks for the many blessings that you taught me are your gracious gift. Thanks for your love when I am unlovable. Thanks for days when I have no pain. You have given back what was taken away, and I will choose to bless your name through it all.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
I call it a wreck rather than an accident on purpose. An accident occurs when someone makes an honest mistake and cars collide. The man who hit me blew a 0.24 BAC 2 ½ hours after the wreck. Getting that inebriated, and then getting behind the wheel of a car, is no accident. (he had a DWI 5 months prior as well…) So I don’t call my wreck an “accident.”
Okay, only the little ones. My 12-year-old daughter might object if I tried, and my son would judo chop me on the way up.