Giving Thanks for All Things

As we were preparing the house for our Thanksgiving guests yesterday, I finally put away the walker and wheelchair I’ve had since I came home from the rehabilitation center on August 13th. It was a reminder of how far I’ve come, and how thankful I am to be on the road to recovery. But I’m not just thankful for the healing; I’m also thankful for the injury itself. Let me explain. For those who may not know, I suffered a serious injury the morning of July 26th as I was getting up from my desk at home to head to work. I tripped over a box I’d mistakenly left in the middle of the floor and, in the process of avoiding a fall on my right shoulder, which was still healing from arthroscopic surgery done two weeks prior, I landed hard on my knees.

my repaired right shoulder the day after arthroscopic surgery, July 12, 2013.

my repaired right shoulder the day after arthroscopic surgery, July 12, 2013.

I grabbed the back of a chair to steady myself, but since it has wheels, it flipped out from under my grasp, and I bent over backwards while still on my knees, rupturing both of my quadriceps tendons.

I have never experienced such pain in all my life, and I was unable to stand on or lift my legs. A bilateral simultaneous rupture of the quadriceps tendon is an extremely rare injury which required major surgery the next day to repair, and I was in leg immobilizing braces for six weeks, unable to bend my legs. With both legs and my right shoulder unusable, I was as close to helpless as I’ve ever been.

My legs after surgery to reattach my ruptured quadriceps tendons, july 27, 2013.

My legs after surgery to reattach my ruptured quadriceps tendons, july 27, 2013.

This was my fifth surgery in the two years we’ve lived in Lynchburg. My medical dossier includes arthroscopic surgery on both knees as well as my right shoulder, the repair of a ruptured triceps tendon in my left arm, the aforementioned bilateral quadriceps tendon repair, and a week’s stay in Lynchburg General Hospital because of excessive blood loss due to internal bleeding, most likely caused by the overuse of over the counter pain medication after my arm surgery.

I spent three days in the hospital as a result of my quadriceps tendon rupture and subsequent surgery, followed by two weeks in a rehabilitation center since I was too incapacitated for home care. I then spent about seven weeks at home on disability leave, returning to work on October 7th, ten weeks after my fall.

Because of my recent medical history, I was initially frustrated with my circumstances, embarrassed by my helplessness, and fearful for my job. I was a burden to my family at a critical time, since my wife was starting her new job as an assistant professor at Liberty University, my son was beginning his freshman year at Liberty, and my daughter was also preparing for her sophomore year at the university.

At one point, the anxiety was almost unbearable; I was in a situation totally outside of my control. I lay there in the rehabilitation center one afternoon and was struck with the realization that I couldn’t go anywhere I wanted to go or do anything I wanted to do. I was completely at the mercy of others, and as I thought about my plight, the tears started to come. It was in that state of total despair that God began to work on my heart.

Next to me in the rehabilitation was my roommate. I didn’t know much about him, but I knew his first name, that he was recovering from his second stroke, and he was at least 10 years younger than me. He was unable to speak, he couldn’t control his body, and he needed assistance with practically everything. As Ilooked around me, I saw others without limbs, and still others who were recovering from debilitating diseases and would never be the same again.

I was ashamed of my moment of self-pity, because I knew my circumstances were temporary and that one day I would be fully recovered from my injuries and the surgery. My heart was softened by the pain of the others around me, and my own suffering became secondary.

God wasn’t done with me yet.

After returning home, I was lying in bed and having a conversation with God about the road ahead. I allowed my anxiety about my job to get the better of me, and I tried to return to work immediately after I was released from the rehabilitation center. I was still in the braces and needed a wheelchair to navigate, however, and I was a major inconvenience for others around me. Besides, my doctor forbade me from returning to work, but that was a directive I had chosen to ignore. My boss and the human resources folks gently but firmly directed me to go home and follow the doctor’s orders, and they instructed me to file for disability leave. I knew that going home on disability would have a financial impact as well as a professional one, and it was just another worry on top of the others.

So as I lay there in the quiet of the guest bedroom, I said to God, “Okay, I surrender. There’s too much here for me, and you say to cast all my cares upon you. So I’m going to trust you completely. I know you love me and you mean only the best for me, so I’m not going to worry about anything anymore. It’s all yours.”

At that moment, I felt a peace and contentment unlike any I’d known before. I had turned a corner in my relationship with the Lord, and if I stayed true to my promise to trust him without reservation, I knew that this peace I was feeling could stay with me for the rest of my life. In a recent post on Facebook, I shared how that trust has come to manifest itself in my life:

I believe that the God who created the universe can wave His hand over me and instantly heal my legs and make them as good as new. I also believe, however, that if He chooses not to do so, then He has His reasons, and His reasons can only be good and loving, because He is good and He is love. Therefore, I am at peace, even though "in this world you will have trouble."

As I reflect on my past, God has been whittling away at my pride for about 11 years now. Every major professional or personal setback over that period of time has been designed to bring me to the point of total surrender to Him. I thought I was there, but it took a debilitating injury like the one I experienced this summer to make me realize I hadn’t arrived yet. He had to bring me to a place where I couldn’t do anything for myself for me to realize that I can do nothing without Him, and all things with Him.

And such a great gift is a cause for thanksgiving. That is how I can honestly give Him thanks for my injuries. Would I rather be pain-free and strong again? Of course. But would I trade the peace I have right now for an end to my trials? No, I would not.

Ephesians 5:20 says we should be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The words “always” and “everything” are not exclusive, so we are commanded to give thanks all the time for everything. That is impossible to do unless your faith and trust in God are absolute. When you can bless the Lord whether in the midst of prosperity or pain, you will have discovered the “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

And you will give thanks. I hope your Thanksgiving weekend is blessed.

The day the leg braces came off for good, october 3, 2013.

The day the leg braces came off for good, october 3, 2013.