“He has chosen not to heal me- He has chosen to hold me”
Joni Earekson Tada
I still recall vividly the snow falling, hauntingly, upon my face as the firemen and EMT crew worked collectively to carry me up the side of the ravine. Strapped to a backboard I could only look up into the silent descending snow; each individual journey of ice seemed so methodical within the chaos, thousands of flakes, dropping quietly in unison, brightly defined by the flood lights set up to locate the crumpled vehicle and cold teenagers in the darkness below. As we surpassed the ledge of the mouth that had swallowed up my security, the world turned the sound back on. The sirens, flashes and shouts all surging in, clamoring for attention, the ambulance racing against my pulse, an oxygen mask catching my breath for me, and of only two things was I certain; I had fallen, and I couldn’t feel my legs.
It’s a simple road home from Tennessee; 40 East turns in to 81 North/ follow that until 322 East on your right, which takes you to Route 11, the main road of a town named after one Daniel Montgomery. A town with parts half asleep, and parts waking new: a place where you can sit on the hot pavement of Mill Street between the post office and town pharmacy and watch fireworks illuminate the Susquehanna River. It’s 604 miles from Neyland Stadium all the way through Bristol, past Hungry Mother State Park, cutting between the stunning Virginia ridges and farms, running alongside the convocation center of James Madison University and the white stone replica of The Statue of Liberty outside the waters of The Keystone Capitol. 10 hours, 5 states and that hallowed threshold called, The Mason Dixon Line. Separating the lanes of Interstate 81 are generally wide patches of grass, with occasionally clusters of vibrant wildflowers casting a harsh contrast against the dark weary pavement rivers on either side. Yet a few mile markers before Winchester, Virginia; these highway lawns begin to stretch and gape and yawn; and the grass islands become grass canyons; too deep to see the depths from the road above. Sometimes even roads and rails slide underneath this steading churning chute between The North and The South.
I remember the sensation I felt as the vehicle thudded through the guardrail of one of these particular ravines, and argued angrily against gravity. Asleep in the backseat, knees curled up to my chest; I felt my legs slide dramatically downward and my body lift suddenly. Then, my thin airborne frame violently slammed against the right door and handle, pushing out a scream of agony I can still hear to this day.My name was shouted: Sarah. Voices thick with fear, saying my name reverently wrapped with desperate prayers. My chest was instantaneously pulled and then twisted around, my head cracking against the left window as my arms reached out anxiously for an anchor to keep me in. March 16th, 2007, four days shy of two decades old and I was a marionette, suspended and without control, shoved against matter, momentum blocked by mass.
An eternity passed. The vehicle stopped.
I leaned my forehead against the seat in front of me;
salt and fear mingling in the tears on my trembling lips,
my back wildly gnashing its teeth,
and my legs
Until today I have never spoken or written publicly about the accident, though injuries remain and the pain reminds. Writing of it now offers me a release of tension, flexing an atrophied muscle to knead out the moments that sometimes find me inside nightmares or backseats. After stretching, and icepacks and gifted chiropractors have alleviated all that they can, the only therapy left me, are words. Within writing, I always find what I want to say, between the apostrophes and alliterations and allusions there’s always a point; my Fathers grace. God has been gracious and of two things I am certain; I am so thankful that I am alive, and I am so thankful to walk. I’ve never presumed I had a right to include the accident or pain in the pages or speeches of my story, largely due to the unique perspective my job has given me. A job I’ve held since late in the same year of the accident, it has put me on the sidelines of incredible individuals and sweet children who will spend the majority of their lives bed and wheelchair bound. How dare I grumble at the aches when before me are others aching at a far greater level... I know sincerely that I very well could have been a young woman that people talked around, and not to, someone who required 24/7 nursing assistance or a machine to breathe. The Lord sweetly took away a voice that may have complained incessantly about a fire that still laces down my neck and spine, by giving me eyes to see the raw pain in the rest of humanity and the resilience with which they thrust their faces into the ash. Women like Joni Ereakson Tada and Robin Roberts. Men like the father and son of “Team Hoyt “, Kyle Maynard and Christopher Reeves. There are literally thousands if not millions of individuals with disabilities and difficulties far outweighing the scope of any physical or emotional pain I have ever known. I regained complete feeling in my legs, I didn’t have to learn to walk again, and I spent perhaps not even a total of 4 days in a wheelchair, Joni Ereakson Tada has spent, to date; 16,790. And yet she has said “This paralysis is my greatest mercy”. Her faith is undeniable, her joy in the Savior unrelenting. In comparison, I willingly dilute my own experience to simple discomfort, and what is discomfort if not something to be grateful for? A throbbing reminder that I am not of this world, a pulsing affirmation that strips me of any pride that would tell me my own physical strength allows me to rise up against challenges. No, it is the strength of Jehovah Rophe, The God who Heals. It is the sustaining power of a Father who concerns Himself more with the health of my soul, than the shell that carries it.
Among the goals I can only hope this shell can breathe into its' soul; are to hike the Milford Track in New Zealand, and find a cup of coffee while trekking through the Swiss Alps. Then there’s the most formidable of my mountain destinations; Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world. I know it will be difficult, I know it will be incredibly painful, but if Kyle Maynard; a congenital amputee can find it within his will power to summit that peak, then so can I. Every time I move forward I have something to be thankful for, every time my brain communicates to the rest of me and I respond; I have a gift that so many others do not. I am such a fortunate young women, and even you, reading these words; you’re reading, you’re doing something that 785 million adults in the world; can. not. do. I don’t have the solutions or the answers for why they can't or how they'll be able to, or why bad things happen to good people, why some people are born into certain cultures or classes; why the medicine stops working or the procedures come too late. I can’t provide an articulate sentence that will alleviate the pressures of this fallen and broken world. What I do know and believe and trust, is that God is good and Jesus heals. Even if the healing does not occur in our physical bodies; Jesus, through His own pain and suffering, through the agony of the cross, through His nail scarred hands; He healed the innermost places of sinful souls, bound up the brokenhearted, sought out and redeemed the lost and made a way of forgiveness for all mankind. Though many walk through mountains of suffering, and there are those who fall beneath the weight of their struggles; there is One who calls us to raise our eyes to heaven, to look up and see the sovereign hand of a merciful God reaching out, as a Father unto His child. I reach back out to Him, like the women in the Gospels, who knows if she but touches the garment of Jesus’ robes; she will be healed. I reach out, and I am renewed. I climb the mountains, and at the summit views; I understand the rocks I stumbled upon and the falls I took, all the beauty and all the injuries that mapped out a journey for my good, and for Gods glory.
I’ve included the ESPN video link that shares Kyles incredible life story and his hike to the mountain top of Kilimanjaro. I invite and recommend that you watch this moving and inspiring climb to the top.