Vol 8, Num 6 :: 2009.03.13 — 2009.03.27
Fog. Multi-car pile-ups. A broken neck. Two major surgeries. Wearing a halo for three months and a neck brace for two more. Learning to walk again. My husband fighting his way out of a coma with a traumatic brain injury. An uncertain future…
In the midst of these experiences, a friend gave me Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Secure in the Everlasting Arms. Elisabeth Elliot (wife of the late Jim Elliot, martyred by Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1956) had been a favorite author of mine, but this volume was new to my bookshelf. As I tried to process all that was happening and put together what was left of our lives, several truths from this book became more of a support to me than the walker on which I depended to get around. They have changed the way I process life. Now, six years later, I find myself repeatedly returning to what I learned then.
The halo screwed into my head to stabilize my neck had to be worn for three months – three months! I felt top heavy, like I carried fifty pounds on my head. How could I do this for three whole months? These words from Elliot’s book brought me hope:
We are meddling with God’s business when we let all manner of imaginings loose, predicting disaster, contemplating possibilities instead of following, one day at a time, God’s plain and simple pathway. When we try to meet difficulties prematurely we have neither the light nor the strength for them yet. “As thy days so shall thy strength be” was Moses’ blessing for Asher-in other words, your strength will equal your days. God knows how to apportion each one’s strength according to that day’s need, however great or small. The psalmist understood this when he wrote, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure” (16:5).
Could I wear my halo today? Yes. I could manage it for today. Could I adjust to our limitations today? Yes. Our tomorrows were in God’s hands. I only had to do today. I could follow, “one day at a time, God’s plain and simple pathway.” “One day at a time” still comforts me when the road ahead appears long and daunting.
This leads to a related principle that became a lifesaver for me: “Do the next thing.” Mountains of insurance and legal papers covered my dining room table. Decisions of all kinds loomed over our heads. The weight of unanswered questions, daily frustrations and adjustments seemed overwhelming. To do the next thing often meant picking up the phone to gather more information. I could do that much. It might also mean making supper, folding laundry or reading a story to our youngest daughter. Ordinary things. Elliot said it this way:
There is wonderful therapy in taking oneself by the scruff of the neck, getting up, and doing something. While you are doing, time passes quickly. Time itself will in some measure heal, and “light arises in the darkness”-slowly, it seems, but certainly.
I myself have been hauled out of the Slough of Despond by following the advice of the simple Saxon legend inscribed in an old English parsonage: “Doe the nexte thynge.”
At the time of the car accident, our daughters were 20, 17, and 5 years of age. Their experience of wondering if and how their parents would “make it” brought to them its own trauma. Our oldest took incompletes in her college courses to come home to assist us. Though church people helped, she and our middle daughter found themselves doing laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning and driving me to appointments. They also shouldered much of the care of their little sister. I voiced my appreciation and tried to be gracious, but I felt guilty. Very guilty.
Elisabeth Elliot quoted Jim O’Donell, whose wife had advanced breast cancer. These thoughts gave me a very different viewpoint, one I’ve never forgotten:
We trust in God’s sovereignty over this world and for our lives amid this sickness…But we also trust that even serious illness can serve God’s good and holy purposes to arouse love and care in others, to turn our trust from ourselves to Him, and maybe spur some to reflect on what truly is important in life.
I think of these words even now when our youngest daughter reaches to take my hand if the sidewalk or parking lot is slippery or rough, when one or another of them willingly hauls the vacuum cleaner upstairs, hoists my sewing machine onto the table or grabs the heaviest sacks of groceries to bring in from the car. My injuries have awakened a sensitivity in them that will color the way they see others with limitations. This is a rare gift they received by caring for me.
Another author whose account made a world of difference in the way I perceived our traumatic circumstances is Gracia Burnham. I read through her book, chapter by chapter, in the evenings while my husband still recuperated in a nursing home. In the Presence of My Enemies shares how she and her husband were forced by terrorists to tramp through the Philippine jungles day after horrific day. Burnham then lost her husband in a gun battle during a long-awaited rescue operation. I decided my life’s trials paled in comparison to what these dear missionaries endured for well over a year. God’s grace sustained them. He would uphold us. Later, I read the sequel, To Fly Again, after which I bought four copies and sent them to friends who needed encouragement in “surviving the tailspins of life.”
I thank God for the faithfulness of Elisabeth Elliot and Gracia Burnham. There’s credibility in the principles they share; there’s a life of obedience to back up what they say. Their writings have shaped my thinking and given me practical hope. I find myself recommending these volumes to others who are hurting and need an extra measure of support. Sometimes I wrap up copies for gifts. God uses His Word as a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). He also uses good books to give me a broader and higher perspective and brighten my journey when it seems so dark.