Friday, July 8, 2011
6:33 PM | By Pastor Harold Warner
Note: Our 2011 Bible Conference was a fantastic time of God’s visitation; but it ended on a sad and tragic note which took place on Sunday, June 19th. Five young men from the church in Kearns, UT were driving home when they suffered a horrible accident outside of Phoenix, AZ. It resulted in two fatalities (Mike Peterson and Anthony Gallegos), with the other three being injured (Markel Taylor, Joe Gallegos, and Ezekiel Contreras). The most seriously injured was Ezekiel, who suffered a very high spinal cord injury. All of these, along with their families should be kept in prayer.
Let’s get a few things out of the way at the start. First, it’s early. For any spinal cord injury, Ezekiel, you find yourself trapped in a very jumbled time, where there are far more questions than answers, but then you even forget the questions. They’re still trying to stabilize you and your condition, my brother, and that takes time. You own body is trying to adjust to a myriad of issues. This is why sometimes victory is just making it day by day, and sometimes even hour by hour. Second, it is not easy. Things in your life and world have been turned upside down. I could hear the concern and maybe even fear the other day, which is perfectly understandable. When I was injured 38 years ago, and my dad came to visit me from the East Coast, he had some of the same emotions, even though it was hard for him to express emotion. Finally, I realize things are not equal. The difference between a cervical SCI (spinal cord injury), and a lumbar injury is night and day. So, I can’t really say, “I know what you’re going through.” I struggled with what to say that had any kind of meaning, knowing that sometimes you should say nothing at all.
Ezekiel, when I heard the news of your accident, it brought all kinds of “memory flashbacks” reminding me of some of my own challenges, some of which are still fresh in my mind. On April 30, 1973, I was driving back to Prescott from Kearny, AZ, with the distinction of the shortest church-planting venture in our fellowship. I arrived there on Friday, and by Monday morning I was returning to Prescott with the church-planting door closed in my face! It had just rained lightly in the area, there was fresh pavement on that stretch of highway, and the tires on my car could be described as well used. Suddenly, we went into a skid towards the side of the road, hitting and then the car rolling over a 20-25 foot embankment. What I didn’t know at the time (although I did know something bad had happened) was that I suffered a compression fracture of my L-1 vertebrae, severing my spinal cord, and ending up paralyzed. Since it was beyond their capacity in the little town of Kearny, I was immediately transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, AZ replete with my now torn clothing, dirt on my face and in my mouth, and securely strapped to a stretcher. What followed were seemingly endless tests, work to stabilize me physically, surgery to fuse my vertebrae, countless Doctor’s visits, all the time trying to learn what had happened to me, and how I was going to move forward.
Needless to say, this was my real lesson that life can sometimes be tough, bordering on the cruel and unexplainable. The Bible tell us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” which is certainly true. Another unspoken element in this creative marvel, which is our bodies, is that we are also fragile at times. Superman only exists in comic books or at the theaters. I learned that life can be turned upside down on a dime. From one moment to the next your whole world can change. Everything in my life had radically changed in a matter of minutes; but the one thing that did not change was my relationship with God! “Behold, I am the Lord, I change not” was certainly true, almost surreal at the time. Everything else had changed, even down to some of the most personal and intimate needs, but God and His grace toward me did not change one iota.
All of this has gone into what is almost a life motto, “LIFE IS TOUGH, BUT GOD IS GOOD!” It is not an accident that one of the most common refrains in the Bible is, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good” with the congregational response “for his love endures forever.” Over the years, there have been two questions asked me more than any other. The first is, “Were you a Christian (saved) before your accident, or did you come to Christ after?” In some, I think the underlying motive in that question is human pride, that I must’ve need someone or something to lean on after the accident, as if the timing would somehow invalidate my experience with Christ. Ultimately, it would not matter how or when I came to Christ, but I simply tell people the truth, “No, I was already living for God at the time of the injury.” The second big question people have asked was “Did you get bitter?” Of course, there were some major mind battles, but my honest answer was “No.” Why? Well, for one, God didn’t do this to me. If your car goes into a skid, and rolls over, then there are laws of physics that are involved, not a failure of God’s love toward me.
Ezekiel, I don’t want to try to comfort you with empty word, what the Book of Job calls “words without knowledge.” Let me just tell you of some of the “anchors” that brought me through, and are still keeping to this very day. Looking back, there were a number of real “difference makers.”
- God’s supernatural grace. I’m not talking about a religious cliché here
either. When God said to Paul’s urgent
request to remove his harassing “thorn in his side,” the Lord responded “My grace is sufficient for you; for My
power is made perfect in weakness.”
He was describing a real supernatural provision. It’s hard to explain it to people, but when
we’re at our wit’s ends, and say, “this
is more than I can bear,” there is a Divine grace upholding and sustaining
us. I was recently reading the testimony
of Joni Eareckson Tada. She was an athletic teenager who broke her
neck in a diving accident in 1967 in the Chesapeake Bay. It left her totally and permanently paralyzed. After 25 years in a wheelchair she began to
have health problems and had to go back to bed.
Hoping to cheer her up, her husband Ken hung a bird feeder outside her
window. At first she envied the birds
their freedom. But then she remembered
what Jesus had said about sparrows. She wrote: “I glanced at the bird feeder and
smiled. I could understand Jesus noticing
an eagle....but a scrappy Sparrow?
They’re a dime a dozen. Jesus
said so himself. Yet from thousands of
bird species the Lord chose the most insignificant, least-noticed, scruffiest
bird of all. A pint-sized thing that
even dedicated bird watchers ignore.
That thought alone calmed my fears.
I felt significant and noticed...if the great God of heaven concerns
Himself with a ragtag little Sparrow clinging to the bird feeder outside my
window, He cares about you!” The
old-fashioned American lyric puts it, “His
eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.”
- God’s family, the Church. I’ve always had a deep love and appreciation
for the church since I was saved, but I can tell you, having committed and
caring Christian brothers and sisters during this time made a huge difference. Much of this was their faithful prayers to
God for me, which have continued to this present day. some of this involved
their timely visits, like the time one brother “hijacked” me from the hospital,
and took me on a rolling stretcher out “for a walk” in the streets of Phoenix
around the hospital! Ezekiel, I know
that you’ve been blessed with a church family that loves you, and a Pastor,
Josh Scribner, who will stand with you.
- An incredible wife. My wife, Mona, had been God’s special gift to me, and an extraordinary care-giver.
It is going to take time, my brother, for things to untangle and start to come together. Jesus is with you every step of the way, and you have people who are “blanketing you in prayer.” Whatever hospital or medical facility you are in, make sure you ask as many questions as come to mind. There are a lot more places and information available for spinal cord injury patients than when I was hurt. Their input, care and help can be invaluable. Plus, if you want to call or write to me, or have someone do it for you, feel free to do so. We are there for you.
- Tucson, AZ, United States
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