By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor
Woodland Hills Church
Parenting can be tricky even in the best of times. Parenting can be challenging, exhausting, and often frustrating, but it is also worthwhile, life enhancing, and remarkable. There are highs and lows over the long haul of being a parent. We may have 3 healthy kids one moment, and the next; we have 3 vomit-spewing volcanoes. You may experience a blissful vacation together as a family only to find it ruined on the car ride home with bickering and whining, sometimes even among the kids. Typically, family life doesn’t have many dramatic highs and lows; it is subtler with bumps and small updrafts.
Yet, there are families that experience a life changing moment that can only be defined as crappy (albeit in more mature language). I’m not talking about Blair Walsh missing an easy field goal in a playoff game or even cell phones falling into the toilet. Think worse!
For my family, October 7th, 2005 was our life changing moment. I was on the roof of my friend’s house helping to redo the roof. We worked into the dark, which upon 20/20 hindsight was a really dumb idea no matter how much you want to get done. I took one wrong step and found myself falling, then suddenly on the ground in a lot of pain. I was quickly rushed to HCMC by ambulance. My friend had to make a very difficult and painful call informing my wife that I was hurt pretty bad. Backstory: we had just had our third child five weeks before, meaning we had 3 kids under the age of 3 years living at home, and I was the primary breadwinner.
My wife rounded up a bunch of friends, our small group, and her parents. The doctors informed her that I had broken two vertebrae in my lower back. There was concern that my spinal cord had been damaged, even though the CT scan didn’t show any obvious issues. I underwent surgery the next day. Over 10 hours, the doctors repaired my vertebrae using hardware. I spent 2 weeks recovering from the surgery at HCMC and then was moved to Abbot Northwestern. Over the next 10 weeks, I had to relearn how to function without half of my body. I was officially pronounced a complete paraplegic, meaning that no feeling or movement would return below my waist.
My wife was amazing through all of this. With support from church staff, small group members, friends, and family she was able to spend time with me everyday. My kids also visited me often, especially my new baby daughter, since she was dependent on my wife for food. People provided meals, lots and lots of prayer, cards, money, and even modified my home so it was ready for my return.
The next phase of recovery was 2 months of living at home and learning how to function in that environment while recovering from the surgery. Notice, I haven’t mentioned learning how to parent from a wheelchair yet. My wife was a single parent for 4 months while I focused on recovery. Even still, after I returned to work, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and my emotions were all over the place, so I still wasn’t very helpful in the parenting department. My kids were great! They were a huge motivation for me to get out of the hospital and to continue even when everything really seemed to suck.
Over the next year, my wife continued to care for the kids and for me. My independence was growing, but doctor and therapy appointments took a lot of time. Strangely enough, those moments away together gave us a lot of time to connect and process together while other people cared for our kids. People continued to bless us throughout the next year by cleaning our house, doing lawn work, making meals, babysitting, and even organizing a hugely successful fundraiser.
As life’s new rhythms began to emerge, we had to deal with a new kind of healing process. I began to mourn the loss of who I was with legs. Being in the wheelchair changed how I operated in my job, in my giftings, in my parenting, and in my marriage. Depression and frustration took us into another season of crap.
Over time, we began to realize a few things that helped us. When you are laid bare from pain, suffering, or grief, your core identity is viewable. My identity as a priceless and loved child of God continued to shine through all of the garbage moments. My kids, our friends, and people around us continued to see this part of me even when I was so distracted by the hardships that I couldn’t see it. Being surrounded by a community of love, lifted in prayer constantly, and cared for reflected God’s love back into my life over and over again until I couldn’t deny that God was bringing good out of this crappy situation.
Struggling reminds us also that we need God. My wife and I relied heavily upon God during those two years of hardship. I was often still and had the opportunity to hear God’s voice directly and through others. Whether I was experiencing a high or a low, I could feel God’s presence throughout. I knew without a doubt that His love was real and discovered that even though He didn’t stop me from getting hurt or fully heal me, He was trustworthy.
Over time, I was able to become fully engage and equal in the parenting department. I worried for a time that my kids would be damaged from my time of healing, but, instead, I think they have a perspective that few kids experience. They’ve seen me at my worst and how I relied upon God and others. They’ve seen how valuable having a solid relationship with God can be in a person’s life and how important it is to establish loving relationships with other believers. They benefited from the love of others and were able to bask in all kinds of attention during those two years, even if my attention waned at times. We also share a unique family identity together that unifies us. Each of my children has also learned that every family member is a needed and important part of this family, whether 2 years old or 45.
Life will have moments that give you a face full of pain. Being solidly connected to our Heavenly Father is vital to recovery and to restoration of normalcy to family life. Your kids will benefit from your relationship to the Creator as your core identity transforms to reflect a loving and trustworthy God who is actively involved in your life and with you no matter what is happening in life.