I sat in front of the mirror one morning after my shower. The same big head with thick sideburns that I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the years stared back at me. But as I started to look down, I could not help but notice how vastly different everything looks below my neck. A deep scar rests at the base of my neck from having a ventilator tube pump air into my lungs for two months. Lines above my heart mark the incision where a pacemaker was placed to keep me alive after multiple episodes of cardiac arrest in the initial weeks after I broke my neck. The gaping hole that I like to refer to as my second bellybutton sits above my stomach as a reminder of three months on a feeding tube. My bones protrude from my shoulders and lead down to skinny, muscle atrophied arms. Let’s just say my abs are pretty far from absolute steel. I’m not one to worry much about how I look, but the reflection echoed more than just a physical look. Rather, it was a reminder of the radical lifestyle transformation that I’ve been forced to acclimate myself to over the past four years.
It’s on occasions such as this in front of the mirror, or when someone can’t help but stare in public, that I’m reminded of how utterly hopeless my situation may look to an outsider. Multiple people have asked me with full sincerity if I would rather have died in the November 2009 car accident than live in the physical condition I do. (Nothing says “Your life must really suck,” quite like this question.) I sure don’t feel that way, but sometimes when I take inventory of my life I wonder if I’m processing correctly. The doctors said I would never move anything below my shoulders for the rest of my life, I’m dependent on others to take care of my every need throughout the day, my peers are moving full steam ahead in the post-college world without me, and the icing on the cake is that I’m 25 and live down the hall from my parents. And yet…there still seems to be a silver lining. Hope still remains. I still believe I have a great future ahead. I still have confidence that a bigger purpose than I can even fathom is occurring.
I hear it all time: “You’re so optimistic. You have such a positive mindset!” As if I wake up each morning and start chanting pithy bumper sticker-worthy clichés to get me revved up for the day.
Give me a break. That may work for a few days, but let’s be real. After four years, thinking happy thoughts is just not going to cut it. In the same way that I am unable to overcome the physical mountain on my own, putting my hope in myself to stay pumped up mentally does not have the power to last day after day. I firmly believe I’ve had a first-hand encounter with the peace described in Philippians 4:6 – 7:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
While I believe there is value in keeping a positive attitude, I’ve noticed that as hard as I try, I cannot find this peace mentioned above anywhere else. Jesus makes it clear that the peace He offers is not in the form that the world offers (John 14:27). When I begin to feel the weight of my less-than-ideal circumstances, “positive thinking” doesn’t get me very far. However, when I press into Jesus, He provides me with peace that truly does transcend all of my understanding. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become numb or if I am in denial. The peace is truly supernatural.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I always take the words of Philippians 4:6-7 to heart and am beyond getting anxious. It’s not as if it’s this warm and fuzzy feeling that has me thinking, “Time to put on a smile, it’s a great day to be paralyzed!” There are still days when my patience runs thin with those who love me the most, out of sheer frustration that I’m relying on them for tasks as simple as scratching my nose. My body may jolt into a spasm at 3 in the morning, leaving me wide awake to stare at the dark ceiling flat on my back for hours, calling out to Jesus to remind me that He hasn’t deserted me.
Instead of trying to fool myself into believing the mirage of positive thinking or looking elsewhere for an escape, I want to continue to press into the peace that Jesus offers that is sustainable, life-changing, and downright supernatural.
Often times when I sense the angst, this peace helps remind me of the distance traveled and remember that a rough moment today is only a snapshot (as defined in the song below) of my entire life and does not define my future. As Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning”