My devotional last week was a tribute to a West Point classmate who passed away suddenly. The memorial service for him will be this Friday at Fort Benning, Georgia, and I’m fortunate to be able to attend. Thank you for all the continued prayers for his family.
This week I want to focus more on “hope“. For some of you who did the running workout at this morning’s WAWA, “hope” was you saying….”Lord, get me through this run” or “How many hill repeats did he say we have left…“?? When I think about last week’s message, there were times when I was having my own questions about “hope”. Recall the piece of scripture where Mary famously asks the angle, “How can this be….?” The world will continue to present us with challenges and things will happen which appear to be without explanation to “we” humans.
It’s Valentine’s week and forgive me if I share with you what some would call a “love story”. Others might call it something else….but I’ll go with “love story” if only for the reason that it’s how I met my wife, Janelle. There’s a lot of hope in what I’m about to share.
In October 2010, while living in Atlanta, Janelle accidentally dropped a tower computer system on her bare foot. The injury barely scratched or broke the skin, but she did think maybe she had fractured the top of her foot. She went to the hospital to have the injury checked out but doctors told her she was fine. Off she went back home with not much concern.
Now, it was not only October, but it was Halloween week. If you know nothing about Janelle, then realize that Halloween might as well be a national holiday for her! She loves everything about it and was excited to share the holiday with her two young sons. But just nearly three days past the accident, Janelle’s foot wasn’t healing. In fact, it was seemingly getting worse to include heat that appeared to be radiating around the foot and up her leg. Her condition was further complicated due to what were flu-like symptoms causing her immune system to be lower than usual. Her body was trying to fight off whatever strange illness was plaguing her.
The pain was intense and Janelle was rushed back to the hospital, this time by ambulance in the middle of the night. Barely able to speak, Janelle was told by the on-call physician that she had a very serious bacterial infection, possibly something called “necrotizing fasciitis”, more commonly referred to as a flesh-eating bacteria. The infection was spreading very quickly and doctors had to rush her to surgery in order to perform life-saving measures. Later her father would tell me the story of talking to the surgeon on the phone as they were already racing from Charlotte after getting an urgent call from the Atlanta hospital. The doctors were telling her parents, “We’re going to have amputate her leg to stop the spread of the bacteria.” Her parents, shocked as you might expect, asked the surgeon, “Can you wait until we get to Atlanta to talk about this?”. To which, the doctor replied, “Sir, we’re trying to save your daughter’s life and time is of the essence.”
Noodle on that conversation for just a minute, especially if you have children of your own.
Janelle spent 40 days in the hospital… a number of days that some might consider a “biblical” reference in itself. Her family decided to move Janelle and her boys to Charlotte where they could help take care of the children while Janelle learned to live with her “new normal”. Things did not look good by any stretch and there was probably not a lot of hope to be found.
Back in Atlanta, I did not know Janelle but her story kept coming up from many who did. Friends would ask me “Have you heard about this woman named Janelle who just lost her leg? Maybe she could be a good candidate for one of our upcoming sports camps?” This sports camps referenced was through a non-profit organization that I had started called The Getting2Tri Foundation or “G2T” for short. G2T would put on sports camps once or twice a year for individuals who suffered from limb loss or paralysis. The “Tri” was short for “triathlon” and G2T would used the three sports of swimming, cycling and running to create opportunities of confidence for physically challenged individuals. Janelle, who was formerly a novice runner, might be ideal for an upcoming camp in May 2011, was what many thought.
Janelle’s sister, Melissa, knew my sister, Michele, through their efforts at the Junior League of Charlotte. Michele even approached Melissa saying, “Janelle should meet my brother who runs a non profit to help amputees.” Honestly, Janelle’s family wasn’t doing much thinking about sports camps for her. They really wanted to help adjust everyone back to normal. It was a slow process.
Enter Charlotte resident, Cadie Jessup. Cadie was herself a recent amputee…an above-the-knee (or “AK”) amputee, who had previously attended a G2T camp in Atlanta. Cadie had heard about Janelle’s story and offered to come by and help mentor Janelle and her family. Janelle was living at her parent’s house along with her two sons. Now, if you’ve ever planned a visit to her parent’s house, you know that you need to plan on staying a while. They’re just so welcoming and minutes can easily turn into hours. Such was the case with Cadie’s visit, which she had planned for one-hour but actually turned into six hours without much thought.
Somewhere during that conversation, Cadie mentioned this organization in Atlanta that put on sports camps. Janelle wrote down the words “G2T” into her pages of notes. What a coincidence?? Maybe she should check this camp out. She and Melissa could go back to Atlanta to attend the camp and, well, if they decided the camp wasn’t for them, then they could hit the shopping malls in Buckhead.
So guess what happened on the way to the training camp? Well…..Janelle loved the camp; loved meeting like-minded individuals both with and without disabilities like herself; and found confidence that she could not only “fit in”… but could do some of the things she like to do before her accident, like take 3 mile runs, play in the backyard with her boys….and slowly get into a normal lifestyle.
And there was this guy named “Mike” who didn’t set off any fireworks in her mind….yet….but was developing slowly into a very good friend, occasional “pen pal” through email exchanges, and someone she felt comfortable asking questions about living her new normal.
Emails and conversations led to lots of visits to Janelle in Charlotte. The visits became more frequent….nearly every weekend eventually. Closest girlfriends of Janelle began referring to me as her “special friend”. Fast forward several months… three years to be exact… and in March 2014, I asked Janelle to be my wife.
Fairly tale ending? Maybe. Time will tell and everyone will be their own judge. For me, the somewhat broken path that zig-zagged my way into Janelle’s heart and into her life continually reaffirms my faith. Was it the path I would have chosen? Absolutely not. Not even close. However, it’s the path of hope that when I sit back and think about everything that happened, I can connect the dots all along the way.
I don’t claim to know why things are perceived to happen good for one person and awful for another. I do believe that God works for the overall good in mankind and it’s up to us to be patient and faithful that His hand remains in the driver’s seat. Maybe better said is that one man’s hopelessness is another man’s hope.
We read in Jeremiah 29:11 the following:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.