Lessons of Limitations

“Ten percent permanent disability.” That’s the final report when I saw my doctor that final time. I had undergone a year of rehab, including hospitalization for six weeks of traction followed by a body cast and a second leg cast. I was eighteen years old when my friend Joey drove his aunt’s new Cutlass into a utility pole.

My first year of college was delayed on that rainy night in November 1976 when a compound fracture of my left femur burst through the skin. That first night on the way to the hospital was the most painful. The power of our bodies to endure pain without medication is amazing.

I went into shock because I lost so much blood. Shock is a natural and necessary life-preserver, which means your life is probably in grave danger. My body responded to this life-threatening situation by constricting (narrowing) blood vessels to my hands and feet so it could conserve blood flow to my vital organs. Then my body released the hormone adrenaline and endorphins, which interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain. Endorphins act like morphine, without any risk of addiction.

In the operating room, they gathered and replaced the broken pieces of bone and sewed up the hole behind my left knee. I was carted to the room on the fourth floor of Doctor’s Hospital on Good Luck Road in Riverdale, Maryland, where I would stay for six weeks. This is when the real pain began, despite a regular regiment of pain medication.

As I was wheeled into my hospital room, the patient in the other bed was anything but patient. He shouted curses at everyone, including me. Louder and louder, fouler and fouler, his voice tore through my skin and bone. Fear gripped me. The pain medication finally sent me into a deep sleep. But I recall my last thought that night: “Would I become like him?”

The next morning, that vile mouthed man was gone. “Where did he go?,” I asked the nurse. He died.

For six weeks I laid on my back with a steel rod through my lower leg tied to weights holding me still and allowing the clump of broken bone pieces in my thigh to reform together. I was given a gift during that time. Though I feel pain in my body everyday since that fateful night, I received the gift of God’s grace. I have learned Paul’s lesson of limitations. It’s within these limits of our weaknesses that God’s strength is revealed.

“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 MSG

(This photo was taken Friday, Aug. 9, at the Barnabas World Outreach Training in Swan Lake, NY where I taught Latin American pastors and missionaries on the Call of God.)

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