LOWLY MY FEET AND LEGS CAME OUT from under the covers; time to rise. Once my feet were on the floor I moved deliberately and quietly so I wouldn’t wake up my wife as I dressed. Leaving the bedroom I stepped outside onto the porch and inhaled deeply the humid summer air before my quiet time with God, then breakfast. It was Wednesday, July 13, 1994; another opportunity to do what I loved, building houses.
After eating a hearty breakfast, recharging my spiritual batteries by reading from the Bible and praying, I climbed into my Ford tool van. As I started the engine I whispered a prayer that God would grant me safety on the road and at work. After a 30-minute drive I arrived at the construction site near Livingston, Tennessee, a few minutes before 8:00.
A Not-so-routine Routine
Robert, the laborer, and I carried our tools to the house to continue roofing. We assembled a platform above the ground at the eave line by leaning two extension ladders against the eave. We then hung a “ladder jack” from the rungs on each ladder. The horizontal arm of each “jack” extended away from the eave at right angles to the rungs on which they hung. On these arms we placed a sturdy wooden plank that provided a level resting point for the upper end of a conveyor, which spanned an upward angle from the ground.
I climbed up one ladder and began nailing shingles onto the roof deck. By using the conveyor, Robert supplied me with shingles from the ground. At noon, after we had each drunk three fourths of a gallon of water, and completed one section of the roof except for the cap-shingles, we climbed down the ladders, headed for shade, and ate lunch.
Revived by the nourishment and shade, Robert and I took advantage of the cooler temperatures of the basement to cut cap-shingles to nail to the ridge once we returned to the roof. Because the cap-shingles tended to fall through the cracks of the conveyor, we chose to pass them hand-to-hand. I climbed one ladder of our scaffolding and took a position above Robert. Standing on the ladder, he handed shingles up to me where I reached down from the plank on which I knelt, high above the ground.
What happened during the next few moments is obscured from my memory. I can only repeat what I have cobbled together by what I have been told and what I saw. Suddenly one of the ladders on which the plank rested sank into the soil, slipped below the eave, and shifted toward the house, causing me to fall headfirst 18 feet to the ground. I recall hearing only a snap.
Robert’s face came into my stunned vision as he leaned over me. With desperation in his voice he asked what he should do. “Stabilize the conveyor so it doesn’t drop on top of me, then call 911,” I instructed.
Robert executed both quickly. Lying on the ground waiting for the 911 response, I began to evaluate my condition. The pain in my neck was excruciating. A hot, tingling sensation from my chest to my lower extremities was an uncomfortable numb “unfeeling.” Hours later, X-rays, CT scan, and doctor evaluations confirmed that the pop I heard when I hit the ground was the bones breaking in my neck. When my mind began to focus, and with it my vision, I realized I was paralyzed and would probably be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
Adjusting to a New Reality
The change of learning to live paralyzed came about as gently as a drink from a fire hydrant. The teamwork required for my existence was a shock to my independent pride and my desire to care for myself. It tested the tensile of all my relationships, including that of my marriage. My parents, grandmother, brother, his family, two sisters, and their families never wavered. My marriage disintegrated with the trauma of adjustment.
I spent the first few months after my accident learning how to function with a spinal cord injury. During more reflective moments my thoughts drifted to my experiences of seasonal employment in the western wilderness areas and national forests of California, Oregon, and Washington. I wrestled with the reality that my feet would never again tread those trails, some of which I’d helped build and maintain. The tranquillity of scenic trails that wander mile after primitive mile, a loaded backpack, and campfires in the mountains would remain only a vivid memory.
Not until being discharged from rehabilitation, returning to my parents’ home, and experiencing the emotions that came with the abruptness of change, did I consider where my life would go from there.
I drew comfort from Bible promises such as, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17), and “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Ps. 34:19). Discovering that “[God] will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains” (Isa. 65:9) was a spiritual lift for me. I got excited thinking of again being surrounded by the grandness of mountains, this time being wired to leap on pathways of inherited mountains (Isa. 35:6).
Mountain Heir Ministries was born because I considered myself part of the crowd commanded to go (Mark 16:15).
Tangible Tokens of Love and Support
By the grace of God my medical bills, medical supplies, and living expenses were adequately covered. Along with the steady stream of bills came a steady stream of funds from generous friends and family, donated medical services, and, of course, insurance. One fund-raiser at the Bowman Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, raised $4,000 in one evening. I still use the wheelchair that was purchased as a result of that fund-raiser.
My desire to become better acquainted with my neighbors while sharing with them Jesus, upon whom I was depending more than ever before, became progressively stronger. But how could I get to their houses without placing greater demands on already full agendas of family and friends? I spent hours dreaming of an assortment of mobility methods that would give me neighbor-visiting freedom.
Because disability income is the scenic route to independent wealth, even my most modest dreams of mobility had the potential of taking years to achieve. Ellen White’s comment, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 145), was a frequent flyer quotation for me. The more I thought about my independence and mobility the more it looked like a God-sized opportunity.
I prayed, “Lord, please make possible a way for me to independently find my way into the presence of my neighbors.” I started praying about a year after my accident. Weeks melted into months and months into years as I continued to pray this prayer with varying degrees of intensity.
By October 2, 2000, a Monday, I was experiencing an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. Contentment for me is best achieved when under an open sky. The wheels of my chair just did not offer enough options. I had plenty to do indoors, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be. I felt closed-in without a place of escape. Frustrated, I desperately pushed away from my desk, escaping to the sidewalk that extends 160 blessed feet into the woods. I shared my challenge with God and begged for His help. With a request for contentment to accept where I was in all its limitations, I amended my five-year “independence prayer.” Peace and contentment came the following day.
On Sabbath, October 7, my family and I went to Knoxville, Tennessee, to the Little Creek Academy homecoming. At the conclusion of Sabbath school an announcement was made about the fund-raiser that had taken place. Fund-raiser? Why didn’t I know? I wondered. Jon called it the “Alumni Assistance Fund,” for alumni who had been involved in catastrophic circumstances. He asked me to the front. Compliantly, I rolled forward thinking Jon needed an icon for a catastrophic circumstance. He shared some brief details about the accident that caused my paralysis, then switched to describing the dreams I hoped to see fulfilled.
Following the description of a wheelchair-accessible tree house, he began to describe a handcycle, on which I could achieve brisk exercise. He then announced that the alumni were giving me the opportunity to purchase the handcycle of my choice.
Wow! It was now clear to me why I’d heard nothing until now about this fund-raiser. They wanted it to be a surprise. My prayer was beginning to unfurl itself through the bold-faced generosity of friends. Glowing with gratitude, I said, “Thank you,” and started rolling back to my position in the rear of the auditorium.
But Jon wasn’t finished. He called me back to say that when I exited the chapel my brand-new customized Dodge Grand Caravan sat just outside the doors. This gift included the first year of auto insurance and a rack for carrying the handcycle on the back of the van.
Questions for Reflection
1. When have you experienced an irreversible life event? How did it affect you initially? How do you look back on it now?
2. What spiritual abilities have been developed in your life as a result of this event?
3. How has that situation been used to advance God’s kingdom?
4. What counsel would you give those who struggle to understand God’s will in the face of personal disasters?
Accepting these gifts came with the condition that I agree to purchase and maintain a personalized license plate with the letters declaring M-T-N-H-E-I-R.
As Dia, a fellow classmate, pushed the remote, tears of joy fell from my smiling face while I watched the door open, the van “kneel,” and the ramp open out. An answer to prayer had been fulfilled that was greater than I could have asked or thought.
Since being gifted with greater mobility, I am experiencing more opportunities to establish deeper relationships with neighbors and friends.
I am a youth leader, a Bible worker, and one of the elders at the church I attend. Through the financial help of Tennessee tax dollars and rehabilitation services, I am able to attend school five days a week, studying architectural, civil, and mechanical drafting. My dream of reentering the job market is becoming more attainable. After completing my drafting classes I plan to seek employment where I can apply my newly acquired drafting skills. I even dream of someday having my own construction business by combining my experience of construction with these skills God is gifting me.
Today I feel honored to share Jesus from these wheels as I find myself involved with people. I can keep a smile on my face because I have a promise from the Author of Creation, the Author of my salvation, that I will be given another opportunity to rise again and walk:
“Then will the lame leap like a deer,
And the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert” (Isa. 35:6).
Until then, I’m on a roll for Jesus.
Michael Boyd lives in Cookeville, Tennessee. His motto has become “Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way.”