It has been one year since I wrecked on (or should I say off) my dirt bike. If you are interested in the details of the crash check out my previous posts, but here are the quick details.
I was testing a new clutch cable, and while only wearing a helmet and no other gear I hit a pile of rocks in a vacant lot while going somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 mph. The bike landed 45 feet from the rocks. I landed on my head and finally rested on my back about 10 feet past the bike.
I broke my left arm, broke my sternum, and compressed 4 vertebra in my back. I had surgery on my arm and wore a back brace for 10 weeks as I healed.
As I look back over the past year, I can say that this event definitely has changed my life.
1. I understand pain in a whole new way
I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and the initial recovery went fine. Before my accident when I would hear people complain of chronic daily pain I thought they were crazy. I can honestly say now that I know what they mean. My arm still hurts at some point every day. My back gets sore and tired quickly. Whether you want to blame the metal that was added to my body or the that I did not do physical therapy like I should have the fact is the phrase “fully recovered” has kind of a fuzzy definition.
2. I have changed more in non-physical ways than in physical ways.
Yes I have a wicked scar on my arm now, but the biggest changes that have come from this were spiritual and emotional. I love God and my family and friends a lot different now than I did 366 days ago. I have experienced brokenness before this accident, but it means something completely different to me now. Words can not fully explain what I know to be true regarding this, so I think I will leave it at that.
This one “accident” started me down a different direction than I had ever expected to go down life’s path. Now a year later, I am glad it did. This has been a year of growth for me; as a Christ follower, as a husband, a father, a youth worker, and every other identity I could add to the list. I feel I have grown more in this past year than perhaps any other year of my life – this accident being the first of several key things that has spurred it on. My hope is every year I can look back and make the same statement; “this year was better than the one before it thanks to God.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) 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.
As I conclude this series of posts, I must first say I am not at all done working through this experience; I am not sure I will ever conclude that. To wrap this up I am going to answer a few of the most commonly asked questions people have asked.
Did the bike get as banged up as you did? Short answer: No.
The only lasting damage on the bike is a few scrapes and a zip tie as you can see in the picture. The only other damage was a broken clutch bridge, a $10 part.
Was it horrible having to wear that back brace? Yes
I was in the back brace for 10 weeks, 6 of which was 24 hours a day and the last month I could take it off to sleep. But I do not have any lasting back issues from it, thank you Lord! The worst part of wearing it was the pressure it put on my broken sternum, but there was really nothing they could do about that.
What exactly did they do to your arm?
I had a plate and 7 screws put into my arm. I was in a cast for a week after surgery then wore a brace on my arm for 5 weeks. My arm is what I have the most lasting pain with, in fact it hurts right now as I type (though my softball game earlier today might have something to do with that). I have heard people say that once you have metal in your body you will feel it the rest of your life, so far I believe that to be true.
Are you going to get rid of your motor cycle?
As of right now, no. I still want to ride. If I was wearing all my gear, out on a trail, and got hurt as bad as I did I would be done. But that is not what happened. I have ridden once since my accident, and the first 15 minutes was quite tension filled, but the longer I rode the more comfortable I got on the bike. I still want to ride, I still have fun doing it, and unless God changes my mind I am not selling the bike.
I realize this whole experience will always be a major part of my life, but until recently I had no idea how big. I of course wish I could have learned the spiritual lessons in some other way, but I do see how God has truly taken my stupidity (choosing to ride that fast through that lot) and used it for His glory. My hope is it has helped you in some way, but even if it hasn’t it certainly has helped me to love my God and my family more than ever before, and take my time here on earth a bit more seriously. On October 7th, 2010 I should have stood in front of Jesus, which I can’t wait to do, but I am not ready yet. I feel like I have so much more to accomplish with my life, with my family, with my church, and within youth ministry. May God continue to mold me, and you so we both can accomplish everything on this earth He wants us to.
These verses take on a whole new meaning for me now, and I will conclude this series with Paul’s words from Philippians 1:21-22 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
“I will make you lie down in green pastures.” Psalm 23:2
This was the phrase God whispered (then started to scream) to me in response to my question “Why?” I knew that I was not being fully obedient to what God had asked me to do, which I quickly remedied as I described in part 2. However, once my book manuscript was completed I realized this was not the only thing God wanted me to change.
The entire sentence in the 23rd Psalm is “He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” Yes, God had made me lie down; quite literally lie in a hospital bed, but what could possibly be “green” about this experience? Just as any near death or traumatic experience tends to do, this caused me to take a pretty honest and raw look at my life. My lack of writing was only a portion of what God wanted me to see, here are a few of the other things I have learned about myself.
1. How “loud” my life had become.
It is a pretty common thing in life, and especially youth ministry, to view busyness as a badge of honor. I did not realize how busy my life had become until everything came to a screeching halt that Thursday evening. I was not doing bad things, but between my young family, my church, my friends, and my hobbies my life was moving at mach 10. Quiet waters suddenly did describe my life and I quickly realized how much I liked it.
2. How complacent I had become in my faith.
Being a pastor means that almost no one asks how your faith journey is going, and very few people ever asked me (a few people did but I often just gave the token “good” in response). I think every Christian thinks they “give God everything” and I certainly thought I had. Again, I wasn’t doing anything bad with my life, but I had become very comfortable in my busy life, routine devotions, and continual church involvement to where I was not growing much in my own faith. The biggest problem with this was how comfortable I really was. I was living an incredibly blessed life and there was no reason to change anything (so I thought). My comfort had become a dead end rut and I had not even realized it.
3. That my soul did need restored.
God knew something needed to change for me even though I didn’t. Many times I have thought about what my life would be like today if I had never crashed, and I can honestly say I would rather be where I am right now instead. Being in the spiritual rut I had created was getting boring, and I was taking steps through selfish decisions to make it more exciting (like devoting a lot more time and money to dirt bikes). Even now as I am searching for a publisher for my book and tallying more and more rejections, God continues to show me how selfish of a life I was leading. I like to be in control, and I now see how much that has affected everything in my life including my faith.
I am still in the process of being transformed by God, and wrestling with how to ACTUALLY give God everything, but now I know God is making progress with me again. A book that has helped me quite a bit in putting this all in perspective is Maximum Faith by George Barna. If you have been a Christian for any length of time or are bored with your faith I highly suggest it. My hope is you don’t have to end up within an inch of your life being over like I did for God to get your attention.
If you are a Christian, even if you are a youth worker or pastor, how is YOUR faith journey going? I would love to hear your answer, and don’t send me a token “everything is good”!
I will do one more post to conclude this series including some pictures of my scraped up bike, my broken helmet, and my not broken anymore arm.
On October 7th, 2010 I should have died.
Now, just over seven months from that day I am still processing all that I have learned from this experience. As I continue to seek God as to why I am still here, why this happened to me, and what it means for the rest of my life I have decided to let you process along with me.
I am realizing now that crashing my dirt bike quite possibly could be one of the most significant spiritual events of my life, but before we get to that let me tell you what happened.
I had just sold an old dual sport motorcycle the week before, and I already had my eyes on a newer, faster, lighter, and better performing dirt bike. On Monday of that week I went to test ride the bike with a friend, we saw it needed a few things done to it, but the guy was willing to negotiate and I ended up buying it that night. This whole process took longer than expected and as a result I was late for music practice at church.
Due to my obvious excitement for my new purchase, my next several evenings were filled with working on the bike. I had made plans to go on its inaugural ride after church on Sunday so I needed to get it ready. On Thursday I got a call saying the new clutch cable had arrived, so after work I picked it up before I went home. Once I was home I changed the cable and crank case oil; now it was time to test it out.
I started the bike for the first time since I bought it and rolled it out of the garage. As I did, my 3 boys were playing in the driveway, and now watching me intently. Feeling the weight of leading by example, I went back into the garage and grabbed my helmet. Once I strapped it on, I jumped on the bike and took off around the corner. There are a bunch of vacant lots behind our house I decided to ride through, and once I was in the dirt I punched the gas. I started through the gears—the bike was running strong, the new cable was working great, and I was full of confidence. I made it to the top of 3rd gear (somewhere around 40 miles an hour) and suddenly everything went into slow motion.
The only thing I remember about that moment was this thought continually running through my mind over and over again, “Maureen is going to kill me, Maureen is going to kill me.”
I had hit a pile of rocks and concrete chunks someone had dumped in one of the lots. It was on a slight down slope and covered by some weeds and I did not see it until I was already in the air, off the bike, and flipping through the air. I can still see the vivid picture my mind took, which I later realized was the aerial view of the rocks. The first thing to hit the ground was my head, followed quickly by my left arm. After the impact of the ground I ended up flat on my back. I sat up and trying to catch my breath I lifted my arms and instantly my left arm buckled.
A lady driving through our neighborhood saw me fall, and quickly drove down by where I had wrecked. As she yelled at me asking if I was ok, I stood up holding my arm and walked toward her. She drove me back to my house where my wife and boys were still out front. My wife, in a state of panic drove me to the hospital. Once I was assessed I was transported by ambulance to a different area hospital, one that could handle my injuries better. I had surgery on my left arm that night, which started my 3 day hospital stay full of scans, tests, pain meds, needles, nurses, tons of family and friends praying for me, and a lot of questions.
My injuries were summed up into a broken left radius (arm), a broken sternum, and a broken back. When I landed on my head, the face shield of my helmet dug into my chest which broke my sternum. My helmet stopped my neck from being injured but the force went further down my spine which crushed T9, T7, T5, and T4 vertebrate. The doctors said if I had not had my helmet on it would have most likely killed me instantly. My life would have ended 50 feet past that pile of rocks.
I soon realized that a week before while selling my old motorcycle, I had done basically the same thing on my old bike with out a helmet on. Truthfully if my boys had not been out front, I am not sure if I would have put on my helmet. This obviously hit me like a ton of bricks, not that I needed to be “hit” with anything more.
After being in a back brace for 10 weeks, a lot of medical bills, and a pretty cool scar on my arm I can say I am mostly physically recovered. However, I am still not completely sure of all the spiritual and emotional lessons I have taken from this. If you want to process it all along with me, stay tuned…