When the Light at the End of the Tunnel Blinks out.
Back in my first church in Melfort, Saskatchewan I had a major accident. As a result of a really bad decision I found myself wondering if I would ever walk again.
That youth night was turning out to be one of the greatest things I had ever done. Power to change had asked me to participate in building a Provincial evangelistic tour involving extreme sports athletes. I had contacted a group of professional skateboarders from California who specialized in outreach ministries. These guys were amazing, they could do anything on a skateboard from ground level stuff to high flying ramp tricks to jumping cars and trucks.
We contracted with them and they sent us plans for a number of ramps. They designed the ramps in such a way that they could be built in our city and then we could load them all on a flat bed truck and take them from city to city on this tour through Saskatchewan.
The whole event started out with students from the whole community gathering for a free skate event where they could use the ramps. The music was loud, the ramps worked perfectly and these pros did an amazing job working with these random skaters from our town and surrounding communities.
Then at some point the pros came out and did 45 minutes of stunt after stunt after stunt. Each one more crazy than the next. They were flying off ramps, doing flips, riding up walls. The whole thing was absolutely insane and awe inspiring.
At the end of the 45 minutes one of their skaters flew down a ramp hit a launch and flew over my car holding his skateboard. In a flash he had that skateboard under him, landing his jump and skated up a ramp on the other side. The crowd went wild.
He then stood at the top of that ramp and explained to these teenagers how his life of gang violence and drug abuse had been changed when he met Jesus. It was an amazing thing to see all the students come forward.
At some point during the clean up another youth pastor friend of mine decided to ride down one of the ramps. I told him he was crazy, because he had never ridden a skateboard before and just because these guys made it look easy, it wasn’t. He then came down from the ramp and asked if I wanted to go.
As a young person I had been a skateboarder, I had done hills, some low level ramps and learned some simple tricks but… I had never, ever done any ramps this big before.
So… being 27 and not too bright I climbed to the top of one of the smallest ramps. I stood on the end of the skateboard, like you do. I leaned forward to drop in but something wasn’t right, something was not right at all. I have no idea what happened but in the next second my left leg bent at a 90 degree angle and both my left knee and my left foot hit the floor. Not a big deal, except for both my knee and left foot were facing forward.
I had pulled my knee cap completely out of socket and torn everything inside the knee. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I turned white instantly, stood up and ran around for a few seconds before dropping on the floor doubled over in pain.
Later that night at the hospital they would drain 80 ml of blood off my knee and give me copious amounts of pain killers so that I could sleep. That began an almost 10 year journey of healing which left me with a noticeable limp.
On the floor of that impromptu skatepark I didn’t see ramps, I didn’t see friends and volunteers who were rushing to my aid. I didn’t see the hours of cleaning and loading still ahead of us. All I saw was white blinding pain and my youth pastor friend who was trying to convince me to get to a hospital.
The best thing about a knee injury is that it is obvious to everyone around you that you are hurting. Sometimes you walk with a crutch, a cane or a limp. But people can see something is wrong.
When you are hurting on the inside it is not obvious. I remember a time in my life after my wife had moved out when I experienced that same white blinding pain and the tunnel vision was focused only on myself and my broken and bleeding heart. The only problem is that no one saw and I didn’t want them to know. I hid my pain and the tunnel vision became more and more focused on myself and my own hurt.
That kind of internal pain caused some rather strange behaviours in me. The first thing I found is that I stopped thinking about other people, I found my mind continually going back to survival mode. Keep moving forward, keep walking, keep smiling.
I remember the day the light at the end of my tunnel blinked out.
I was working at Norden Volkswagen and I was realizing that I was going to struggle to pay my bills for the third month in a row. I remember thinking that the weight of the world was crushing my spine and swallowing up my soul. I remember having no solution.
I had to sell my house.
There was no other way out of this.
I was defeated. I was beaten. I was broken. I was ruined and I felt like a failure.
I remember thinking that everyone in church was looking at me, like they could see my limp, but my limp was a wife who walked out. In those days I closed myself off and wallowed in my own struggles. Bitterness and anger became my constant companions.
In those days I spent many evenings at a friend’s house and he and his wife talked me through my pain. In small doses they breathed life into me.
During my dark days I discovered two friends who were also journeying through pain and suffering and we began to meet periodically, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes coffee, sometimes lunch. Those moments of peace became life preservers for me as I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of despair.
Honestly, as I think back I can name probably 20 or more people who took significant time to meet with me, and check in on me, and speak into my broken heart. They probably think they were just taking me for coffee, or buying me lunch, or texting or playing board games but they were giving a glass of water to a man crawling through a desert of sorrow.
I don’t know when the light blinked back on, but, my future is so bright.
I’m not sure when the tunnel disappeared, but, I see all around me.
All I know is my eyes have been opened to the hurting people in my world.
I’m doing my best to be the guy who texts, the guy who meets for coffee and lunches and the guy who plays board games because those small insignificant acts of friendship saved my life.
Doug Wark · June 3, 2019 at 3:46 pm
Great words,Chet. So awesome that you are using your dark experiences to give light to others. Blessings my friend!
Janet Groat · August 26, 2019 at 5:27 am
We remember that night so long ago! We miss you, you crazy guy! From your vision, there has now been a skate park built in Melfort. I’ll try to remember to take some pictures for you….or…you could come and visit us and see it for yourself! 😉