Having married in my thirties, I had long accepted that my nieces and nephews might be my only children. I adored them all. Jenny was a shining star, a beautiful girl who loved the Lord. She was a Junior Olympic gymnast, a cheerleader at her Christian high school, an accomplished pianist, and a straight-A student.
At this point, I was thrilled to be nearing my second trimester of pregnancy with our second child. I was tending to kitchen chores with our two-year-old daughter underfoot when the telephone rang. I was delighted to hear my mother’s voice until I caught her anguish. Jenny had fallen. Her spinal cord was severed.
It was a sunny Louisville morning, and the cheerleading squad had moved their practice session from the gym to a nearby park. The grass was wet with dew. The back flips so familiar to Jenny were routine, but this time her feet slipped on the wet grass.
Her friends ran to her.
“Jenny! Are you okay?”
“No,” she replied remarkably calmly, “I think I broke my neck. I wonder how God is going to use this?”
Jenny was sixteen, and I took no journalistic liberty here. She had the spiritual maturity at that critical point to wonder how God might use her circumstance.
The diagnosis was quadriplegia, permanent.
She defied the medical professionals’ prediction of denial, anger, and depression. She recognized and accepted her new circumstances with a sense of humor and grace. I remember her commenting, “Well, I was hoping for a set of wheels when I turned 16, but this is not exactly what I had in mind” (in reference to the wheelchair she would be receiving). Of course, she had some bad days, but overall she rested in the knowledge that God is in control. She demonstrated a trust in God that truly humbled me.
I must admit to you that I was overwhelmed with grief, and our baby was lost. Grief upon grief. I was forced to ponder, “Who’s the mature Christian here?” I knew I had to seek my Savior with a renewed fervor.
Jenny’s trust in God was not misplaced. After earning her master’s degree in psychology, Jenny went to work for an organization that collected and refurbished used wheelchairs. The wheelchairs were then distributed to Third World countries. Jenny headed up the collections and traveled around the world for distributions, living out her faith along the way. Recently, Jenny has had the opportunity to work for a mission organization in member care. This work also gives her opportunity to live out her faith through international travel.
For over 25 years, Jenny has had countless opportunities to speak publicly, including radio and television. She has had a platform from that wheelchair that she would not have had otherwise. Jenny sees her “tragedy” as a God-ordained blessing for a fruitful ministry. Because her focus is eternal, her joy is complete.
I now look back on my grief and despair with shame. I could not fathom how God could redeem her in that situation. All I could think was, “A bright mind in a useless body…..”
Forgive me, Lord.
The Light that shines within Jenny and her amazing perspective continue to bless me and others. She has had countless surgeries and complications from her injuries and struggles with the typical limitations all quadriplegics face. But she chooses to focus on what she can do, not on what she used to do.
And, by the way, she chooses to do a lot. She rows competitively on the Ohio and Schuylkill Rivers. She plays tennis. She travels with a Louisville quad rugby team and gets right in there with the guys in what is a rough-and-tumble sport.
Jenny’s heart is with the materially and spiritually poor. God is always giving her opportunities to minister to those on her heart.
I love talking with Jenny about life, grace, and heavenly focus. She gets it. In fact, she was there, in The Zone, long before I was. She knows joy. Maybe Jenny can’t run, but she has won the race.
Yes, I am always learning, even from those who are much younger than I.
To God be the glory.
Joy in Jesus,
On right: Jenny as a young gymnast and
as Miss Wheelchair Kentucky.