Yesterday I came back from a 2 week family holiday. For me it was a time of contrast, and looking back over the last few years. We stayed in that place once before (four years ago I think) but this was near the lowest point of my illness, and I cannot remember much. When we went I was confined to the house and in a lot of pain, but I remember being amazed at gifts God had put in place even before we knew I needed them. We had booked the holiday many months in advance when my health was in decline, but we had no idea then how far it would go. By the time we went I couldn’t climb stairs, but God had provided downstairs bedrooms. I couldn’t leave the house, but there was a stunning sea view. I couldn’t maintain my body temperature without a fire or hot water bottle (often both!), and there was an open fire. In each detail, we saw that God had gone before us and seen to the needs I didn’t even realise I would have.
This year is so different! I’m not in pain, I have gone on walks, swam in the sea every day, gone paddle boarding, done handstands, joined in with my family, and (excitingly 😜) slept in an upstairs bedroom!
But some things are the same: as I look back, I am reminded of things God taught me through illness – truths that have not changed though my circumstances have. There is one in particular which I’d like to share that God taught me through my wheelchair.
During recovery, I started to be able to leave the house in a wheelchair. This was both enabling and exciting, but at the same time very humbling. I wrote this at the time:
“If you have never needed a wheelchair, you probably will not know what an enabling thing it is, making the impossible possible. But it is also challenging as your mobility depends on others, and varies a lot on who is pushing.
One of the things God has been challenging me on is ‘wheelchair faith’. He has been teaching me through my wheelchair that I can not always choose where to go, and I do not do things in my own strength. There are times I’m parked up and left alone, and other times when my brothers race with me and I effortlessly speed up hills.
It made me think of how God is sometimes compared in a derogatory way to a crutch, for people who are weak. But a crutch is something you only use when you choose to, a tool to get from one place to another. A wheelchair, however, is giving the decisions to someone else. It is an acknowledgement of extreme weakness, and dependency on the one pushing. I realised I need God to be my wheelchair. I’m too weak for a crutch!
I started thinking what it would mean to be in ‘God’s wheelchair’. Would I be willing to let him ‘park me up’ and be left alone while others go to places and do things I can’t ? How about when he calls me to heights that I cannot climb, will I be willing to trust him to take me there? The promise of this also comes with a warning: when I am enjoying those high places, not to forget that it is because of the strength of the one pushing me and make the mistake of getting out of the wheelchair. I am still a weak cripple, just being ‘pushed’ by a great God.”
This is the great thing, though! There is no limit to what God can do, where He can take me, or what He can do through me. The race of my life will not be confined to a “wheelchair friendly” route. Once I realise that it all depends on Him (not me!), then the possibilities of God’s plan for my life expand. He is limitless!
This transforms the way I view my circumstances. I have felt so limited… So trapped. I know I can not accomplish anything for God, and sometimes I give in to the lie that this means He can not glorify himself in me. But once I realised that – no matter how weak I am – I am only as limited as the one pushing my wheelchair, my limitations melt away into awe at this unlimited God.
In a wheelchair (age 16)
Now (returning to my typical craziness!)
To take it further, God is showing me how, when I am in the wheelchair, people end up putting all their bags, coats, and even tired siblings on my lap… so much that I could never carry, even in perfect health, if not in the wheelchair. This is one of the weakest times in my life, but somehow I am carrying more… because it does not depend on me. I can’t take credit for it, or be proud of anything, because it is only by the strength of the one pushing me. So…
Could it be the ones in ‘God’s wheelchairs’ to whom he gives more to carry…?
Those who seem strongest are often those who lean hardest.
I’ve used the wheelchair as a picture of what faith can look like as we live by God strength. To be in ‘God’s wheelchair’ does not necessarily mean having a physical disability, but to know your weakness, and to live in obedience by faith trusting God for the strength you do not have, and letting Him decide the path you take. It is to lean hard into Him.
Recently I watched a clip (click here to view) of a father and son doing an Iron Man together . The son is severely disabled, and the father swims, cycles, and runs him the whole way. I love the way this demonstrates the truths God has taught me through my own disability and his redemption of my life. He has shown me that, as the Father sees his son as so much more than his disabilities, so God sees a value in us that goes so much further than what we can (or cannot) do. Throughout the video, you can see that their delight in each other and absolute devotion to each other is what motivates each of them. And it is this same delight and devotion that marks, motivates, and makes beautiful our journey with God. He glorifies Himself in us because he delights in us, not because of our striving.
The way the son asks to do an Iron Man with his Dad reminds me of the power and intimacy of prayer. We can ask our heavenly Father to do great things in our lives beyond our limitations, because it is His committed love for us and limitless power that will accomplish this.
And finally, I think my favourite moment is when they are running up to the finish line, the son waving his arms in exultation as the crowds cheer…. This is how we will cross the finish lines of our lives if we live by faith. Yet the beauty of it is that, though there will be a “crowd of witnesses” rejoicing in a race well run, it will be clear that it was only by our Father’s strength that it was completed.
Now I have different challenges, and different choices. As, my strength returns, my abilities increase, and my circumstances change I remember the God who has brought me through, and continues to carry me now. He has not changed, nor have his promises, nor has his ability to glorify himself in me unhindered by any weakness of mine.
I am reminded to stay in my “wheelchair of faith”, to keep depending on God, and leaning hard into Him, to delight in Him, and have confidence in the God who holds my future, to know that He can make the race of my life like that Iron Man – unlimited by my weakness, and to know that everything that He accomplishes in me will be by His strength for His glory. “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen!” (Romans 11)
Outing with family (in wheelchair age 16)
(Now) On a walk with siblings again
I pray that each one of us would come to know the joy of running the race He has set for us in His strength and for His glory. Let us lean hard into Him!
For more on living an abundant life by faith see Called to Thrive