Soon after waking up in recovery, I was being transported back to my hospital room when I sensed that something had gone terribly wrong during surgery. Once in my room, my feelings of unease were validated by a quick glance at the faces of my wife, family, and friends. I was then informed by my doctor that at some point during the complex operation to remove a tumor from my spine, I had become paralyzed from the chest down and that it was highly unlikely that I would ever walk again.
For the first 50 years of my life, I lived what some have described as a charmed existence. My formative years were filled with athletic success, as I played top-tier Jr.A and D-1 NCAA College ice hockey. Later years involved starting a small business from scratch, which became very successful.
As my annual income increased to substantial levels, I was never one who had any problem whatsoever spending almost every penny of it on expensive material items like sleek sports cars and oversized luxury SUVs. Our main family home was in a high-end subdivision, in the “right” suburban Atlanta town. My beautiful wife Adele acquired an extensive wardrobe that filled to overflowing a large walk-in closet. The sheer volume of our kids’ toys, bikes, water skis, hockey equipment, and miscellaneous other sporting goods made it virtually impossible for us to park any of our cars in the garage.
I had successfully ticked most of the boxes necessary to achieve the American Dream. And yet, something was missing. To fill the emptiness, I turned more and more to alcohol until I steadily descended into alcoholism. My excessive drinking was often accompanied by volatile, unjustified, angry outbursts directed at my wife and kids at home.
For years, I lived a shameful lie. Having at best a lukewarm faith in God, I attended church with my family once or twice a month, mainly out of a sense of obligation (I was a cradle Catholic), or just to keep up appearances to help maintain the ruse.
Then the physical pain began. One day I was unable to finish my daily six-mile run due to what I thought was a groin pull. But rather than getting better, the situation deteriorated so rapidly that between the ages of 50 and 51, I had five spinal-fusion surgeries and a hip replacement. Still, none of these highly invasive procedures resulted in even the slightest reduction in the severe, nearly debilitating, lower back pain that dominated every single second of my days.
Then, at a follow-up appointment with my doctor, the X-ray technician took an image of my upper rather than lower back which, quite by accident, revealed the real culprit of my agony, a spinal tumor. Nearly two painful years later, the tumor began to hemorrhage; I was scheduled for immediate surgery at the renowned Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
That surgery both saved my life and left me paralyzed.
As the surgeon broke the dire news to me, “Who I was” slowly dissolved right before my eyes. In that one gut-wrenching moment, I lost everything that defined me. After tasting the raw, genuinely fearful emotion of helplessness, I launched into a fit of rage, directed primarily at God. Why had he allowed everything in my life to be lost?
Over the subsequent days, I descended steadily, ever deeper into depression and despair—sometimes to the point of contemplating suicide. In desperation, I decided to devote some of my newly acquired “spare time” to search for answers to life’s existential questions, number one being whether God and Jesus Christ were real. My gut feeling was they had long since been proven to be nothing more than ancient fairy tales, mere myths, long-since debunked—logically, empirically invalidated by modern science.
I spent weeks researching both sides of the issue, reading the arguments for scientific atheism as well as the works of Christian apologists. I also began to delve into the Bible, to see for myself what it had to say. It was a lengthy process, but through my research, I became convinced that science does not disprove the Christian notion of a purposeful, infinitely loving and supremely intelligent being. In fact, I found the theist’s arguments more well-reasoned and the facts in evidence more supportive of their premises.
I was beginning to believe that God really does exist and that he is who the Bible defines him to be and who Jesus Christ revealed him to be.
Out of options, I decided to bind together the shattered pieces of my broken life and hand them off to God. But before I did, I wrote out and then formally confessed every sin I was directly responsible for and the negative impact it had on others. Almost instantly, I felt a lighter load, a freer, less chaotic sense of reality. A fresh start of understanding and forgiveness permeated the warm, glowing feeling of peace I was experiencing.
From there, it was as if I was gently lifted out of bed, caught up in the love of someone or some power so great and so pure it was something I had never associated with being part of a relationship with God. God, I discovered, was love! God is love!
My next move came more naturally than breathing the pristine air around me. I asked whether I might give myself to him, as broken as I was. I told him I could no longer bear the weight of all the sins, wrong living, purposefully hurtful actions, all the baggage that came with my alcoholism, the inability to accept my paralysis, and more.
The answer came immediately: “Is it not already lifted from you?” And indeed it had been!
So it was on bended knee (figuratively), I gave my life to Christ, devoting myself to serving him in any way the indwelling Holy Spirit should guide me. I have woken up each day happy, and I go to bed each night with my inner void filled by the love and beautiful truth that comes to the broken, once saved.
Since that time I have been hospitalized over 30 times due to various infections and other paralysis-related issues. My life as a paraplegic hasn’t been an easy one, but it was my suffering that caused me to seek him diligently. In return, he has given me a foretaste of Heaven, and I am now living in the warm, loving light and peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Peter and Adele Wenzell