The Life of an Amputee
A couple of months back, I was driving my daughter Genna (16) to her mom’s. We both love music and we both like to listen to it loud. We always have fun in my car enjoying our favorite songs together. At one point during our two-hour drive, I looked over and Genna was crying.
I turned the music down and asked, “What’s the matter, honey?” She said, “I’m sad.” I asked her why. She said, “I like the way life used to be. Life is broken now.” I took her hand in mine. I reminded her of how sorry I am for my role in breaking up her family and how much I love her. As she always does, she sweetly assured me of her forgiveness and her love for me as well.
After a few moments of silence, I gave her this word picture of how life now feels in the aftermath of my sin.
I told her that it feels like three years ago our whole family was in the car together, speeding down the highway and I fell asleep at the wheel.
In a flash, we were spinning out of control. We hit the ditch and rolled, over and over. When the car finally stopped, the tires were up in the air, the windows shattered. Thankfully, God pulled us out and spared our lives, but we weren't okay. We weren’t okay at all. All of us lost something that day. An arm. A hand. A leg. We were alive, but we all lost a limb.
That awful day we became amputees. That is our new normal.
I told Genna that, for me, the difficulty of losing my limb is hard, but it’s nothing compared to watching those I love, deal with the loss of their own limbs. It’s my fault they now have to struggle through life as an amputee. It was my hands on the family’s steering wheel.
But the loss of a limb is the loss of a limb whether it’s your fault or someone else’s. Whether someone shoots your finger off or you shoot your own finger off, you still have to deal with the pain of living with one less finger.
I explained to her that the loss of my limb has forever changed how I experience life. Some people feel sorry for me. Others stare. And still others say, “That’s what you deserve for driving that way.” But the real challenge is not the whispering voices out there but the accusing voices within. Every day, in ways great and small, I’m reminded of life before the accident. Life when everything was the old normal, pre-crash, pre-loss when I stood on my own two feet.
I know life can never be what it was, but I wrestle with the desire to rewind the clock, keep the car between the white lines, avoid the disaster. I still struggle with trying to recover some measure of what I used to have. My todays are always punctuated with painful thoughts of yesterdays. As I’ve said before, I often feel like a man without a home—a wanderer trying to find a recognizable sight or sound, something that I used to know and love.
Amputees will tell you they often experience phantom pains in the limbs they no longer have. With me, it’s like I experience phantom pleasures. The joy of holding yesterday in a hand that is no more. The pleasure of standing strong in the past on legs I no longer have. Phantom pleasures remind me of what I lost and caused others to lose as well.
At this point, Genna (who had been listening intently and nodding her head in agreement) said, “That’s exactly the way I feel.”
I have no doubt that’s the way many of you feel, too. It may be the death of someone you love, a painful divorce that’s left your family in shambles, or a debilitating disease. It could be that your son is in prison, your daughter won’t speak to you, or a close friend has stabbed you in the back. Perhaps your kids are grown and you desperately miss those simpler, sweeter days when they were small and your house was full every day with the people you love most. You may live with guilt and shame and regret and sadness because of a terrible decision (or a string of terrible decisions) and it has cost you everything you once held dear. Life, as you knew it and loved, is gone. Or, maybe you’re just getting older and your body doesn’t work the way it used to or you don’t think you look as young and beautiful as you once did.
Whatever it is for you, at some level, you too live life as an amputee. You’ve lost a piece of yourself. What you once took for granted is gone. Ripped away. Cut off. In some way and at some point, you have lost (or are losing) something or someone you love.
I can’t say anything that will make you feel better. There are no instant, microwaveable solutions to these deep human griefs. And I can’t make your missing limb grow back any more than I can my own.
But there is something I can do. It’s what I told Genna, and what I now tell you: as unfamiliar and uncomfortable as life now feels, God has revealed things to me about myself and him and others and life and love and friendship and what’s important that I couldn’t see when I had both of my legs.
I needed to lose something in order to be ready to gain something.
Sometimes we have to lose a leg before we can dance to the Father’s kind of music. Sometimes we have to lose an eye to see with 20/20 vision the work of Jesus in our lives. Sometime the jars of our hearts must be shattered before they’re ready to hold the thirst-quenching waters of the Spirit.
When I’d finished talking, I looked over at Genna. I held her hand. Her tears had subsided.
After a few moments of quiet, she said, “Dad, can you put on Angels & Airwaves and turn it up loud?”
I smiled, squeezed her hand and said, “Absolutely!”
And on we drove, into a new future, with a new normal, but the same gentle, loving, healing Christ with us, ever faithful.