Guest post by Susan Cushman
Four years ago, in July of 2013, I was mad at God. And my pastor. And my church. It doesn’t matter why. It only matters that I had allowed my anger to send me away from people I had known for over forty years. I visited other churches and found myself drawn to the Episcopal Church in particular. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave the Orthodox Church. I sought counsel from a priest in another state, one who would also hear my confessions. But when I quit driving to his city to meet with him, he never called to ask how I was, and so I continued in a messy struggle with my faith.
Late one night that July I was driving alone on a dark country road just outside Fairhope, Alabama, when I pulled out onto what I thought was a four-lane section of Highway 98. Turned out that particular stretch of 98 was only two lanes, and my little Camry was destroyed by an oncoming ambulance. I ended up in a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, with a broken neck, leg, and ankle. My husband flew down from Memphis, and after surgeries on my neck, leg, and ankle, I spent several days in the hospital before he drove me home, where my rehab—both physical and spiritual—would begin.
When we arrived at our house, we were greeted by our pastor, a deacon and his wife (a registered nurse), and another parishioner who is a physical therapist. The pastor and the nurse had built a wheel-chair ramp over our back steps. Once inside my downstairs office (our bedroom was upstairs) I was blown away by its transformation. These good people had moved my elliptical machine out of the office, rearranged furniture, and set up a hospital bed and bedside toilet. They helped me settle in, taught me how to use my walker properly, removed the door to the bathroom so that I could fit through with the walker, taught me how to care for my leg, which looked like a satellite dish, set with external fixation, and other daily self-care activities.
In the coming months, my husband and many more friends from St. John Orthodox Church took care of me. They bathed me. They taught me how to give myself shots to prevent blood clots. One parishioner brought her friend—a nurse at my neurosurgeon’s office—to our house to remove the stitches from my head so that I wouldn’t have to make another trip to the doctor’s office. When my husband returned to work after a week or so, people from St. John signed up in shifts to come and sit with me for several weeks until I could be left alone. They also brought meals. I spent about three months in this downstairs makeshift hospital room, had another surgery on my leg, was in a wheel chair for most of those months, and finally graduated to crutches and physical therapy. I wore a neck brace for six months.
Back to Church
Once I was strong enough to go back to church, I was so thankful that our historic old building had a functional elevator and a wheelchair-accessible ramp into the building from the street. My husband would wheel me into the nave from the front, since that’s where the elevator landed, and down the aisle to the back where my wheelchair wouldn’t be in the way. I wept copiously the first time I heard the music again, smelled the incense, and saw the icons that adorn the walls, solea, and ceiling in our beautiful church. But mostly I wept because of how much God was pouring out His grace on me, especially when I had been so angry. Looking at the photographs of my wrecked car and the x-rays of my neck, I realized that I was so blessed to be alive and not paralyzed.
More Than the Building
Our parish has had a fair amount of experience with handicapped parishioners and visitors. For a few years we had a blind man attending the parish. Various people would pick him up and bring him to church, and others would sit with him, help guide him in and out, to the rest room, and attend to his other needs. We have a few elderly folks in wheel chairs and some with walkers, but again, since we have an elevator and our nave is spacious, I guess you’d say we’re fairly “disabled-friendly.”
My temporary disability was an opportunity for our parish to show that being disabled-friendly is about so much more than how the building functions. It’s about how the people—the Body of Christ—take care of those in need. Four years after that life-threatening accident, I still have pain and discomfort every day. My neck, leg, and ankle are still full of hardware. But I am so extremely thankful for the way that God used, and continues to use, my disability to show me His love. I’ve forgiven Him and the Church and the people I was angry with. It’s so hard to stay mad at people who are showing you so much love and care when you are an invalid. I had never experienced this before, and I hope I will never take for granted the Church’s responsibility to not only be a spiritual hospital, but often a physical one as well.
About the Author
Susan Cushman is the author of a dozen or more essays published in anthologies, journals, and magazines, and three books: Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (eLectio Publishing, January 2017), A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017, an anthology edited by Cushman), and Cherry Bomb (a novel that launched on August 1 from Dogwood Press). She lives in Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband, Dr. William/Father Basil Cushman, who is a physician and an Orthodox priest. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and read her blog at http://susancushman.com/blog-pen-palette/.
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