The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 16: Joy in Suffering (2 of 4)
Over the next four and a half years Zac Chapman has recovered not only his frontal lobe but also its associated functions such as personality, demeanor, language, decision-making skills, and character. A true miracle. And although he still spends a lot of time in a wheelchair, Zac can walk with the aid of a walker, and he gives his physical therapy team a robust workout with his determination to press forward toward God’s promise of full restoration. He texts on his phone, he writes, he reads, he talks, and he drives his Polaris 4×4 Razor ATV through the woods. And more than anything he continues to inspire people with his positive attitude, his sense of humor, and his continuing recovery.
“People are always telling me,” said Fred Chapman, Zac’s dad, “‘You’ve been a great father, blah, blah, blah,’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, the only thing I’ve done is try to be obedient to God when He speaks.’ But I don’t want you to get a misconception—there have been tough times along the way. It’s kind of that deal about joy coming in the morning, but, generally, the next day after the accident I was okay.” Fred looked at his son, emotion welling up in his piercing blue eyes. “Zac’s been my encouragement. What I see in him is the joy that he has, the great outlook on life, and everything else. He’s so motivated. I’m around him every day, so I get more blessing because I see it, and that encourages me.”
My life experience has not been as intense and challenging as Fred and Zac Chapman’s, but even so, I’ve got my own scars from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, literally. My body is a visual testament to not only my rough-and-tumble childhood, but also of a man fighting to define, discover, and ultimately live out his God-ordained destiny. Some scars I laugh about, like the slice across the crown of my scalp caused by my brother Ron clocking me over the top of the head with a toy hoe when I was five, or the mark on the bottom of my right heel where emergency room doctors had to cut out a toothpick I’d stepped on when I was eleven.
Some scars are evidence of a disconcerted past and my continuous warring against perfectionism and worry, like the five-inch gash from my sternum to my bellybutton, reminding me how a bleeding ulcer almost killed me—twice—before I turned 21. Other scars, both mental and physical, are permanent marks of past anger, shame, and extreme unsettledness, like the jagged tear on the inside of my right elbow, ripped open as I punched a plate-glass window in a fit of rage. There are psychological scars of a six-year struggle with clinical depression and spasmodic dysphonia. Even now these can become inflamed as the fear of slipping once again into that hell on earth tries to nudge its way back into my life. Thank God those scars have faded over the years; He has truly turned my mourning to gladness as He’s anointed me with the oil of joy.
But what have I learned from all of these scars? I’m tired. But I’m also persistent. I ache, but for the most part, I’m now at peace. Though I don’t feel like it at times, I’m also incredibly resilient; I don’t give up. Ever. I’m humbled. And after fifty years, I’ve finally opened myself up to being used as a vessel for God. He disciplines me and He lets me go through some horrendous experiences to build me up, not to tear me down. Like a sword hardened in a blast furnace, I have been—and am still being—put through the fire to purge me from imperfection and sinfulness. I’m tough as carbon steel, a battle-hardened warrior for God.
One late summer afternoon Mary, Hannah, and I stopped at a local produce stand on our way into town. While Mary picked through the okra, I perused the other fresh offerings, like vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet-smelling cantaloupes. While selecting a cantaloupe to take home, I chatted up one of the farmers, a big man with a round, sunburned face and large hands. During our conversation I lamented the failure of my tomato crop that year. The farmer weighed in on my lack of tomato-growing luck. “Do you water them a lot?” he asked.
“Every day,” I said proudly.
“That’s too much,” he declared. “Hold off watering them until they start to wilt. Let ‘em stress and they’ll produce.”
Let ‘em stress and they’ll produce. Isn’t that what God does with us? He allows us to go through temptation, to be tested, so that we produce abundant fruit for His glory and the glory of His Kingdom. “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it,” said the writer of the Book of Hebrews. “How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:9-11).
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes