Where I End
Katherine Clark was a busy mom with a long to-do list that included Friday mornings at the playground. But, on one particular Friday, the arc of her life was redirected by an accidental blow to her neck from a playful 9-year-old boy. In an instant, she was paralyzed and immobile. That began Katherine's two year journey of fear, faith, acceptance, and healing from total paralysis.
About the Guest
- Hear the full episode with Katherine Elizabeth Clark on the Unfavorable Odds podcast. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/unfavorable-odds/where-i-end/
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Katherine Clark was a busy mom. But the arc of her life was redirected by an accident. Katherine talks to Kim Anthony about her two-year journey of fear, faith, acceptance, and healing from total paralysis.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 5th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. Kate Clark’s whole world changed that day at the park, and she shares her story with us today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I feel a little bit like our listeners are going to hear an audio movie today—you know, the story we’re going to hear, which is actually from Kim Anthony’s new podcast, which is called Unfavorable Odds—it’s part of the FamilyLife® podcast network. This is a remarkable story/a real life story of a woman, who lives in Illinois, and who suffered a dramatic—really a life-altering accident one morning at the park, and how she dealt with this, and how her family dealt with this.
I know, as you guys have been in pastoral ministry, you’ve walked alongside families, who have had these kinds of life-altering moments. It takes some pretty remarkable adjustment and requires a depth of faith that we’re not called on to exercise every day.
Dave: Yes; I think the hardest thing to negotiate, as a follower of Christ, is personal pain. That’s one thing—when it’s somebody else and that’s difficult—but when it’s you, or your spouse, or your kids, and it’s that close, it is a test of your faith in God: “Where is God? Is He here? Will He heal? What if He doesn’t? Can I still believe in God?” This story is that whole journey.
Ann: It’s also hard, as a mother, to recognize that: “This will impact my family forever.”
Bob: If you’re the one, who has experienced that trauma—whatever it is—
Bob: —if you’re the one who has been impacted, yes, you’re starting to think, first of all: “What is your identity?” If you’ve been a wife and a mom and now,—
Bob: —all of a sudden,—
Ann: “Who am I?”
The story we’re going to hear today is a remarkable story. It’s Episode 3 from Kim Anthony’s new podcast, which is called Unfavorable Odds. Kim interviews people who have gone through life-altering kinds of challenges and have faced those challenges with faith. This interview is with Katherine Clark, who began one early spring day, thinking it was just another day when you take your kids to the playground and realized, pretty quickly, this was not just another day.
Katherine: If you’ve ever played tag and braved a sport with a group of children, then you know that, before long, you are the only one being chased. That’s what is happening—I have this kite-string of children on my heels. I’m happy, and I’m laughing. I’m beating these kids at their own little game.
Kim: There you go.
Katherine: In spite of my flip-flops and jean skirt, I’m having a great time.
Unbeknownst to me though—at the same time—there was a boy, who was climbing this large play structure, full of tubes and slides. He reaches the top of the slide. He’s not really tempted by these purple slopes on this day. Instead, he makes an ill-fated decision. He climbs over the protective barrier and, just as I’m running, he jumps. His sneakers crash on my head, and together, we collide into the ground. His elbow is shattered, and I am paralyzed from the neck down.
Kim: Kate, one minute you’re running around, dodging kids,—
Kim: —playing tag. The next moment, you’re on the ground. Tell me what was going through your mind. What were you feeling? What were you sensing while you lay there on the playground?
Katherine: I knew, right away, something was just catastrophically wrong. I’m trying to move; I can’t move. I’m lying on my back in the woodchips. I never lost consciousness. I sensed that there are kids kind of pressing around me, and I hear one of the little girls screaming for the boy to get off of me. He’s screaming that his arm is broken. I didn’t even know he was on me, so I immediately know something is terribly wrong. Pretty soon, after they whisked the boy off of me into the office, there was a teacher at my side. I can tell by her expression, too, that something is not—this is not good.
She begins to pray. I, too, am just—I’m praying, pretty quickly, “Please; please, Lord, do not let me be paralyzed,” because I know, as much as I want to, I cannot—I can’t move anything.
Kim: So you were attempting to move your arms/your legs?
Katherine: I think my brain was attempting—yes—
Katherine: —to, but there’s nothing happening. I’m just stuck.
Kim: They take you to the hospital; they perform an MRI. What were the results?
Katherine: That there’s obvious injury from the MRI. My spinal cord has been crushed and lacerated. They need to do emergency surgery. He tells us, “We are looking for someone who is willing and able to perform this operation.”
When the surgeon—when they do find this surgeon and he arrives—he’s quite honest with us. He tells us: “This is a Christopher Reeve-level injury. It’s dangerously high, and it’s very serious.” For us, we have a pretty vivid image of the once-strong, six-foot-and-some actor, who was confined to a power wheelchair. That name immediately gives us a real sense of the seriousness of what is happening.
Kim: Tell me what was going through your mind. Where did your heart go when you heard those words?
Katherine: When I was in the MRI—that’s a long process—I remember being pretty calm and praying persistently. I’m thinking: “Lord, I want to hug my children. I want to braid my daughter’s hair. I want to run alongside them”—just very much—“Lord, please, let this cup pass from me. I don’t want this cup.”
When I get the results that it is, what in the back of my mind I’m thinking that it is, it is a—it’s a blow—it’s an additional blow. But I’m not—I’m not hopeless; I’m not hysterical. I’m still very much—maybe a little bit in shock and thinking, “Okay; so then the next step is surgery.”
Then I was wheeled in for a very long journey of where they were going to cut the front of my neck open—remove the broken fragments. He told them that they needed to then fuse together things back together with some hardware and some donor bone.
Kim: When you heard what the procedure would be like, did the doctor express any hope that possibly you would be able to walk again?
Katherine: You know, he was a realist, I think. I think paralysis is not really for the faint of heart. He was very much honest. When he came to my family and friends, who were in the waiting room after the surgery, he told them, “I’m pretty sure she’s going to come off of the ventilator that we inserted for surgery; and beyond that, hope is discouraged.”
Kim: “Hope is discouraged.”
Kim: Your family has, literally, been told not to hope—
Kim: —in your recovery. You’re in the room—and I don’t know that you have given up hope. After surgery, describe for me what it was like to begin the recovery process.
Katherine: Yes; you’re absolutely right—I hadn’t given up hope. I belong to a strong Savior, who does the impossible/who does work that doctors can’t do. I haven’t—I’m very much—I’m very much living in that moment of: “I believe. Help my unbelief.” That’s kind of a down-beat of my day.
What’s lovely, Kim, is—I have people around me, who are also hoping. That’s the beauty of Christian community, where—even when you feel like you can’t—in some situations, when you’re faltering, you have people around you who can buoy you and hope for you—I have both of that.
One of the really, I think, just both painful and precious moments that my husband would remember or he would say—there was this moment, where my daughter comes to him; and she says, “Is it okay that I prayed that Mom can walk?” She’s heard the words from the doctor’s mouth that: “She’s not getting out of bed on her own. She’s never going to walk again. Life as you know it is changed—is over. You need to start something new.”
There’s this moment, in parenting, where you think: “Okay; do we believe what we say we believe?” and “What do I say to this precious child?” He tells her, “Yes; pray for that.”
Katherine: She presses in, and she prays that her mom can walk.
Kim: Is God still good, whether someone walks again or not?
Katherine: He absolutely is still good. This is just the hardness of the reality of this side of heaven.
Now, one of the things, I think, we sometimes—we make this mistake of saying things that are good when they’re not good. For example, sometimes, I’ll hear people say things like, “I’m so thankful for cancer.” Well, I’m not thankful for cancer!—cancer is horrible; cancer is death. I’m thankful for Jesus Christ, who is life, and light, and who is the One who can use horrible things to produce good.
God is most definitely good; and He can use those very, very painful things in our lives—that He also hates. He can use those things to produce beauty, and goodness, and just—He writes amazing stories. We don’t need to call evil good, but we need to be thankful for the One who is good.
Kim: —and the One who is walking with us.
Kim: Were you always able to sense the presence of the Lord? Was there ever a time, after the accident, where you felt abandoned or you wondered where He was? Or was your faith unshakable from the very beginning?
Katherine: There were definitely times, where I just felt like: “Lord, do You see me? Do You see me?” I think that, even still today, we go through times, where we just—we doubt, and we just wonder, “Lord, do You see me?”
Yes; I think in—that’s, again, like those moments, where it’s not our grip that’s so sure—it’s His grip that is sure. I’m thankful for that, so glad that He’s not counting on me. [Laughter]
Katherine: My pastor once, recently, said, “God does everything, and we do something.” I said, “Yes; okay; I’m going to do my little something, but the Lord has me.”
Kim: “He has me, and no one can snatch us out of His hands.”
Katherine: That’s right.
Kim: There were times when your faith or, possibly,—please correct me if I am wrong—that hope that you would walk again [was] challenged.
I’m going to talk about a couple of scenarios. The first one was when you were driving your power wheelchair down the corridor and someone stopped you. They asked you a question that really took you off guard. Tell me: “What was that question?”
Katherine: I’m using my power wheelchair on my way to therapy, and this woman stops me. She says, “Are you a quadriplegic?” I didn’t even know how to answer that; I just was kind of stunned. Quite honestly, no one had said those words to me—not even the doctors. It’s the first time I’ve actually heard the words, and I’m a little bit stunned.
Then, I asked my therapist, “Am I a quadriplegic?” She said, “Yes.” It’s just this crazy moment, where I’m thinking, “What are you talking about?” It’s the first time I’ve heard the words, and they do not sound good to my ears.
Kim: No; not at all. Then there is another instance. Your son makes a comment. What did he say, and how did that affect you?
Katherine: Yes; one of our favorite things—my kids would come in the evening, and we’d all have dinner together. Then, they would love to drive my wheelchair really fast down the hallways. He’s sitting on my lap, and he’s driving the power-wheelchair. We do—we reach this end, and we see this sign.
He’s kind of contemplating it: “Handicap,” and he says, “Mom, are you handicapped?” Before I can even answer, he’s like, “Oh, wait; you’re a quad.” It was like the breath just went out of me, and I’m trying to hold it together. I know I didn’t say anything to him, and he just kind of kept going.
When he left, I remember someone has helped me get back into my bed. I had this sweet nursing assistant. She came in; and I just wept: “I don’t want to be a quad. I don’t want my kids to think of me as a quad. These are words that are painful and not good.”
Kim: Through it all, you said you were not afflicted with the question, “Why me?” However, you said you were harassed, at times, by the question, “Why?” From your perspective, what’s the difference between “Why me?” and “Why?” Is one or the other more acceptable?
Katherine: I didn’t say, “Why me?” because I had been in so many good churches, where we had talked about pain and suffering; and this is a part of the Christian life. You don’t get by without having a cross to pick up. Jesus Christ tells us to pick up our cross.
I wasn’t actually surprised that I was in pain and that something terrible had happened to me; but I was wondering, at times, about, “Why?” It doesn’t throw the Lord off guard when we ask those questions; okay? [Laughter] I mean, the Psalms are full of them; I love the Psalms. It’s just honesty; He already knows what we’re feeling in our hearts—
Katherine: —so we might as well just utter it right back to Him. We can ask those questions.
Butt we also notice in the Psalms is they’ll ask that; but then, they’ll always return to who the Lord is. What’s important is—when we ask that question and, then, we—in the end, we remind ourselves, “But this is who You are.”
Katherine: We need to continually be confessing words of truth about Him/singing words of truth about Him because we are so prone to forget.
Yes; we can ask the questions; but if we just stick to the “Why?” question, it’s this maze that you will not get out of. It will—it can really turn you inward. That’s not really a good place to be—just continually looking inward—because you’ll start to feel a lot of pity, and despair, and things like that. You need to turn your face back to Jesus Christ.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to a part of an interview that Kim Anthony did with Katherine Clark. I hate to even jump in here—it’s kind of like we just watched the first half of the movie; and we don’t get to hear the rest of the movie. I’ll just mention to our listeners—you can hear the rest of this story when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and download Episode 3 of Kim Anthony’s new podcast, which is called Unfavorable Odds. You’ll find the podcast information, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. This is a story you’ll want to hear the rest of.
I tell you guys—I was thinking, as I was listening—something I’ve reflected on, often, when I hear stories like this. The time to build a strong faith and trust in God is not when you find yourself in the middle of the valley. You build that strong faith and trust so that, when you wind up in the valley, you’ve got a rock to stand on.
Ann: I remember being in my 20s, hearing Tony Evans say: “You never see them pouring the cement basement in a downpour rainstorm. You’re always building your foundation when things are good.” It’s not easy to do that, but the story is inspiring.
Dave: The truth of life is, as we’ve just heard, every life will encounter a storm.
Bob: That’s right.
Dave: It’s coming—it’s not an easy thing to say. I’ve preached this many times: “You are either in a storm, you’ve just come out of a storm, or you’re headed into one,”—which is not fun.
Here is the truth of what we just heard—you’re going to hear the rest of the story—but it’s like that storm can make you better or bitter. The choice is yours.
Ann: The truth is: “God is in the storm.”
Bob: —with you.
Ann: He’s always there with us.
Bob: That’s right.
Dave: But it’s hard to always remember that in it, which is the journey we’ve been on; but there is a God that can really make us better if we can come through that the way He wants us to.
Bob: Well, it’s clear that one of the reasons why Katherine was ready for that storm is because she had a walk with Jesus every day. When this happened, she knew right where to go—you go to Jesus and say, “Okay; what do we do now?”
You said we can hear the rest of the story—we can—go to FamilyLifeToday.com and download Kim Anthony’s entire conversation with Katherine Clark. Maybe, subscribe to Kim’s podcast, which is called Unfavorable Odds. Information about subscribing or listening to today’s interview with Katherine Clark are all available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We’ve got copies of Katherine’s book, Where I End, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Let me just say—if you listen to the extended conversation that Kim had with Katherine Clark, she talks about how her surgeon eventually came to her and said: “I can take no credit for what’s happened here. God did this.” She also talks about, eventually, seeing the boy who caused the accident and how she wound up processing her thoughts about that encounter. Again, that’s all available on the extended podcast version of today’s program.
Now, we are hoping that all of you are taking some time this summer to get into shape. I’m not talking about physical shape; although, that’s good to do. I’m talking about your marriage relationship—relational shape. We have designed, here at FamilyLife, a series of workouts for couples that—some of them are designed to build strength into your relationship; some are designed to get the heart racing—you know, build cardio in your marriage relationship. We’re calling this the “Stronger Forever Summer Workout Plan.” You can sign up and receive it from us—it’s free. You can download the whole thing. We’ll send you regular prompts to keep you going during the plan.
Here’s the kicker on this. One of you, who signs up to get the information and participate in the “Stronger Forever Summer Workout” schedule—we’re going to draw your name, and you’ll be our guests on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise, Valentine’s week of 2020. We’ll cover the cost of airfare for you and your spouse, your stateroom costs, and we’ll put you up in the hotel the night before the cruise—again, no purchase necessary to enter.
The contest began on July 1; it ends on August 30. The official rules can be found at FamilyLife.com/StrongerForever. Sign up there for the summer workout. One couple that signs up will be joining us on the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise in 2020. Find out more; go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Strengthen your marriage during the summer months; and then, it’ll feel like summer in February when you’re on the cruise with us, Valentine’s week of 2020. Again, all the information about the workout plan and the cruise are available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And we hope you have a great weekend this weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church, and I hope you can join us on Monday. We’ll introduce you to a couple, who had a very difficult start to their marriage. Their first three or four years were very hard, and they’ll explain why on Monday; but they’ll also talk about how they learned that the only foundation for a struggling marriage is for you to be anchored in the right stuff. You’ll meet Aaron and Jennifer Smith Monday, and I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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