I grew up playing sports and living a very active lifestyle. I had never broken a bone in my body until this past week. Sure, a sprained ankle here and there. A messed-up knee in more recent years. But never a broken bone.
This past week I made up for it by fracturing six ribs and suffering a collapsed lung while biking in Vail, Colorado. Perhaps, in the words my “friend” and witness of the events Mark Gillespie, I was way overdue.
I would love to say I was mountain biking down a treacherous black slope. My friends who accompanied me on the trip were all inventing stories to tell the folks they encountered at church this past Sunday.
One story has it that I rounded a bend and saw a baby crossing the trail as I was coming down the mountain. Close behind was a bear hot in pursuit. I swerved to miss the baby and ran into the bear, effectively chasing the bear off and saving the baby. The crash catapulted me through the air into a tree. I fell on a bull moose who tossed me in the air before rushing off as I stood to my feet, holding the handlebars ready to put up a fight.
The true story is much less colorful. I was with my five compadres on a mostly paved trail down the mountain on hybrid bikes. Although the speeds were fast, the path itself was not treacherous. My only genuine concern was making sure I beat Amy Gillespie down the mountain (hint: she is a bit competitive).
I rounded a section of curves coming out of a grove of aspens and leaning into every turn like the Tour de France cyclists I had been keeping track of all week. There was a ravine to the left and a straight, smooth path ahead. I turned over my left shoulder to see if my wife had come through the treelined curves (don’t you love how I include such a sensitive statement of a caring husband as part of my excuse).
As I looked over my left shoulder, I must have let the bike drift to the right, a common rookie mistake. I felt the front wheel go off the path and turned. I cannot tell you if I caught a rut, overcorrected, or did the unthinkable of squeezing the front brake, but the next thing I know, I was heading over the handlebars, and I knew there was nothing I could do.
Woody Woodring, one of my riding companions, said, “You really get to know the heart of your Pastor by what comes out of his mouth as he is hurling over his handlebars.” Don’t believe anything he tells you because he was too far away to hear. That conversation was between God and me.
Either instinctively or through previous falling experience, I tucked my head but landed squarely on my back. I heard or felt a crack at that moment. I rolled and stood to my feet, unable to breathe. I am not sure how much I said out loud, but I specifically remember thinking, “this is not good,” “I am really hurt,” and “I broke a rib.”
As my friends gathered around and I regained the ability to breathe, I insisted on continuing down the mountain. I trying to hold onto my man-card. Most of the next seven miles were downhill with a few spots of peddling and incline.
Jesus and I had quite a talk during those miles. He brought Job along for the conversation. Perhaps in the future, I will share some of those discussions.
After getting off the bike once and pushing, we came to a point where we could stop and call for help. I refused – still holding onto my man-card. About 300 yards later, we crossed a wooden bridge followed by an uphill climb. I stopped. Between the pain of going over the bridge and the inability to breathe, I realized that this injury was nothing to be trifled with. I turned my man-card into Woody, and he, Ali, and I started walking back to the pick-up point.
A shout out here to Vail Health Hospital. I have never been in a hospital as a patient or visitor with a better experience. The combination of competent, fast care, thorough explanation of what happened and what to expect, and the pleasant bedside manner of everyone I encountered was a blessing. They are a world-class facility and staff. As you can imagine, their specialty is broken bones of all sorts. If you are ever in Vail, I hope you do not have to go to the hospital, but you will receive great care if you do.
The medical staff was amazed; I broke six ribs and biked seven miles after the accident with a collapsed lung. I did not tell them most of it was downhill on a paved path. I did not think it was essential information for them to know.
Upon further reflection, I believe it was because I was carrying an aluminum canister of oxygen about the size of a large water bottle in my small hiking backpack that caused so many ribs to be broken. I landed squarely on it. I also had a small towel in the pack. I am thankful the towel had the canister pushed to one side rather than on my spine, or it there would have been a whole different level of complications.
We all ask “why” at times like this. Here I was getting away with some good friends for some unwind time, hoping to come back refreshed for a full plate of ministry activities moving into the fall. My eldest son, Spencer, in his ever-so-insightful way stated, “Maybe God just wanted to give you a new illustration for preaching.”
I am continually thankful for friends. We do life together. My fellow adventurers, Mark and Amy Gillespie, Woody and Kim Woodring, and my dear wife, Ali, stepped up to my aid in multiple ways include getting me through the airports on the trip home. Their vacation was interrupted as well as ours but they did nothing but show grace and serve. Our leadership team at Bethel stepped up and covered everything before I even had the chance to ask. You are all awesome!
We cannot always choose our circumstances or location, but people who need the word of Hope are all around us. I had the opportunity for some spiritual conversations at the hospital and also reflect on some opportunities I missed. As I get older, I want to miss fewer of those opportunities.
I look forward to getting back to full speed but also know God is molding and teaching me even in these moments. As the summer comes to a close, here are some wise words from a wounded pastor: Enjoy your vacations and avoid being stupid. Blessings!