Over the years, I’ve interviewed many people who had some challenges reconciling their intense struggles associated with acquiring and having a disability along with their faith in a loving God. This week’s featured person offers another example.
On September 11, 1999, Rev. John Hendrickson was driving from a college to a nearby Midwest city on rain-slicked roads to pick up Sunday school material. His two-door, compact car unexpectedly spun out of control. He experienced what could be called a head-on collision, except the rear of his automobile slammed into the front of an oncoming vehicle.
In a telephone interview, 57-year-old Hendrickson said, “I went backwards, my head rest snapped off, and I flew out the back hatch. The EMTs thought I was dead until they heard me saying something. Really, I remember little of the accident.” He became permanently paralyzed, roughly from the chest down.
Oddly enough, Hendrickson was born on September 11, 1958, ordained on September 11, 1988, had his accident on a September 11, and his mother would die on September 11, 2000. Hendrickson doesn’t put any stock in the shared day having special significance except in being a common “marker,” he said.
He said, “As a patient in the hospital (after the accident), I had plenty of interaction with the hospital staff. When first learning I was a pastor, staff members usually would ask if I was mad at God. My response was always, and still is, ‘Why would I be mad at God?’ God and I have come to an understanding about what I can expect from him. I believe he has been 100 percent faithful with what he has promised to me. He has promised to forgive and love me, and call me his own. This is already way beyond any right I have to claim or expect or demand from him. He never promised that I would live life pain-free, accident-free or not have any crisis or disappointment in life.”
Hendrickson and his wife of 18 years, Carrie, have a 17-year-old daughter. Today, he can operate a power wheelchair and a computer, and has worked recently as a part-time associate pastor. He said he struggles sometimes with people in the community wanting to view and treat him as the “wheelchair guy.” Instead, he much prefers being John Hendrickson, the “regular” guy, a person who just happens to use a wheelchair.