Don’t let obstacles stop you
Tom Ellsworth had just finished a two-hour workout in the pool at a local park when it happened: Suddenly, the 56-year-old athletic trainer had lost the use of his left arm and leg. Lifeguards wanted to call an ambulance, but Tom called his doctor instead, the one who knew his history of high blood pressure.
And was it ever high. The lifeguards measured it at a hellacious 206/106, much higher than a normal reading of 120/80.
“Have them call 9-1-1,” his doctor instructed. “You’re having a stroke.”
Thus began Tom’s uphill journey from a life training athletes to one focused on his own rehabilitation. It hasn’t been an easy road but Tom draws strength from prayer and a deep faith in God. From learning to feed himself again and trying to regain mobility, it’s been a steep climb.
I caught up with Tom just after Easter, on the one-year anniversary of the day his world changed. I’d been meditating on Mark 16, the passage in the Gospel that describes Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, approaching the tomb on Easter morning.
“They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’” Imagine: Two days earlier, they had witnessed their Lord and master crucified, His torn and shattered body taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb.
They could have stayed at home crying, mourning the loss of Jesus, weeping and trying to console each other, wondering how they would go on without Him. But they didn’t. They got up and walked to the tomb, even though there was a huge obstacle in their way.
St. Mark tells us, “When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large.”
There’s a lesson in there for us.
The two Marys had faith and they lived it by walking on in hope, not knowing how they’d reach Jesus but trusting that He would make a way. And I wondered to myself: Who did I know that demonstrated similar strength?
That’s when Tom popped into my mind. I hadn’t seen him in years — at least not in person, not since he’d had the stroke. We stay in touch through Facebook and when I looked him up that morning, I saw a video of him doing push-ups.
“It’s been 365 days today since the stroke,” he said. A year in which he’s learned a few things, little nuggets like, “God is in control. Be patient.”
By the time he was sent to a rehabilitation hospital, something else became crystal clear, a lesson he summed up succinctly: “Prayer. Patience. Proper preparation.”
“There is order to almost anything,” Tom told me. “You don’t put the acorn in the soil and have an oak tree the next day.”
These days, Tom rides a motorized scooter to the nearby grocery store. He can’t drive yet and hasn’t been able to return to work, but several times a day, he reads the index card on his kitchen table, the one with the quote from Matthew 7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
He also quoted a favorite book, one in which the author points out that right in the middle of the word “growth” is an “ow.”
“The hardest part has been for me to ask,” Tom said. “I’m used to just doing.” The stroke has taught him the role of humility, service and leadership, he said — lessons imparted to the Apostles at the Last Supper. He’s taking things one day at a time, keeping his eyes fixed on God, singing His praises.
How easy it is for us to become overwhelmed when we consider the obstacles in our lives, the seemingly giant stones in our path that prevent us from seeing Jesus.
Think of Tom Ellsworth and ponder the actions of Mary Magdalene. They both kept moving, trusting that God would clear the way. He’ll do the same thing for each one of His children who place their trust in Him.