When Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) died, I grieved deeply for his soul. One of the best minds of the 20th and early 21st centuries had died an atheist. Apparently, Hawking could not accept that God, if He existed, could defy concepts derived through theoretical mathematics. Stephen Hawking endured physical suffering and mental anguish beyond the imagination of most humans, but he was also blessed with genius beyond the imagination of most humans. I still grieve for his soul.
Other great minds, including that of Albert Einstein, have accepted and argued that there is a difference between faith and belief and mathematical proof. They have argued that the concept of God is not negated by the impossibility of mathematical proof and the limits of the most brilliant human imagination.
In the absence of God, where did the phenomena of love, compassion, and conscience come from in the process of evolution from the inorganic to the organic and to the current status of the human condition?
I have spent my life as a scientist and sometimes dabbler in philosophy. More importantly, I have been a sinner in thought, word, and deed. Equally importantly, I do not remember a time when I did not believe in God, although it has been in the last half of my 80+ years that I have matured in my belief that my soul is completely dependent on God’s grace and mercy as offered through the life, suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I am a believer even though I do not understand either the Trinity or “before the beginning and after the end.” I do not understand why God chose to save me in the miracles I will relate on this page. I am only certain that He did.
When I ponder these miracles, and wonder why for a sinner like me, the main solace I find is in Isaiah 55: 8-9: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (NLV)
God is with each of us. All praise and thanks be to God.
He Sent My Windwalkers
About 20+ years ago on a Sunday afternoon, a neighbor friend and I were riding two of my horses a couple of miles from my house. The horse I rode was a recent purchase, badly spoiled and fractious. However, he had been doing well that afternoon until I made him go from the lead to following the other horse. He had reared up several times in frustration, but I always rode him through it.
We were crossing a recently clearcut area in the forest and following an old logging road when we came to a water bar installed to mitigate erosion. He wanted to go directly over the water bar, which would damage its functioning. I insisted that we go around the end. The other horse was getting farther ahead. My horse reared up in frustration with not getting his way about things. As he came down, I was just off center in the saddle. He went to bucking. The last thing I remember was lying on my back with my right foot hung in the stirrup and looking up at the horse.
When I passed out, I was lying on my back. That is all I know about that instant. The rule is that if you are on your back with your foot hung in the stirrup, turn over on to your stomach so that your foot can slide loose. I was passed out, so I did not turn myself over.
The next thing I knew, I came to lying on my stomach, my hat still on, my glasses still on and leaves packed between my glasses and my eyes. I cleared the leaves. I was not in pain. I stood up laughing hard but not knowing what was funny.
Very importantly here is that I have fallen from horses many times and been bucked many times. I have always lost my hat and glasses except for this one time.
The horse ran down to my friend who dismounted, caught him and came back to find me standing there laughing. He thought I was crazy. He came over to check me as I passed out again. I remember him catching me and easing me down beside a log.
I came to again. There was no way to get home except to get back on that horse. I knew he would be okay so long as he had his way about being in front. My friend got me back on the horse. I put him in front. We were about 45 minutes from home. We went the rest of the way without incident.
After we were home, my body started to stiffen up. My friend got my crutches from the attic (my wife was not home) and convinced me to go to the ER.
There were no broken bones, but the back of my vest and shirt were destroyed along with a lot of bruising and abrasions on my back, which I did not understand. I had fallen from horses many times, but I never had my clothes torn up like this.
Very importantly, I did not have a scratch on my face although I distinctly remembered the leaves packed between my eyes and my glasses.
I had class the next morning. I tried to lecture while on crutches, but the pain became so great that I barely made it for 50 minutes. My wife had to come get me. I spent the next week recuperating in bed.
Several weeks later when I was finally able to ride again, my friend and I (on a different horse) were over at the site of the incident. I asked him where he picked me up. It was 30-50 feet from where I fell off the horse and just before the horse would have dragged me into an area of logs and large rocks where, if I I had not been killed, I would have been better off dead.
It was then that I understood the purpose of the leaves. They were a message from the Lord: "You could have died but I sent my angels (your windwalkers) to save you." My windwalkers turned me over and away from the horse just as my likely death was imminent. They packed the leaves behind my glasses. If the dragging would have somehow put the leaves there, my face would have been damaged badly, but it had no sign of a scratch or bruise.
Again, a horse had dragged me 30-50 feet, destroyed the back of my clothes, and abraded and badly bruised my back, but my hat was still on, my glasses were still on, not a scratch on my face, only the leaves between my glasses and my eyes.
I went for many years without telling this story. At my son Joel's memorial service and at the end of the eulogy I gave for him, I said to those gathered: "If you do not believe that God exists and is with us, listen to this." Since that day, I have told it to a good number of people as part of my witness.
Gene W. Wood (1940- )
May 3, 2021
The Lord is an Event Planner
On Friday night November 12, 1954, I broke my hip badly while playing in a football game. I had just turned 14 on October 23. Because of the conditions of the hospitals in those days, it would be Monday morning before surgeons would pin my trochanter back to my femur and put me in a plaster body cast for the next three months. My parents were told that I might never walk again without assistance.
For the first 17 days of that period, I was in the hospital. After that I was in a hospital bed at home, and of course, having to be attended to hand-and-foot by my family. This was at a time when, while we had a kitchen sink with running water, there was no bathroom in the house. All hot water had to come from a pot on a stove.
We had no central heat. There was a large wood heater in the living room, and that was where my bed was. One afternoon when my dad had returned home from work in a textile mill, he was sitting by the stove reading a newspaper. He said in these exact words: “Look here boy, here’s a story about a doctor in England who has put a silver ball in a dog’s hip. Maybe they will be able to do something for you someday.”
Through the next year I literally dreamed of being out in the woods running free and of playing football again. I lived for those things. I remember vividly when in winter of 1955, my very good and kindly old doctor said to me: “Son, you will never run again.” I did not cry at that moment. It was when on the way home my mother said to me: “Gene, you are a cripple and you are going to have to accept it.” I cried then and vowed that I was not a cripple.
Time went on with two more operations before I graduated from high school. One of those (summer of 1958) required another three months in a body cast. By that time, we had hot running water and a bathroom in the house.
Through the eight grade and my high school years, I spent a good bit of time in a wheelchair, a lot of time with a leg brace and on crutches, and a bit of time using a cane, I could now walk without those supports. I went on to college, became one the first U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service student trainees training to be a refuge manner, and began to live to be a refuge manager. After getting to know me and see me work, no one thought of me as a cripple. I was a fair student overall, but very good in my last two years of undergrad study. In all of our field work as students and all of my work on the refuges, I made it a point to work harder than anyone. On the refuges, I always had the highest levels of evaluation and recommendation.
After the summer of 1963 and working for the USFWS on the Canadian Waterfowl Banding Project in northern Manitoba, I took leave from the USFWS and went on to Penn State for my MS in wildlife management. As time went on, I decided to go on for a PH.D. in agronomy and resigned from the USFWS. I was later invited to apply for a position on the faculty, which I got. The years were difficult as I was serving on the faculty, teaching courses, advising undergrad and grad students and trying to finish my own degree program.
During this time, my hip began to go downhill. I suffered with substantial pain, especially whenever I worked in snow and ice. In addition to my physical problems, my workload had overwhelmed me. Everybody, except me, owned me. Everybody kept saying: “Slow down, but don’t stop doing what you are doing for me.” A breakdown that hospitalized me with physical and mental exhaustion put the cap on it. Finally, it was clear that I needed to move, and it was also clear that I needed to leave the ice and snow.
In September 1973, Clemson advertised for a forest wildlife ecologist at the Baruch Forest Science Institute located on Hobcaw Barony Plantation in Georgetown, SC. I applied for the job, interviewed, and was offered the position in early December. I began work on March 4, 1974.
That summer a student, who was from Charlotte and a senior at Wofford, was living in his parent’s recently built summer house at Debordieu Colony (Debbidue in the old days), came over to the Institute looking for a summer job. We hired him to help whoever needed him on any given day. He really liked working with me as the wildlife work was interesting and exciting.
One day as we were going in for lunch, Ronnie said to me: “Dr. Wood, what is wrong with your leg?”
“I broke my hip playing football.”
“My dad can fix you right up.”
Ronnie later brought his dad over to see what he was doing at the Institute and to meet me. His father, Dr. Rick Wrenn, asked me to come over to their house sometime and let him examine me. It turned out that Ronnie’s father was a highly acclaimed orthopedic surgeon who specialized in hips. He was with the Miller Clinic in Charlotte. I told him the story of my dad reading the article about the doctor putting the silver ball in a dog’s hip in 1955. He said: “I studied under that doctor.”
At the time I had no medical leave and could not go for any surgery. Dr. Wrenn told me that normally they did not like to do a hip implant on someone my age (almost 34 at the time), but I was in so much pain that something needed to be done.
My hip problems worsened until there were times when I did not know if I could get one foot in front of the other. Finally, in November 1977, I got my first artificial hip. I remember distinctly waking up from the operation, and moving my leg without pain for the first time in many years. The exact thought that went through my mind: “The miracle of modern medicine.”
Of all of the places that I might have gone as I left Penn State, what was the probability of ending up in just the right place at just the right time?
This story continued with knee operations, the hip implanted in 1977 needing to be replaced in 1992, left knee implant, total shoulder implants in both shoulders all since 2013, and all by doctors at the Miller Clinic (now OrthoCarolina, Charlotte, NC).
In conclusion, only the Lord could have planned this scenario spread over so many years and so many miles, and to rescue me as my physical condition was deteriorating so rapidly.
I have many stories of when and how I believe that the Lord rescued me. One, which maybe only I believe or strongly suspect, is that the Lord broke my hip to keep me out of Vietnam, which He knew was coming, and given my aggressive personality, He knew I would not last five minutes in battle.
Every day, as I near the end of my life, I ask: “Why?” Kris Kristofferson’s song “Why Me Lord” is very appropriate to my life.
Gene W. Wood (1940- )
May 3, 2021