Reprinted from HopeKeepers Magazine 2004
I was having a ball with wedding plans; my music program was a huge success; I was blessed to have had the opportunity to travel & see the world; I had friends & family to love. My life was full, & I saw nothing but blue skies above,” she writes in her book The Last Dance But Not the Last Song. But in May 1988, after a romantic weekend as a prom chaperone with her fiancé, her life would take a dramatic dive—literally.
She went to bed filled with innocent anticipation of life ahead, but awoke “diving” off the foot of her bed. She simply remembers being in mid- air & thinking, “Huh?” & then hitting the floor. Filled with searing pain in her neck & shoulders, she thought, “I’ve really done it now. . . I’ve got a real kink in my neck.”
Later at ICU, however, the doctor would tell her, “You’ll never walk again. . .” & he would be right. That night, Renée became a quadriplegic, having no feeling below the top of her chest. He also told her, however, “You’ll never be able to sing. . .” —& he would be wrong. He didn’t know Renée, her fierce determination & passionate spunk; nor did he underst& her faith that would propel her forward through any challenges she would face. Today, Renée has sold over 100,000 albums & she travels throughout the United States singing & speaking for Christian conferences, church events, & youth rallies. But the closest thing to her heart right now is simply being a wife & a mother, miracles that she acknowledge astonish her daily.
I arrived at the church to meet with Renée a bit frazzled, as my directions were confusing. I had also read Renée’s book & I was experiencing a sense of nerves at meeting this inspiring woman. I no longer wanted to sit & just interview her; I wanted to have a relaxing cup of coffee & chat about how she had encouraged me through her honest & raw written words. I started out my conversation with her laughingly sharing how much I related with her frustration of not being able to wear cute, feminine shoes. It’s those little things that make one feel an instant bond.
Despite our surroundings of being in a cubby-hole behind the stage where she would perform in a few minutes when she spoke it was Holy Ground where I would sit with her. Renée’s deep faith & daily surrender were immediately evident.
HK: Many people find losing more abilities the hardest part of living with a chronic condition. How do you get through tough moments?
RB: I’ve often wondered what would it be like if I had something like MS where I wouldn’t really know where I’m going to be in a year. One may wake up tomorrow with some paralysis or dysfunction. At the beginning we felt that way, but after fifteen years, I know what I have is pretty much what I have. I know what tomorrow is going to bring. I don’t have the fear that you may, unless I don’t take care of myself. What has helped me over the years is knowing that with God I can h&le anything.
I didn’t have that confidence when I was young, but now I know that I can get through anything–including being confined to the wheelchair– because tomorrow is another day & it could be better. I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna at all, but I know I’m not going to stay this way forever. I can even have this outlook with the worst case scenario: let’s say I get a pressure wound that gets horrible & infected & I get a staph infection & die. . . Still, it’s not horrible. I will go to Heaven where I get to dance again & run & play & be able to use my body. What most people would call the very worst scenario isn’t bad.
HK: I think that describes the “joy of the Lord is my strength” because a lot of people would say tomorrow could be worse.
RB: And it could be, but you’re not doing yourself any favors.
HK: You’ve had some time where you’ve been bedridden for months. What kinds of things get you through these lonely times?
RB: I think what you can do when you’re having a bad day, rather than being depressed about it, is to go ask yourself, “What can I do to make this better? Am I taking care of myself? Do I have the right medical care & attendant care? Have I made good amends with my family? Do I have a relationship with family members or are they estranged? What changes can I make myself?” Rather than dwell & woe about my life, I need to really ask myself, “What can I do?”
HK: You’ve found a certain peace by having a ministry from your experience. How would you encourage someone who is in deep pain, but still waiting for God to reveal His purpose?
RB: I think it’s really important to know that God does not waste our suffering or pain. I had been through junk, pain & suffering, but others wanted to know, “How do you smile in that wheelchair?” It allowed me to share & question, “How do I?” I was able to realize that God was using everything I had been through for a larger purpose. So I would encourage people to help others in their pain because (a) it helps you get out of your own & put your focus on somebody else; & (b) it gives you purpose to live with the pain.
HK: What’s been the most surprising thing about being a mom with disability?
RB: How quickly my son adapted to my disability. He was only about 12 or 18 months old. . . He needed to get out of the crib & I would calmly say, “Daniel, I’m going to help you get out of the crib. Be very careful & listen to mommy. Grab around my head & hold on tight. Do not let go because mommy cannot catch you. Mommy cannot catch you.” And he’d grab around my neck & climb out & crawl into my lap. How he got out of that crib & onto my lap was amazing. I was so surprised.
HK: I think that’s very encouraging for us moms to hear. Many of us are even more nervous than an average mom about how our child will adapt to different abilities we have.
RB: Oh good. Yes! I was very nervous about the infant stage. Very nervous.
HK: If you could reshape how a church reaches out to the disabled community, what would be your vision or your dream?
RB: Some churches are doing an excellent job, but I think they are far & few between. I think that’s something we as disabled people should take on. We ask ourselves, “What do I have to offer to society?” & this is a huge job —to come to our pastor or parish advisory board & say, “What are we doing really to minister to the disabled? Can I help? Can I start a Bible study for the disabled? Can I make sure we have an accessible church? Where can we sit comfortably? Not all together, for example. If I’m disabled, how can I sit with my family?”
It’s absolutely important not to go in with a hardened heart & with an attitude of, “You owe it to me, you’re my church!” But rather offer yourself to be part of the solution. Don’t be an angry, bitter, dem&ing person.
I would love to see everything accessible, Bible studies that speak specifically to suffering, & signers for hearing impaired at all services, & my absolute dream would be to have a disabled person on staff. I love the fact that many churches have disability Sunday. Sunday school for children. That’s so hard & I underst& why it doesn’t happen because it takes the right people. It’s a big job description—for people to have special education skills & also a relationship with Christ. But it’s a dream.
HK: What dreams do you have for your ministry & how God will continue to work in you & your family’s life?
RB: When I was laying in the ICU, I never dreamed I’d now be a wife & a mom—well. . .yes, I did, because I was in denial: “Of course I will be!” But later . . . after denial, I realized this is real, this is my “thing.” Now, to be a wife & a mom & be able to reach out to others is just more than I deserve.
I am in a very, very, very serious place of being a wife & a mom. If I was in my 20’s & single, I’d want to travel & be a recording artist & speak & minister to others on a gr& scale, get a record deal, that sort of thing. But I just have no desire; it’s exhausting to parent this way, there is no doubt about it. I’ve had to get very creative at times—very creative. But more importantly, I want to be a good wife; It’s really about being a good wife in order to be a good mom. That’s the gift we’re going to give our son—mom & dad being okay.
This year I was in bed for seven months on my stomach 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while a pressure wound healed; after that I finally got back up in the chair & had other health problems. It was very taxing on our marriage, very difficult. But we finally survived it. We really started praying for joy. We wanted to be joyful. We were whining & cranky. It was very ugly & so we prayed for God to return our joy.
This year Mike & I went through what everyone expected us to go through fifteen years ago, like when everyone was saying, “What is Mike doing marrying a quadriplegic. Does he realize what he’s giving up?” He realized it this year. But now, we’re much, much better.
Again, I had to step back & look at it without being emotional & ask, “What can I do to help the situation?” I started meditating on Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true…” & so while I was stuck in bed I’d go through that verse. Okay, what is true? God loves me. What is true? I’m a quadriplegic & I need to find a way to be joyful. What is noble? Mike being married to me. What is pure? Daniel’s smile. What is lovely? I can see the sky outside.
Once I started meditating on this my attitude & heart started to change & I became someone my husb& wanted to be around. Mike said, “Okay, that’s the woman I married. She left for awhile, but she’s back now.”
I taped Scriptures on 3 x 5 cards & put them by my bed, & I’d say them over & over, sometimes putting melodies to them. It really helped pass the day in a good way. I also watched every romantic comedy on video, but I got to where I needed more. I called Joni Eareckson Tada & said, “What can I do? I’ve prayed. I need some new ideas! I’m going down for the count!” She said that it was during these times that she began memorizing the second, third & fourth verses of hymns.
Sometimes it’s hard to pray. I remember soon after the accident when I was in the hospital & a chaplain came to pray with me. She said, “Let’s pray,” & I said, “I don’t feel like it. . .” She told me to breath in & say “Jesus.” Then slowly breath out & say “Mercy. . .” “Jesus. . . Mercy. . .” & soon my heart began to soften.
HK: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Renée. I know you will encourage many.
Visit Renee Bondi’s web site for more information on her ministry, her speaking, music & more, including her latest book & CD (where you can hear samples.)
Lisa Copen had the honor of interviewing Renee Bondi.