The Valley of the Shadow of Death: A wild ride to life
by By Barry Nealy
The story emerges from the
pages of Scripture as familiar words in the night. David penned Psalm 23:6
after he contemplated the beauty of life. Life can surround us with pleasant
experiences when we thank “whatever gods may be” for our blessings. Then, like
a sudden storm on the ocean, thoughts cloud our minds and we hear the author
say, “But even if I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear
no evil for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. …”
What happens when the “green
pastures” fade from memory, darkened by the fear and pain of death? The Living
God is there, as always.
March 22, 2012, was a
pleasant day and I had business in the morning and a meeting in the evening.
The afternoon spared some time for me to pursue my favorite hobby — riding my
motorcycle through the mountains.
Somewhere west, on U.S. 321,
I collided with a Ford with my bike. Things didn’t go very well for me — or the
bike. I was thrown into the windshield, headfirst; my helmet punched a
head-sized hole right in front of the terrified driver.
Of course, I remember
nothing of the event, so I piece it all together with aid from witnesses and
the accident report. In short, I rolled unconscious onto the asphalt to be
retrieved by the first responders from the Bethel community and airlifted to
the trauma center in Johnson City, Tenn.
I do not remember a thing of
the week following the wreck; I awakened with a neck brace, tubes in my lungs
and nose, and a ventilator breathing for me. The medicines kept me from pain,
while my wife and family sat by my side, helpless to assist — except by
encouragement. My pelvis was crushed. My left collarbone was fractured and both
Unbelievably, there was no
paralysis or broken arms, legs or vertebrae.
Later, I learned that the
medics thought I would die en route to the hospital on the helicopter and the
four doctors who operated on me thought I would not survive the first 48 hours.
In their wisdom, they said
nothing of this to any of my family or friends at the time. After a three-week
struggle, the ventilator was removed and soon I was able to eat and drink
I stood where King David the
warrior stood 2,000 years earlier — in the Valley of the Shadow. Many have
passed this place, so I do not pretend to have had a unique passage, but I know
from the words of medical staff in two hospitals three things I carry from this
point in life: 1) I could not have saved myself, but God was merciful and
spared my life. 2) There is nothing to fear in the valley, if the Lord of life
is with you. 3) God intervenes as we operate by his eternal principles to live
My spirit so far exceeds my
flesh that I daily apply these principles in my thoughts and prayers. There was
a time when I was convinced that I could not change my destiny of destruction.
I was young and did my best to do “the right thing.” Still, my efforts did not
succeed, as often as they failed.
I learned of a God who saves
and I cast my soul into his arms, so to speak, in prayer. I began to study the
Bible and learned that the creator did not casually observe human life. He
intervened in his world just like he did on U.S. 321 to save me. My soul was
safe and my destiny secure.
Everyone around me, for my
35 days in the hospital, told me that God wanted to spare my life. He left it
to me to take one breath at a time, one injection in the stomach at a time, one
opportunity to live at a time.
Life is not automatic and my
recovery, after five months, goes forward with some struggle, but it is worthwhile.
Many have prayed for me and shared with me their encouragement. A few have
threatened me if I ever think about riding a motorcycle again. (No, I’m