CARL: It’s one thing to understand pain and suffering theoretically; but when it touches your own life, well, that’s a different story. During the next half hour we’ll hear a personal testimony of God’s grace in the experience of John and Patricia MacArthur. Stay tuned for today’s Grace to You.
And we are glad to have you along for this special edition of the Grace to You broadcast. I’m Carl Miller your host. We’re stepping aside from our typical format today to provide a special conversation with John and Patricia MacArthur.
Now our friends may recall that about a year ago, as a matter of fact, it was a year ago today that John MacArthur’s wife Patricia was seriously injured. It was a life-threatening automobile accident. During the next half hour we’ll be hearing firsthand how the Lord has brought about remarkable healing and care during these past twelve months.
Now our special host for today’s broadcast is a good friend of Grace to You, Al Sanders. Well, we’ll want to give as much time as possible to our discussion, so here’s Al Sanders.
AL: Thank you, Carl. It’s a delight to be here today with two good friends, John and Patricia MacArthur, and as we have the opportunity of talking about something that took place one year ago. For any who may not be aware, review for us those life-threatening events that transpired just twelve months, John. Maybe you could pick it up, and then I’ll ask Patricia some questions.
JOHN: Well, I was shocked to be receiving a phone call saying that my wife had been in a severe car accident and that she was being helicoptered along with my daughter from the sight of the accident into the trauma center. When I heard that, I knew it was serious, because the trauma center is serious enough; but they helicopter somebody in it’s life and death. And I had to drive about an hour-and-a-half to get to the hospital to find out that the car had flipped over into an eight‑foot culvert and landed on its roof, crushed the roof down really as far down as the headrests, and some places below the headrests. And, of course, the blow to Patricia’s head had broken her neck and broken the bones in her face all around her eye and cheek, and then broken her jaw, broken her shoulder, and her hand was broken. She had lacerations; her head was split open. My daughter Melinda was in the car and really escaped anything serious. There were no broken bones, just a lot of bruises and cuts.
We went into the hospital at that time; it was a life and death situation because the concussion was so severe that swelling of the brain is the real issue. To just make sure she’s alive they poured steroids into her through intravenous for about the first twenty-four hours and kept the swelling down; and that was what really prevented death at that point. Then it was a matter of whether there was spinal cord damage and paralysis. And as it turned out, there was no spinal cord damage, which was really an incredible thing. That puts her in the category of five percent of people who have that kind of break and live. And so, God was really in that. And then it was a process of months of wearing a steel halo; and it hardly seems like a year ago.
AL: Did you have a lot of support people behind you during those days that you were in the hospital, beyond your family?
PATRICIA: Yes, very definitely so. In fact, we had to limit all the dear people that wanted to come alongside and assist and serve. And we had just one or two particular friends that stayed with me almost twenty-four hours a day. With a hand paralyzed and one in a cast, I was unable to do much for myself. So they were there to feed me and to bathe me and to take care of me over and above the care at the hospital.
JOHN: One of the special moments, Al, that happened there that I always think back to – well, all the kids and grandkids came and camped outside the Intensive Care Unit; and people delivered food to us. I mean, they were bringing muffins and – just endless all day long. So we had this little picnic going on right outside the room there.
But it was just, I think, the second or third day that Joni Eareckson Tada came and she came with her husband Ken, and she really obviously could identify. Patricia broke C2 and C3. Joni broke C4 and it damaged the spinal cord. Patricia broke C2 and C3 above the respiration line. No spinal cord damage or she would have died because it would have cut off respiration.
Anyway, Joni came wheeling in in her chair into Patricia’s room while she was lying in the bed, just having been screwed into the steel halo, and she sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow” for Patricia. And then she gave her a little sparrow, a little ceramic sparrow that Ken had given her and was precious to her, and she wanted to give it to Patricia. And she reminded Patricia, because the doctor said that the bone had come within the width of a hair of damaging the spinal cord, and Joni reminded Patricia that the Lord not only knows how many hairs you have on your head but He knows how wide they are. And that was that close. But that moment of Joni, with tears, by the way, singing “His Eye is on the Sparrow” to Patricia was really a precious moment.
She came back frequently. And I remember her weeping one time in joy and saying, “I’m so glad you’re not paralyzed.” And, of course, she knew all that was involved in that and just rejoiced for Patricia.
AL: Well, Patricia, I hope you don’t take this in the wrong way; but as I see you today, a year after that near fatal accident, you look perfectly normal. Have you had any kind of residual problems connected with that?
PATRICIA: Not really, Al. My last visit to my neurologist, Dr. Egan, wanted to do neck surgery on me because of the impairment of my arm, and she was concerned about some numbness that I had in my hands and feet. And I had been experiencing so much healing and recovery in such an unusual way that I asked her for more time and perhaps more therapy and rehabilitation, because I told her I didn’t want to limit the Lord in His healing process, and as a result of the many prayers that have gone up on my behalf. And I have not been back to her since.
They were going to put a plate in my face for the fracture of my jaw because it was so severe. And I have not even been back to the plastic surgeon since I was discharged from the hospital. And once in a while my neck gets tired from the muscles being weakened from the suspension of my head so that the spine would heal correctly. But basically I have no pain or discomfort that even requires any prescription drug.
AL: That’s absolutely incredible.
JOHN: I might add to that too that the problem was that she couldn’t move her right arm, and they didn’t know whether that was spinal cord damage or one of the roots that comes out of the spinal cord to the nerves. And that’s what Dr. Egan wanted to go in there to do, to clear out a channel, because she thought the impingement was occurring at that point and could release those nerves to make that arm move.
Well, Patricia just felt she wanted to wait on the Lord and let people’s prayers keep rising before the Lord. And as it turned out, that nerve has totally rejuvenated itself. And her right arm at one point would not move, and now she can put it clear up in the air. And they think now that the nerve is completely rejuvenated, and any weakness in the arm that remains is just the muscles, and they have to come back.
AL: And I imagine you had a tremendous amount of encouragement not only from the church family, which is a huge family in itself, but also the Grace to You radio family. Do you recall getting a lot of letters from different folks?
PATRICIA: Yes. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the number of letters and cards, and dear little gifts of kindness, you know, crocheted crosses. And I even received some chocolates for a special coffee on dry ice that was mailed to me. I have received so many letters; and they weren’t just a card with the name signed, but they were just hearts of compassion and care on my behalf, and with promises and commitments to pray for me faithfully. And they would send portions of Scripture to me to encourage me.
And I really was overwhelmed to realize the impact that the ministry has around the world. I received letters from India, from the Philippines, all over Asia, and they wrote to me as if I were their daughter. I mean, it wasn’t just, you know, get well soon, it was just dear, dear letters. And I tried to read every one of them, it took a long time.
AL: An outpouring of love, I’m sure.
PATRICIA: Oh yes.
AL: John, it says in Philippians the first chapter that what has happened to us as believers is really for the furtherance of the gospel. Can you look back on the experience that you and Patricia had twelve months ago and say, “Yes, that was for the furtherance of the gospel?”
JOHN: I think I can, Al. First of all, I just want to say, I think Patricia is as beautiful as she ever was right now. She doesn’t have any disfigurement on her face; and I don’t want people to think all those broken bones and broken jaw made any difference.
AL: Well let me interrupt for a second and ask you, when you first saw her were you reduced to tears?
JOHN: Sure. I was devastated because her face was just a mass of cuts and scratches and huge bruises, and her leg was solid bruise from top to bottom, and her back and her neck and her hair was all matted with blood and all split open. And, oh, I mean, it was devastating. I mean, you know, I was shaking because of just the trauma of the whole moment.
I told her afterwards that I was shaking as I was driving and shaking when I got there. But I had an overwhelming sense of peace because I knew she was with Christ if she was gone, or if she were to die. I knew she’d be with the Lord, and I never – that allowed that ambivalence of this frightening moment of loss. And I mean, this is a person that I love more than anybody in the world, and she’s been inflicted with unbelievable pain and trauma, and this is only the start of it even in the recovery process. So there’s all that agony and all that pain and all that sense of loss. But the confidence that she was with the Lord, it was also a balancing peace along that line.
And as you asked her a moment ago, “Did it fall out for the furtherance of the gospel?” Let me tell you initially what struck me. I tend to appear to people to sort of be strong and immovable and –
AL: Now, why did we hear Patricia just give a little –
JOHN: She’s smiling.
AL: a little something in the background?
JOHN: Yeah. And you know, I’m very resolute and I’m very focused.
AL: You know where you’re going.
JOHN: Yeah, and you know, you hear somebody like me on the radio and I’m sort of a preaching machine – you turn him on and you turn him off, you know. And there’s a lack of humanity there, very easily, particularly with the radio audience, more so than with a congregation of people who know you and they know your family and they see your life.
AL: That’s one of the nice things about doing a program like this so that they can get to know you.
JOHN: Sure, sure. But you know what happened was this unbelievable sense that this is a man, and this is a man who like all the rest of us is living his life with unexpected trauma, pain, agony. This is a man who loves deeply; this is a man who cares; this is a man who’s feeling all of this. And the outpouring of love, the sense of weakness, the sense of vulnerability just came out, and people just wanted to encourage me. And I’m on the encouraging end usually. I’m telling people what God says and I’m pumping it out, and they’re sort of on the receiving end. Well the tables got turned, and people just came around me.
The same thing actually happened at our church. People saw me also in a new kind of vulnerability, and I think it brought a wellspring of love. And I believe right now, a year later, our church is still experiencing the euphoria of that outpouring of love toward Patricia and me. And all of a sudden it was as if the people just came around us. And we’re still living in the joy of, I think, what God produced in terms of the love of our people surrounding us. And here we are a year later; and it’s been the best year in the history of the church.
AL: Well, those are all deeply encouraging signs of finding the purpose of trials. But let me just take a different tact, if I may with you, Patricia, for a moment, and that is, anything humorous come out of all of this? Because I know you’re a fun lady. We’ve enjoyed the opportunities of being on some trips with you folks; and I guess you’ve got an interesting one coming up. But anything humorous take place? Something about a watermelon seed in the bed that you can fill us in on.
PATRICIA: Oh. Some dear people had brought some watermelon to me, and it sounded good in the middle of the night. So I got up and I guess dug into the watermelon. And Johnny found a seed in the bed or something. I don’t understand how it got in the bed.
JOHN: Yeah, more than one.
PATRICIA: But it wasn’t easy to eat with my halo on.
AL: Now this is a heavy piece of machinery.
PATRICIA: Yeah, it’s metal with four pins that go into the skull to suspend your head.
AL: In other words, they actually break the scalp in order to get those –
PATRICIA: Well, they just – yeah, it goes right in through the skin into the scalp.
AL: What happens to the hair?
PATRICIA: Well, it’s neglected.
AL: In other words, it was shaved off in order to do this?
PATRICIA: Yes. Well, mainly because they had to put stitches in the top of my head, about forty. So they just shaved the top of my head, put the staples in.
AL: How does a woman who is well-coiffed deal with that sort of a situation?
JOHN: Not very well.
PATRICIA: You stay in the house most of the time.
JOHN: What was even worse was when the hair started to grow back, the arm wouldn’t get up high enough to fix it. So hair started coming back. I think steroids that were pumped into her also had the effect of having her hair fall out. So that’s been an interesting thing. And now, I remember when she would go in the bathroom to do her hair and she would take one arm and stick her elbow against the wall, propping it up against the wall to hold it so she could flop her hand up there to try to fix it.
PATRICIA: More than that, Al, it was difficult. I was not in pain; maybe a little discomfort, and it was difficult to sleep with that halo on, because your head’s suspended at whatever position you’re in.
AL: I can’t imagine how you could do it.
PATRICIA: But, I had nothing but time on my hands, so when I could doze off I would. But as much as anything, it was difficult. Nothing would fit over this halo, because the halo is supported by a huge vest that, you know, is full cast around you.
AL: And how long were you in that?
PATRICIA: Almost three months. It actually came off earlier than they expected to take it off because of the numbness that had set in my extremities. They were concerned about a pinched nerve.
AL: How many days were you in the hospital actually?
PATRICIA: About three weeks.
AL: The purpose of trials, John, why is that? As I think about Patricia, maybe if she had stopped a little longer at a red light, maybe if she had turned a little differently, maybe that wouldn’t have all happened. Why did God allow that to happen?
JOHN: Well I think, first of all, Al, it’s the inevitability of a fallen world. It’s just – it’s there, it’s going to happen. Just in general we live in a fallen world, and the world is cursed and death is reality, and disease, and illness, and injury, and error, and all of that, sin and so forth. So it’s the nature of the world. And, you know, I don’t see God up in heaven sort of indiscriminately or discriminately at His own judgment just sort of zapping people into accidents, I think it’s just the way the course of the world runs. I don’t think God blows out your tire and then rolls your car for you. I think you’ve probably had a nail in your tire, is what I’m saying, or something.
So I think it’s the nature of the world. But I do believe providentially God controls all of that in the mystery of His will. And I believe that the purpose – you could sum it up in a number of ways. One of the purposes that God has in trials is basically to humble us, to break our sense of control, our sense of sovereignty, if you will, over our life and times.
AL: Are you saying that God had a lesson that He had to teach Patricia and He could only do it in that way?
JOHN: We’ve examined that so many times, and I don’t know that there was. And she’s examined her heart; and, you know, is there some area of her life that’s sinful specifically that she needed to deal with? And I think honestly, honey, you went through that. I mean, no one is perfect; but there was no glaring revelation of life.
But I think God uses that to humble us, to make us dependent. He uses it to drive us to Him, He uses it to drive us to each other. He uses it to help us be able to help others who have that experience. He uses that to put us in a position where we are at the mercy of His grace, and then He puts His grace on display. I mean, if there’s anything Patricia learned out of this that I can say is absolute gilt-edged, solid gold lesson, it is that God answers prayer.
JOHN: And she says that over and over again. Well we’ve always believed that, I’ve always preached that. But when you’re there and your neck is broken, and you don’t know what the future holds, as if there is a future; and here she is whole and well, and she just says, “God answered prayer.” So there are many things that God teaches us.
PATRICIA: It isn’t necessarily the condition of our spiritual state. You know, some people think, “Well, we’ve prayed long and hard and faithfully, and yet the outcome of our situation was not necessarily positive.” But I think – I know God has considered all aspects of my situation; well, I mean, one being my husband’s ministry, how it would have been a detriment in my mind to have a quadriplegic at home. I think it would have made his ministry less effective.
Not only that, but I think it was one opportunity for God to put His healing power on display around the world, because my husband’s ministry many, many people knew about the accident, and they have seen God’s gracious mercy in my life, which I’m not deserving of necessarily; but I’m so thankful that He chose me to put Himself on display.
JOHN: You know, as a footnote to that too, I told Patricia that I don’t want to say that God spared her life for her sake, because heaven is a better place.
PATRICIA: That’s right.
JOHN: But I know He spared her life for my sake. People wouldn’t know what contribution she makes to me; they would never know that if they didn’t know us. Our church people understand that, people who know her understand that. You would understand that, Al, because you know her strength. And –
AL: This is a hard program for her to do today because she’s usually behind the scenes.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s right. But I wouldn’t be the man that I am at all. And I need her beside me. I need her, I need her – you know, she expects me to be the first available person for a vacancy in the Trinity, you know what I mean. Her expectations of me are so high, she says, “Well, you preach it, so why shouldn’t you live it.” Every man should be so blessed to have a woman in his life with those kinds of expectations.
AL: Indeed we are.
JOHN: Yeah. And so, a godly woman who holds me accountable, who is strength to my weakness. I tend to go blitzing through to the theological end, and she tends to see the people along the path, and stop me long enough to say, “You need to look at this person, and you need to minister here and there.” And God knew that.
AL: John, you give us some Old Testament illustrations. Obviously, Job was one who had plenty of trials. But you also give us people like Hezekiah and Habakkuk. What do we need to know about the purpose of trials in their lives?
JOHN: Well, I think what you learn from the trials in those lives is that God knows what is best. I think Hezekiah would have been better off if he’d accepted God’s will and not ask for something that God didn’t want him to have, because when he got it it turned out to be bad. And in the case of Habakkuk, he couldn’t understand why what God was doing was bad, he just couldn’t fit it into history. And I think in both cases there’s a great lesson. And I think Job is the model of it. He was content with what was and just left it to God. Hezekiah wanted to argue with what was, and so did Habakkuk. You’re much better off to just back up and say, “If this is God’s plan, I want to learn from it.”
I tell people that all the time. In fact, just on Sunday a man came to me with all kinds of things in his mind; and he was a pastor, broken-hearted, said, “I took three days from my church, I came to California. I just want to sit here, and I wanted to catch you and talk to you,” and he told me his problems. And he said, “What do I do?” I said, “Embrace the struggle, embrace the trial. Take it to your heart.”
AL: What do you mean by that?
JOHN: Accept it as a gift from God for purposes in your life. Don’t fight it. Don’t argue against it. Don’t debate God about it. Don’t question why. Just take it to your heart. Paul said, “I’ve learned that. I asked the Lord three times,” he says in 2 Corinthians 12, “to remove the thing. The Lord said, ‘No, I’ll just give you sufficient grace, because My power is perfected in your weakness.’”
You’re never stronger than when you’re weak. And that’s what made Paul then say, “I’ll gladly rejoice in my persecutions, distresses, insults, and all these things that come my way.” So I said, “Embrace the trial, and learn what God is saying in it, learn what He wants to teach you through it.”
AL: I want to ask you a very serious question, because in this last year we have seen several moral defections. How are you and Patricia doing?
JOHN: I told her driving over here today that I have never been in love with her more than I am now. She has never been more precious to me than she is now. I almost lost her. I have – and this is true – I have not, nor have I had eyes for any other person through our married life.
PATRICIA: Thirty years.
JOHN: And I mean, she’s an adventure, Al. She’s an absolute adventure. After thirty years she’s an adventure.
PATRICIA: The Lord knew you needed it.
JOHN: But, I mean, it’s wonderful. And I’ll tell you, we’re at the time in life, the kids are grown. We have four kids, they love Christ; three of them are married and they’re just making grandchildren for us all the time. And I’m so glad that we have each other now, because the kids are gone. And now we have each other, and we can’t think of anything more wonderful than to be together and enjoy the thrill of these little grandchildren and get them on our knee and teach them about Christ. These are wonderful years for us.
AL: Thirty years, Patricia, is there some secret to that?
PATRICIA: No, I just had a wonderful example in my parents, and being committed to one another and serving one another. And other than the ministry, nothing came before that. And the Lord has just been so good to us. I mean, I couldn’t begin to share with you the blessings that He has allowed us to enjoy in these thirty years.
AL: Just before we go though, Patricia, what would you say to John MacArthur after this full year that you’ve been going through some very difficult times, how would you express your love and appreciation to this man of God? I’d be interested in hearing.
JOHN: Me, too.
PATRICIA: Well, he’s a very consistent man, and I can honestly say through all these years of being married to the man he is what he preaches; and he doesn’t have a high-low personality in terms of temperament or panic or anything, he just trusts the Lord in every given situation. And even through this he was a great strength to me, because he knew in his heart, and I did as well, that God was in control, even through all of this, and that He had a purpose that was for my good and His glory.
AL: That is God’s glory.
PATRICIA: Right, right, God’s glory. And Johnny fit into that picture very well. I mean, he was there when I needed him, and he ministered to me when I needed him, I mean, to the point of putting antiseptic on my pin sites and caring for me when I had particular needs. He really came through and passed the test with flying colors. So I’m very grateful for his faithfulness and his love, and more than anything else for his faithfulness to the calling that God has brought into his life. I love you, Dear, and I’m thankful for the thirty years that He has given to us, and the many blessings that He has given to us in our marriage; and I hope there’s many more.
CARL: Indeed, a wonderful and heartwarming story of God’s grace demonstrated through the experience of John MacArthur and his wife Patricia, our special guests on today’s Grace to You. Thank you for listening to this special edition in which we’ve recounted the events of the past year through which Patricia’s life-threatening accident and subsequent healing have brought about a great trophy of God’s grace.
On behalf of John MacArthur, Patricia MacArthur, and the entire staff, we’re praying that God will extend His grace to you, and His peace, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.