Aug15ThuRemembering Karen Morris. August 15, 2019 by Colonel Eleanor Shepherd
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
In 1974, at age 18, Karen Morris was enjoying her summer working at a camp on the shores of Lake Simcoe. One evening, she and a friend were walking into town and musing about the exciting future ahead as she anticipated beginning her university studies to become a social worker.
She had received academic scholarships from three different universities, and opted for Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., lured by the possibility of a lower professor/student ratio than at a larger institution. In addition, her favourite author, Margaret Laurence, was the writer-in-residence, and she hoped to pursue writing.
Her plans and dreams were instantly shattered when a drunk driver swerved around a curve and slid off the road and into the girls, tossing Karen over a five-foot fence into a telephone pole. When she landed, her neck was broken and she was paralyzed from the chest down. She would never again walk.
Over the next year, Karen strived to build a new life. She was never fully informed of the consequences of her paralysis, and discovered the new limits of her capacity through experience. Over time, with help from family and friends, some of her dreams could be realized, although in a different way than she had imagined. Others were relegated to the scrap heap of her accident, untouched and even unmourned for six-and-a-half years. Survival became her way of life as she learned to live with quadriplegia.
It is at such times that those of us who have been raised in the church face a significant choice. We can choose to conclude that God has abandoned us or brought this on us, turn our back on him and rely upon our own resources. Conversely, we can choose to believe that he alone can help us manage our incredibly challenging situation. Karen took that option. She explained it this way:
“I was praying desperately to God one night about my situation, when all of a sudden I began to experience God’s presence and peace with me in a way that I never had before. I felt that God was telling me everything was going to be OK and that he was taking care of my future, whatever it may hold. I realized that my relationship with Christ previously was superficial, and that I had fooled myself into believing that I could control my own life and future. I told God that I would turn everything over to him and allow him to control and direct my life from here on in. That was the moment that I felt this tremendous sense of peace despite the fact that my life seemed to be over forever.”
Karen was not immediately healed. In fact, she was not physically healed at all and even suffered additional physical problems through the years, which finally left her unable to eat. She proved her faith over the long haul by living life generously for 45 years, while battling to confront with courage her paralysis and other significant medical challenges, as well as spiritual obstacles. She was aware that she was never alone in facing them.
Karen needed to take 10 years to complete an honours bachelor of arts in English literature and sociology and her master of social work degree. Among the many practical obstacles she encountered were confinement to bed for many months because of pressure sores, and confronting a dean in the faculty of social work who opposed her admission into the program.
There were also times when she was ambushed by spiritual challenges. Well-meaning people sometimes told her that if she had enough faith, she would be healed of her paralysis. Such comments caused discouragement and aroused in Karen suspicion and fear that she might not even have enough faith to make it as a Christian. One day, the Lord reminded her through the words of Scripture that his grace is sufficient for our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). These words provided the assurance that she needed.
One of the ways the Lord demonstrated his faithfulness in caring for Karen was in the provision of a full-time caregiver. Catherine Evenden not only ensured continuity through all of the various health challenges she faced, but she shared Karen’s faith and was a constant source of encouragement. She was willing to lay aside her own dreams in obedience to God’s calling to serve Karen throughout her lifetime. That is a story of “an interrupted life” that bears telling in itself.
I met Karen and heard her share her story many years before that story became significant in the life of our family, with the accident of our son, John, who also became a quadriplegic. It is from my current perspective that I am able to appreciate what a hero she was.
I was saddened a few weeks ago when I learned that Karen has now gone home to heaven. This world needs people like her who are able to see what really matters and to give to others when they have lost so much. I mourn for us, but I rejoice for her, because she is now totally fulfilled in the presence of the One who accompanied her along the whole journey.
Colonel Eleanor Shepherd is a retired Salvation Army officer.