Radio host and counselor Stephen Arterburn offers encouragement and advice to men on how they can avoid the potential pitfalls of the middle age years and thrive during that season of life.
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Eva Self: You know, I don’t know all there is to know about God. I know a lot more than I used to. But I do know this. I know that he and only he is able to take awful things, broken things, and he takes them and he molds them and uses them for his good and for our good. I know that’s what he’s done in my life.
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John Fuller: That’s a great perspective from our guest today on Focus on the Family. It’s gonna seem even more remarkable when you hear the challenges that she’s overcome. Welcome to today’s episode. Your host, Focus president, Jim Daly, I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today’s guest is an incredible woman named Eva Whittington Self, and I know our listeners are going to appreciate her story of overcoming the effects of a devastating car accident that occurred when she was just seventeen years old. It breaks my heart. Eva likes to say she is a wife and a mother first, but she is also a great speaker, author, and college teacher, and the message you’re gonna hear today is from a Renewing the Heart conference sponsored by Focus on the Family several years ago. Here’s Eva Self on Focus on the Family.
Eva: I grew up in a family that made me feel very special. I knew that I was special for several reasons. One reason is this, I was the first girl born in over a hundred years in the Whittington family. There were five fellas who grew up in my house before me. So that means I’m the baby and I’m a girl, so I don’t have to tell you that I’m a grade A, No. 1, government inspected daddy’s girl.
Eva: He always knew how to make me feel special. Not only did he make me feel special, but all my brothers made me feel special. You say, “Eva, I bet it was rough growing up with those guys.” It was. How about on Sunday afternoons, all my brothers would come in for Sunday afternoon dinner, and during the blessing, you better have your hand on a bowl if you want to eat something…
Eva: My brothers can put away some food. My youngest brother stands 6-foot-5. He weighs 265 pounds. He’s got legs that look like tree trunks. They go on for days. And I know that he, and along with a lot of my brothers, they would lie awake at night and think of all the wonderful things that they could do to me when Mom and Daddy wasn’t at home.
Eva: They all made me feel special. My daddy made me feel special. But there was also a special lady in my life. She raised those five boys and me. You know what’s so special about that? Four of those boys weren’t even hers. But she raised them with the same love that she raised me and my brother. While I was at a very young age, my mama introduced me to Jesus Christ. And she introduced me in such a way that I knew who he was. I knew he was somebody that would always be there with me and always be there for me. I knew he was somebody that I could call a friend.
Eva: She taught me
Eva:…She taught me a lot of things. She taught me about the power of prayer. And she taught me about dreaming dream. She used to say, “Eva, honey, you got to dream big dreams, really big dreams, because if you’re willing to work hard enough and to wait long enough and if Jesus lives in your dreams, your dreams will live.” And I took my mom – her word on that. So by the time I’d reached my senior year in high school, I had achieved everything I’d ever wanted out of life. And to a 17-year-old, all-American tomboy, all I’d want to do all I wanted to be was a basketball player and a cheerleader. And I’d done that for five years. And on the weekends, I coached a basketball team and taught a little cheerleading squad. And I just thought that I was Mrs. It, you know? I had a boyfriend. And after high school in the little mill town where I grew up, if you didn’t get a scholarship and you couldn’t afford to go to college, then you’d get married and have babies, so that’s what I was going to do. I was going to get married and I was going to have babies. And I had the whole world in the palm of my hand. And then it turned to dust, and it poured through my fingers. Just several months before our high school graduation, I was in a car accident that left me paralyzed. It’s been 20 years since that happened. But I still remember that night. I remember the snow that was coming down. I remember rounding a curve on an old country road. I remember the car that was passing two other cars coming toward me. I swerved to miss that car. I never got control of mine again. My car hit a bridge and it flipped over the bridge. I was conscious the whole time. And I knew that I didn’t have any feeling in my legs. That night I was rushed from hospital to hospital. But it wasn’t until a week and a half later that I was to find out what really happened that night.
Eva: The doctor walked into my intensive care room, and he began to tell me about this operation that I was going to have, how they were going to take the bones in my back and they were going to fuse them back together. And he asked me if I had any questions. You ever been at that place in your life that you had so many questions you didn’t know which one to ask first? But finally I figured out which one to ask, and after he answered, there was no need to ask the rest. I said, “When will I be walking again?” He said, “Never, Eva, you’ll never, ever walk again.” And then he walked out of that room. And I remember screaming as loud as I could, “Why, God, why?” What have I done that’s so terrible to deserve this? I remember after screaming that that the nurses didn’t come right in. I guess they knew what was going on in my room. At that particular time, I was on this bed called a Stryker frame. It looks like an ironing board, and it feels like one. You lie on your back straight. And I could even put my hands by my side and they would fall off, it was that narrow. You would lie on your back for two hours, then they’d come in, and they’d put the same kind of bed on top of you, and then they flip you on your stomach and take the back off. I literally lived on that Stryker frame for nine weeks. It was to keep you from getting pressure sores. Finally the nurses came in after I finished my yelling, and they flipped me on my stomach. And I lay there looking at the floor – there was a strap here and a strap here – and I was just staring at the floor and I was continuing to cry. And you know what I think happened at that time? I think that the God of the universe, my friend, met me right where I was.
Eva: And he gave me permission to tell him how I felt. And so I did. And then you know what he did for me? Just a few minutes after I began to calm down, a pastor friend of mine came in the room. I called him Mr. Ed. And he said, “Eva, it’s Mr. Ed, how you doing?” And so I told him what the doctor just said. And since I was looking at the floor, Mr. Ed knew that I was crying. And he couldn’t really see me. But he just laid down on the floor so I could see his face and he could see mine. And he held my hand. And he didn’t say anything. He just cried with me. He knew and the Lord knew what I needed at that time. He didn’t preach a sermon to me. He didn’t tell me any kind of theology. He didn’t even quote any Scripture. He didn’t even say a prayer. He just hurt with me. Sometimes we need friends like that. Ed finally – we talked a little bit, and then he left. And he was still crying, and I had stopped crying. The Lord had used him to meet a need in my life. I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me. I don’t know about you, but when something bad happens to me, I can tell you every good thing I’ve ever done since birth.
Eva: And I was a good girl, you know? I went to church every Sunday. I said my prayers at night. And never in my whole life have I ever smoked or drank. I mean, the strongest alcoholic beverage I’ve ever had is NyQuil. I’m just a good girl, you know?
Eva: So I lay there in my self-righteousness. And we know what the Scriptures say about our self-righteousness. I lay there in my filthy rags, trying to figure out why this had happened to me. You know, I don’t know all there is to know about God. I know a lot more than I used to. But I do know this. I know that He and only He is able to take awful things, broken things, things that are just in pieces, and He takes them and he makes them and he shapes them and he molds them and uses them for his good and for our good. I know that’s what he’s done in my life.
Eva: While I was in the hospital, there was always someone there. I mean, I did have a lot of friends. They would come morning, noon and night, during and after visiting hours. You know, we’d stick them in the beds in the closet in the restroom. They were always sticking their head out, telling me I was special, telling me I was going to make it, I was a fighter, I wasn’t a quitter. You know what, y’all? That’s some of the biggest stories ever told. You’re looking at one of the biggest wimps that ever lived. I mean, I got to have a fit first. And then afterward, when I throw the towel in, I feel like Jesus goes over and he picks it up, and he rolls it up, and he flicks me with it and he says, “Eva, you got to get back in the game.”
Eva: That’s what he said to me then. That’s what he says to me now sometimes two or three times a day. When I got out of the hospital, I went home. And for the first time in my life, I was alone. I’d never been alone before. I always had a lot of people around me. And suddenly, there was no one. And when I’d wake up in the mornings, I didn’t want to wake up, so much that I tried to commit suicide twice. But, you know, I believe in the power of prayer. And I know that somebody somewhere was still praying for me. And God, he still had his hand on my life. And all he was saying was what he’d been saying all along – “Eva, I still can take you just like you are and make you into the best you that you can be.” Well, maybe it was out of bitterness or maybe it was that I was tired of my bitterness, but it was a last resort. I began to do two things that radically changed my life. The first thing I began to do was to pray like I never had before. I don’t mean just saying grace before a meal and the Lord’s Prayer before you go to bed at night. I remember setting aside a time where I would talk with him and I wouldn’t leave till I knew that he had talked with me. I began to pray and then I began to read my Bible. I had a friend challenge me. He said, “Eva, you need to read your Bible.” I said, “Keith, I’ve been to church, I know what the Bible says.” He said, “You need to read it for yourself.” And he said, “Why don’t you try to do that for a whole week.” So I took that challenge. And I started reading in the New Testament. I started in the book of Matthew in the first chapter. And I read it that first day. Ladies, I got to be honest with you. It didn’t do too much for me, OK?
Eva: I don’t know if you’ve read the first chapter of Matthew, but it’s like so and so begat so and so, so and so begat so and so. But I made this commitment, so I stuck with it. And finally, I got to the sixth day. And I’m right smack dab reading the Sermon on the Mount. And I read a verse that I heard all my life. But for the first time, this verse made sense to me. I knew this verse growing up. I’d memorized it. I’d sung it. I had cross-stitched it. I’d hung it on my wall.
Eva: But for the first time, it really did make sense to me. And you know the verse, Matthew 6:33, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added.
Eva: So I read that verse. And I said, “Lord, that’s it, isn’t it?” That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be seeking you first. I don’t know how to do that, Lord. Would you help me do that? And the Lord began a process. And he used a lot of different people as I continued reading my Bible and as I continued to pray. But none did he use more than my precious mama. One day she had helped me – just finished helping me get a sponge bath, and I was on the bed. And she’d helped me get my back brace on. And she came over, and she sat down in a chair right beside the bed. And she had my blue jeans. She said, “Eva, I want you to put these blue jeans on.” I said, “Mama, I can’t do that right now, I can’t bend enough and I can’t twist enough because I had this back brace on, and I’ll get it off in a couple of months and I’ll be able to put those blue jeans on.” She said, “Eva, I think you can do it now.” Well, I’m embarrassed to tell you how I responded to my mom. But I ended up just ordering her out of the room. But before she left, she went to the end of the bed and she stretched out the pants and pulled them up just so they’d reach my toes. And she walked out. And then I sat up. And I grabbed those blue jeans, and I pulled them up a little bit and I threw myself back down on the bed and I cry. Now I sat up and pulled and tugged and swerved from side to side and got them up a little bit further, threw myself back down on the bed and I’d cry a little more. And then I did it a third time, and I got them all the way up to my hips, threw myself back down on the bed. This time I heard my mama crying. She was in the next room. She heard me struggling the whole time. And at that moment I realized how difficult it was for her to let me struggle, to not help me, than it was for her just to go in there and help me. Oh, if I can be a mama like that, to have the discernment from the Lord to know when to help and when to get out of the way and let God do his work, to let my child struggle. I learned a lot from my mama. And I want you to know, I got those jeans on, transferred into that wheelchair, and I went in the next room and I hugged my mama and I thanked her for doing that, for I knew that it was a tough lesson. But, you know, ladies, so many times in our lives the Lord has given us all the resources that we need. He’s given us the opportunity to praise, given us his word. He’s given us good friends to encourage us. And sometimes, ladies, we just need to put our blue jeans on.
Eva: I remember praying, Lord, I feel like a half a person, but all that I am belongs to you. Would you do something with Eva? So the Lord led me to a small Baptist college in North Carolina called Gardner Webb. And I was accepted there as the first handicapped student. And the rate I was going, I thought I was going to be the last.
Eva: Took me forever to get out of college. When I got there, I didn’t know the difference between a quarter note and an eighth note to a half note, didn’t know where middle C was on the piano, didn’t know that a guitar had six strings on it. And my adviser asked me, he said, “Eva, what would you like to major in?” I said, “I want to major in music.”
Eva: He said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Yeah.” So life began all over again for Eva. And I graduated five or so years later with a degree in music education. When I finished, I had several job offers waiting on me. And finally, I took a job working with an organization called The Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Now, that first year with FCA, I had three weeks to raise $15,000. I didn’t know anybody who had $15,000. But then again, you know, I did. I knew the man who owned the cattle on a thousand hills.
Eva: And I said, “Lord, if you want me to have this job, you either lead those people to me or you lead me to them.” And the last day of that three week period – Lord always makes you sweat, supposed to build your faith or something like that, you know…
Eva: …One man wrote out a check for $1,000, and another man wrote out a check for $14,000. People say that God doesn’t part Red Seas anymore. I know he does. I took that job with FCA because I knew that was God’s will, but, ladies, I got to be honest with you, I had an ulterior motive. I just knew that there was some good looking guy in that Christian organization…
Eva: …And he would want to marry me. And I was right.
Eva: Some of my friends came to me soon after I came on staff with FCA, they began talking to me. They said, “Eva, you know why you aren’t married?” I said, “Because I need to lose weight and grow fingernails?” She said, “No, no, that’s not it, Eva, it’s because you’re not claiming the Scriptures.” Now, if you’re out there and you’re single, you need to take this tongue-and-cheek, OK? But they were really serious with me. And they said, “Eva, you need to claim the Scriptures, you need to get a verse, and you need to pray it to the Lord.” And I said, “OK, I got one. If any man come, let him.”
Eva: So then, you know, they came. And a few years later, I got another verse. It’s in the book of Job – all men are liars.
Eva: But then finally, I did read this verse in Psalm 84. It’s verse 11. And it really spoke to me. It says, no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. And, you know, ladies, to me that means if I’m seeking the Lord with my whole heart, even if I’m a little dull, even if I’m a little slow and don’t quite get it right away, I’m not going to miss it because no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. And ladies, I got to admit, when it come – when it came to my precious Andrew, I was a little dull, I was a little slow, didn’t quite get it right away, but I wasn’t going to miss it because no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Andrew and I were good friends for five years. And then we married that last year. It was exciting. We married in ’91. And then two years later, the Lord blessed us with Abby Self, Abigail May Self. And then just last year, he blessed us with Audrey Carolyn.
Eva: Just two years after Abby was born, the Lord took my May Bell home. But he was so gracious how he prepared my heart for it. I’d been calling back home to North Carolina after I moved – we were in Kentucky. And I’d been calling home talking to the doctor on the phone. And I finally said, “Doctor, I need you to make it plain to me. Is my mama dying? Do I need to come home?” And he said, “Eva, you need to come home.” So I flew out of Nashville, Tenn., into Charlotte. I rented a car, went home, picked up my daddy and drove to the hospital. And when my mama saw me come in that room, she knew what that meant. She asked me what the doctor told me. And I told her. And she said, “Eva May, his will be done.” I don’t know if I can do that. Well, I flew home thinking that that’d be the last time that I’d see my mama. And we had a precious time together that day. The next day was Easter Sunday. And I woke up that morning, and I rolled into the living room. There was my daddy, and he was dressed ready to go to church. Well, that wasn’t too odd because my daddy had started going to church just about a year earlier. Before that time, he didn’t go to church. And he said, “Eva, it’s Easter Sunday, we need to go to church.” I said, “Hey, that’s all right with me, and I know it’s all right with mama.” So we went to church that Sunday morning. And when I got there, I realized why daddy liked this whole charge so much. You see, the preacher there was a good friend of mine. And as they say in these parts, and even where I’m from, he preached the word. And he preached it real loud.
Eva: So I know my daddy could hear everything Rodney was saying. And during that invitation, as they do – as is the custom in this particular church, they invite you to walk down the aisle and kneel at the altar and ask Christ to come in your heart. And during that invitation, I saw my 80-year-old daddy walk down and aisle and kneel down and give his heart and his life to Jesus Christ.
Eva: And I knew that the Lord didn’t have me get on that plane and fly home so I could tell my mama bye. It’s so that one day I knew I could say hello to my daddy in heaven.
Eva: Just a few – just a few weeks later, the Lord called my mama home. And then a year later, he called my daddy home. And I think about the testimony that they had. Both different, but both helped me grow in my faith. And you’re here today – all of us here today – we all are in one of two places. You’re here today, and you are either like me or you’re like my daddy. You’re either praying for somebody or somebody’s praying for you. Maybe you’re here today and you’re praying for somebody a lot like my daddy. And if you are, I want to encourage you not to give up. The Lord encouraged me not to give up. I prayed for my daddy for 15 years. And there were times when I’d say, “Lord, if you’re not going to save him, take him home because he’s making us miserable.”
Eva: And I’m honest when I say that. But he encouraged me not to give up on my daddy. He didn’t give up on my daddy. He didn’t give up on me either. Maybe you’re here today and you’re like my daddy, somebody’s praying for you. Maybe it’s a relative. Maybe it is a friend. Maybe it’s somebody you don’t even know. But I want to join them in that prayer, and inviting you today to meet the best friend you’ll ever have in your whole life, the one who will never leave you and never forsake you.
John: I so appreciate that call to prayer. Persevere in prayer for those who don’t know Christ personally, that’s Eva Self originally speaking at the Renewing Heart Event sponsored by Focus on the Family.
Jim: John, I really appreciate Eva’s encouragement to be a prayer warrior for your loved ones. What a privilege that is, especially when you have the blessing of seeing a life transformed by Christ as Eva did with her dad. And let me remind you that if you need someone to pray for you or with you for someone else please, give us a call. Our friendly, caring, staff members will welcome that opportunity, and you need more in depth help, they’ll have a counselor call you back.
John: And our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Jim: You know, early on in this message, Eva talked about trying to commit suicide twice after she was told she’d never walk again when she was just seventeen. I can’t even imagine how devastating that news was for her and for her parents, and as we see more and more young people resorting to suicide, its the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24, Focus on the Family is addressing this issue with a free web based resource called Alive to Thrive: A Biblical Guide to Preventing Teen Suicide. It designed to help parents and youth leaders learn how to prevent suicide from early childhood on through the teen years. I just wanna encourage you to check it out when you visit us online. And let me say thank you to all of you made Alive to Thrive possible through your financial support. We’re getting great feedback on it. And uh, here’s a note we received from Rose in Kansas. She wrote, “My seventeen year old daughter had a friend who tried to take her own life and was hospitalized. I couldn’t find any resources for preventing suicide. They were all about coping after someone had died. Fortunately, I found Focus’s Alive to Thrive resource, and it helped me prepare my daughter for a difficult conversation with her friend about why she wanted to take her life. My daughter said the conversation went well with lots of openness and honesty. Thank you Focus for providing the resources we need for the tough times of life.”
John: Oh my, I’m really so glad that Rose reached out to us here at Focus on the Family and that we had the great advice captured in that Alive to Thrive content.
Jim: I am too, John, but I can’t help thinking about all the other families we could be helping. If we could expand our reach. We are listener supported. We need everyone to pitch in. So let me encourage all of you to give to this ministry and let God work through you to help families heal. Families like Rose and her daughter who needed help right away and got it from Focus on the Family. Jean and I are a part of this too. John, I know you and Deana support Focus.
John: We do support Focus, yes.
Jim: So we’re putting our, our money where our mouth is, but stand with us. Let’s help more families. And when you make a donation of any amount, I’d love to send you a CD of today’s message from Eva Self, and perhaps you know someone who could benefit from her perspective. I know I know a few.
John: Well I can think of some folks myself, and uh encourage you as the listeners who donate to our work here and request that CD when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or, you can donate and get resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Well, join us next time as Dr. Kevin Lehman explains how your birth order can impact your marriage.
Dr. Kevin Lehman: We tend to marry outside of our birth order, and that’s a good thing because simply marrying outside your birth order increases the probability of success in marriage.
End of Teaser
Radio host and counselor Stephen Arterburn offers encouragement and advice to men on how they can avoid the potential pitfalls of the middle age years and thrive during that season of life.
Lindsey Dennis shares her painful story of losing two children back to back, just hours after they were born, and describes the hard impact this had on her young marriage. She also shares the profound hope and comfort that she and her husband have found through their relationship with Christ.
Author Jessie Minassian offers parents practical advice for helping their daughters gain a healthy perspective about beauty and body image in a culture that drives teen girls and young women to compare themselves to others while chasing impossible standards of beauty. (Part 2 of 2)
Popular Christian vocalist Larnelle Harris reflects on his five-decade music career, sharing the valuable life lessons he’s learned about putting his family first, allowing God to redeem a troubled past, recognizing those who’ve sacrificed for his benefit, and faithfully adhering to biblical principles amidst all the opportunities that have come his way.
Amy Carroll explains how listeners can find freedom from self-imposed and unrealistic standards of perfection in a discussion based on her book, Breaking Up With Perfect: Kiss Perfection Goodbye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You.
Offering encouragement found in her book Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed, Sara Hagerty describes how we can experience God in ordinary, everday moments, and how we can find our identity in Him apart from what we do.
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