A Word of Grace – February 28, 2011

Dear Friends:

For reasons that will become apparent below, the Word of Grace messages may take a hiatus for a few weeks.

Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

‘Be strong, do not fear!

— Isa 35:3-4

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

— Heb 12:12-13

I offer you a biography of my left knee. . . .

“Let us kneel for a season of prayer.” These words, spoken by the chair of the nominating committee of a client’s board this week, brought mixed emotions to me.

Going to God for help and guidance in an hour of individual or community decision evokes awe and reverence in me. From childhood, I have believed that the best place to go with my questions and needs is to the throne room of my heavenly Father. I believe that in the advocacy of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Christ, we are welcomed there in the presence of angels and Christ

It is my blessing to represent client’s who pray, but the request to kneel meant pain to me. My left knee is so arthritic and inflamed that the slightest pressure can mean agony.

Being a speaker in a community that kneels means frequently dropping to my knees on the hard surfaces of church rostrums for prayers that range from mercifully brief to unbearably long. I’ve learned to do a kind of a half-kneel, slipping my weight on to the right knee while leaning back into the chair to keep my left knee from contact with the floor.

I am at a conference room table. The chairs have rollers. My half-kneel strategy will send my chair ricocheting off the wall. I drop to the floor, grip the table ahead of me tightly with both hands, and bow my head into the pain. . . into the mystery of faith that reaches beyond the crunch of present circumstance to grasp the Father’s hand.

My parents told me that I never crawled. I just lay there and rolled around. One day, I pulled myself up a chair leg and walked. This set the course of my life–Why waste time and energy on mere conventions and the expectations of others when you can wait and make your move when it counts?

My knees were scrape magnets in those days–often covered in a protective armor of scabs, mother-applied Neosporin ointment and band-aids. They never failed me until one Friday afternoon in the fourth-grade when I was playing an after-school game of tag. My friend Buddy was chasing me and I slipped on loose gravel on the asphalt of the school parking lot.

Down I went, knees first sliding across the sharp gravel like cheese on a grater. Mom drove up at that moment and I scrambled into the car.

My knee ached on the ride home. Mom stopped at the market on the way home. I waited in the car while she shopped. I noticed that the left knee of my jeans was wet. “What would cause that?” I wondered. I rolled up the pants-leg and was terrified at the sight of a large deep gash in my knee cap. I could see shredded flesh and something white that looked like bone.

When Mom returned, I said, “You need to see this?”


“My knee, Mom. It’s bad.”

She peered at where I was pointing and gasped. I spilled my story out as she drove to Dr. Sundean’s office. Twelve stitches and a day of rest later, I was on the mend and sporting a fierce-looking half-moon scar for a souvenir. That was it. My play wasn’t hindered a bit.

I ran fast through the ensuing years-in footraces, ball games, and across the hills around my home. My knees flexed, coiled and sprang over logs and across creeks, down beach-side bluffs and up trees. Movement was my birthright. Its power, an unrecognized grace.

The fall from that grace was swift. My girlfriend Sylvia and I drove home one weekend in October of 1973 to tell our parents that we were engaged and the next year we were going overseas as student missionaries.

We returned to the University on a cold fall Sunday afternoon. I passed a truck going uphill on Interstate-5 and pulled back into the slow lane just before the crest. On the other side a car was stalled in the lane. Without any warning, we hit it. Sylvia was killed immediately.

The fire-wall of my VW hatchback shoved back into me. My chest bent the wheel and crumpled the steering column. My legs were pinned against the seat and in the onrush of metal something had to give. My right hip popped out of its socket. Something snapped in my left knee.

The hip was popped back into place. The cuts were cleaned up and dressed. The broken heart, however, resisted comfort. My left knee crunched and burned as I limped across campus. The consulting orthopedic surgeon at the student health service grabbed my leg just below my knee and pushed and pulled. He looked grim. He said, “We need x-rays to be sure, but I believe that you have a torn, posterior cruciate ligament. You need surgery right away.”

He proved to be right, but I was cautious. I was led to the world-class orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe through friendship with his son. Dr. Jobe confirmed the diagnosis and proposed a radical new surgical technique that would repair the torn ligament and would pin the knee in a folded position under a cast to permit it time to heal.

When I woke up in my room after surgery, the first thing I saw was my Dad standing at the end of the bed smiling at me in silent care. He didn’t have to say a thing. Knowing he was there I knew I was safe and loved.

My return to school was complicated by the bent leg in a heavy cast necessitating use of a wheel chair. La Sierra University is built on a hillside. How would I get to class?

A classmate, Don Kanen, came to my home and convinced my parents to let me return to school. He drove me there and the first morning of class came to wheel me to a ground level classroom where my teachers had relocated my classes. He wheeled me to his room in another dorm every afternoon so I could bathe. His kindness shone through my grief and continues to shine in my heart in memory all these years later.

It was tough going. My sorrow and the cast on my leg didn’t allow me to sleep much. I sat up listening to classical music and arguing with God. “I believe you are loving and kind,” I said. “But why did Sylvia die and I live. I need to know the reason.”

He answered my prayer. “You are not going to know why. Your life is not going to be a recipe on the back of a cake mix box–‘Just add milk and two eggs and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.” That’s not faith and you are meant to live by faith in me.” There is a “peace of God that surpasses all understanding,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians ({hil 4:7). I began to understand what that meant that night. Faith means trusting in God without an answer.

The cast came off before Christmas, the pin in my leg was surgically removed and I began a painful process of rehabilitation. The leg was frozen at the knee in its bent position. The first time I sat on a bike, I almost passed out when the pedal reached its highest position compressing the rigid knee joint. Slowly, it got better as I swam and biked even though I still walked with crutches.

Some friends and I went golfing. I drove the cart. I would put down my crutch take my club and strike the ball and then drive to it. On the 11th hole, three of my friends scrambled on to the cart on a hillside sloping right to left. The cart began to roll over and I jumped out and found out I could run. My rehabilitation was complete.

Through all of this, I felt like my knee had betrayed me. A part of me was broken and had been repaired, and I could never trust it again. Playing outfield in softball games the next summer, I found that my instinct to move to the ball at the crack of the bat was gone. I had to will myself to run now as if my knee was alienated from my body.

I began to jog during law school. I liked it and my knee held up fine. After Patricia and I moved back to California, I began to run in earnest–three miles a day, five miles, then eight miles, with a couple of runs of 15-18 miles. This kept up for 4 years. I loved the long miles alone with my thoughts.

The leg injuries I incurred while running ranged from blisters to sprains. The knees become sore from “runner’s knee” an irritation of the cartilage resulting from running on hard surfaces. I dealt with that with aspirin and running with the sorest leg on the down slope of the crown of the road. I was in the best shape of my life before a stress fracture of my right tibia that occurred when I was running downhill a lot.

Several years later, I start running again. I was up to four miles a day. About one-half mile from home one sunny morning, my left knee felt like it snagged on something inside and seized up with searing pain. I was stunned. There had been no misstep or trauma, but there was no denying the pain so I limped slowly home.

The orthopedic surgeon diagnosed a bucket-handle cartilage tear and performed arthroscopic surgery while I watched on a screen overhead. The surgeon told me, “You need to stop running. Your knee is not normal and you need to give it a rest.”

The agony was gone with the surgery and I returned to work that same afternoon, but I heeded the advice to stop running.

Hiking became my passion. There are at least 25 mountain peaks over 8,000 feet within 100 miles of my home in Southern California. I began roaming through the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto Mountains. Sometimes I hiked with friends, more often by myself. The sound of the wind through the trees and the vanilla smell of the Jefferson Pines were soothing to me. A series of rugged hikes during a family vacation to my in-laws’ cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona in 1994 became one of the profound spiritual experiences of my life.

My left knee protested the uneven, rugged trails, especially going down hill. I used a long English Yew thumbstick as an aid to balance and to take strain off of the knee. The benefits of the outdoor rambles to my soul and spirit far outweighed the discomfort of the knee.

My son Andrew was growing up and I hoped to impart my love of baseball to him. Playing catch and “three flies up” proved difficult as the knee would not permit sudden bursts of running or the pivoting necessary for those games. Andrew didn’t have that much interest anyway and turned to tennis as his sport. He would join me in hikes though which are some of my fondest memories of his childhood.

The mountain hikes have turned to long walks along the cliffs and beaches of the Southern California coast in recent years.

In the early summer of 2000, I was asked to become the general counsel for Loma Linda University and Loma Linda University Medical Center and the associated clinical faculty practice plan. This would be grinding work. Early morning and night meetings are the plight of anyone who works with physicians. Healthcare is the second most regulated industry in the U.S. after nuclear power.

I resisted the request for a week, protesting that it was punishment to my law firm and me. My wife and son, already weary with my workaholic habits, opposed it. The president of the institution came to my office every day for a week and stayed all day contending with me to take the assignment. Finally, I conceded.

I reviewed over 40 contracts in the first week as general counsel. The paperwork was a ceaseless tide and I begin carrying it around in a large, black soft-sided brief case that bulged with 50 pounds of contracts, reports, policies, and court papers at all times. I slung the briefcase on a strap over my left shoulder and carried it everywhere with me on the sprawling Loma Linda campus so that I could work between meetings or even during them at times.

The torque of that heavy bag swinging on my shoulder took its toll on what little cartilage was left in my left knee. In just two months, I was in real, grinding pain with every step. I saw an orthopedic surgeon on the week of my 47th birthday. He looked at an x-ray of my knee with me. Even I could tell something was wrong.

In an x-ray of a normal knee there is the lighter, but clear line of the meniscus disk separating the white masses of the femur and tibia bones. That line was gone in my left knee. The femur was resting, almost prolapsed, on the tibia. Jagged bone spurs appeared like crab-claws off the edges of the bone.

The surgeon turned to me and said, “You need your knee replaced. You are young for this and there is a good chance that you will have to have it replaced again in another 10 years. There are new developments all the time. The longer you can put this off, the better chance there is that technology will improve and you will get a lasting joint.

I limped away from that appointment. Every step hurt if I thought about it, so I didn’t think about it. Sometimes I needed to walk with a cane up stairs and on long stretches. But I kept going.

Patricia and I drove through the Adirondack Mountains in up-state New York on the first day of October, 2009. We were on our way to business meetings in Vermont.

The weather was cold with rain and some snow on the peaks. We were thrilled to see these mountains that we’d read about all our lives. This was the fabled country of the Mohawks, Algonquins, and Iriquois and the contested territory of the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars.

Just outside of town, I got out to take a look at a place oddly named the “Pitch-over” trailhead. I should have taken note. I was standing on the rocky bank of a mountain stream. It was raining. I lost my footing. Not wanting to get muddy, I rejected the good instinct to just sit down because I didn’t want to get dirty, a desire that was not satisfied. I pivoted on my bad left knee with my foot caught between two rocks.

The knee popped ominously, the leg pulled free and I did a complete air-borne somersault landing shoulder and face down in a muddy bog beside the stream. My beloved Pendleton oiled-canvas hat made the entire trip on top of my head.

Fortunately, there were no rocks or logs in my landing zone. I later learned that I’d sprained my ankle (not badly), sprained my knee (badly), suffered a closed fracture of my tibial plateau and bleeding in my knee joint.

I crawled back up to the car where Patricia waited. There was a stout alder branch laying there. I picked up the stick and lurched to the car. We drove to our hotel in Lake Placid. My knee could not bear my weight so we rested, iced and elevated it.

The next morning, after another icing, the swelling on the ankle was reduced, but the knee was swollen to the size of a grapefruit. I was in excruciating, steady pain. Patricia loaded us up and I drove us down to Lake Champlain where we took the ferry to across to Vermont.

We were headed for the Fletcher Allen Medical Center which is the teaching hospital for the University of Vermont. My knee was scanned there in the emergency department. The diagnosis was a sprained ankle, a sprained knee and a closed fracture of the tibial plateau.

I was prescribed some pain killers, given a knee brace and crutches and I was on my way. The flight home to California was agonizing.

The pain from the fall subsided fairly quickly, but time has run out on my left knee. It buckles on me frequently and standing on it feels like a soggy sponge crusted with sharp rocks and shards of glass. The femur has collapsed down on the tibia and has bowed my leg inward. “How do you even walk?” asked my orthopedic surgeon in December. “One step at a time,” I replied.

He said, “No, I’m serious. How do you even walk? You have a horrible mess there. What do you take for pain?

“One Celebrex capsule a day.”

“I don’t like prescribing heavy medications,” the surgeon said, but you have to know that most people with half of your problem would be taking serious pain killers.”

“It’s really mind over matter. I have plenty of other things to think about. But I do miss outdoor activities.”

He shook his head.

My Dad was a carpenter and builder who worked hard all his life. I used to see him go to work in agony with a compressed spinal disc and come home to spend the night in traction to ease the pressure. He would get up in the morning and go right back to hard physical labor. Dad was proud when his sons received their educations and obtained, what he called “indoor jobs,” unaffected by the weather and the elements. Even indoors, his work ethic carries on. I have resisted knee replacement for ten years because I didn’t want to stop working.

We want God to help us work through or around the difficult and impossible, but sometimes his answer is, “You can’t, but let me. . . .” Nothing humbles the driven soul like grace.

The time has come to replace the knee. At 7:30 a.m., on Monday morning, even while some of you are reading this, I will be in surgery to clean out the rubble and install an artificial joint. Six to eight weeks of intense physical therapy and exercise will follow.

It is surreal to me that this is happening. My ruined left knee represents some of the best and worst times of my life. Its ache has been there so long that it is a part of me.

In some ways, the pain and instability have kept me focused. It tells me that I am not invincible, that I am flawed and in need of grace and healing. To know that it will be removed and replaced with something shiny, new and effective after all this time is hard to understand. ‘Taking our knees for granted is not hard to do under ordinary circumstances, but knee joints are complicated and fragile and have spiritual significance.

We may be brought to our knees in humiliation like those who find that their trust in human power is misplaced and “are brought to their knees and fall” (Ps 20:8).

Terror can cause our knees to wobble and shake like arrogant, idolatrous King Belshazzar of Babylon when he faced the handwriting on the wall from God. “Then the king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs give way, and his knees knocked together” (Dan 5:6).

Kneeling is the time-honored position of reverent worship as in the call of Psalm 95:6: “Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God, our Maker.”

When Elijah had done everything he could do on Mount Carmel and was waiting for the Lord to bring the rain, “he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees” (1 Ks 18:42). Some say he was exhausted when he did this, others say he was praying for rain. It doesn’t matter. Anyone who has ever put it all on the line with God will recognize the gesture as compete abandonment to the Lord’s will.

Kneeling is the posture of surrender, the relinquishment of our effort, and therefore it is a position of humility and prayer (1 Ks 8:53-55). It is an acknowledgement that everything we have and everything we want comes from a heavenly Father whose love for us carries the power of life itself (Eph 3:14-21).

My knee is unworthy now of even kneeling in surrender, the flaw of my flesh being so great. My prayer still rises in thanksgiving because my need for God is complete and he has promised to “make firm my feeble knees” (Isa 35:3). The most broken part of my body shines with the holy possibilities of divine grace.

I am told that the pain that I will experience in rehabilitation may be worse than anything yet, but it won’t last. The surgeon says he expects me to be walking a mile on the new knee in six weeks. The mountains and summer beckon. I am excited.

I make the prayer of the great Christian statesman Dag Hammarskjold my own–“For everything that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes!

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,



Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.


Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.

Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.

Kent and his beloved Patricia are enjoying their 31st year of marriage. They are the proud parents of Andrew, a college student.