At Seventeen – Harry Wilkey (1942-2016)

Harry Wilkey passed into glory last week at age 73. He lived most of his life as a quadriplegic after being injured at age 17. My grandfather was his pastor at the time. Sterling, Kansas was his lifelong home. He was a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Harry was a friend of our family and an encourager to me. With his family’s encouragement, I’m posting his testimony here. Jesus was faithful to Harry, and, by God’s grace, Harry was faithful to Jesus. Now, his soul is with the Lord. His body, which is still united to Christ, will be held by the grave…but only until the resurrection.


At Seventeen

A personal testimony to God’s increasing grace

By Harry Wilkey

At age seventeen, a Nickerson High graduate, I packed up my stuff and made my first move away from home to Sterling College.  I had no clue that God would cut short my stay.  Many choices faced me there.  It surprised me that a Christian college offered most options of worldliness right there on campus.  Some fellow dorm mates involved themselves in pornography, gambling, and homosexuality.  We watched, smiled, and some cheered as one fellow daily dressed up in his red pants in the afternoon to take his girlfriend for a drive in the country; she soon got pregnant.

I soared in the happiest time of my life.  My increasing attraction to girls, and they to me, excited and intrigued me.  I dated more during my first six weeks of college than in all my four years of high school.  Talking with a blue-eyed blonde at the President’s freshman party I saw a girl’s eyes sparkle at me for the first time in my life.

Selection to be a Sterling College choir member pleased me.  Working in the cafeteria put me in touch with many people.  Campus life thoroughly absorbed me.  My primary aim was to enjoy college—having to put some extra study time into Calculus was getting in the way.  My lifestyle choices started moving me away from God.  And I began turning my back on the church covenant community which previously had mysteriously been a sanctuary of comfort away from the world.

One cold late-October Monday morning I shivered as I rushed for my eight o’clock gym class.  Because of the brisk cold outside, we stayed indoors.  We hit the mats for gymnastics exercises.

I volunteered with another classmate to demonstrate a two-man roll.  As I made the roll I heard a muffled crunching sound.  I found myself lying flat on my back unable to move anything but my mouth and eyes.  I saw terror in my classmates’ faces.  I asked a friend nearest me if my feet were sticking up in the air.  He didn’t answer me.  Coach Gleason dismissed the class, asking a couple guys to stay to help if needed to move me when the ambulance arrived.

Soon I felt the road bumps and sway of the ambulance as we sped toward Wesley Hospital in Wichita.  A room full of doctors and nurses did not seem as embarrassed as this seventeen-year-old at having my shirt, shorts, and jock removed in front of them. They discussed intimate details of my body typical in such a spinal injury.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a doctor come at me with a brace and bit-like instrument to drill two holes in my skull for attaching weights for traction.

Within my hearing doctors discussed using local anesthesia during spinal surgery rather than general anesthesia because of the danger that I might stop breathing.

While being carted to surgery I saw my mother appear briefly over me.  She said, “Pray, Harry, pray.”  Well…I didn’t pray.  I shudder today to think where I would be for eternity had I died during surgery without Christ as my Savior and Lord.

My neurosurgeon held out hope of recovery for my young and resilient body.  During his visits he coaxed me to move my feet and legs.  Weeks passed…no movement…he stopped coaxing.

Quadriplegia—paralysis of both arms and both legs—entered my vocabulary, and my life.

After six months in the hospital and being rehabilitated to use a wheelchair, I came home facing a life of huge adjustments.  Despite the best care and great concern of family and church the years of adjustment were tough.

In the late nineteen sixties increasingly bouts of self-pity and depression came upon me and lasted several days.  I felt my injury had physically and sexually devastated me.  Friends and classmates were graduating and beginning careers and starting families.  I felt left out and useless.  Suicide often occupied my thoughts.  I knew society would look kindly on that.  How could a quad kill himself?

During this period of restlessness and little sleep at night, I began switching on my light at 5:00 a.m. to read in a Westminster Confession of Faith study book my brother had given me.  The section on Jesus Christ referred to Him as the second or last Adam.

“So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Christ as the last Adam was a new concept to me.  I understood that God linked us with Adam as our representative in the human race.  I understood that Adam’s fall and my sin were so serious that Christ came as the last Adam to do what the first Adam had failed in.

Christ lived a life on earth in perfect obedience to God.  He offered Himself up as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the divine penalty for sin—death.  He rose from the dead to new life.  He ascended into heaven and rules with all authority given to Him.

The whole puzzle of the severity of sin and God’s love in Christ laying down His life to save sinners like us came together for me.

I was born again.  I understood and believed and trusted in Christ for who He is and what He has done for our salvation.  He made His chosen ones just in the sight of God.  God is gracious!

Life became an exciting struggle.  Sleep came easily.  Depression faded.  New purpose in Christ resolved my suicidal thoughts.  My soul filled with great desire to serve the Lord and His people.

New life in Christ revealed to me why the people of God mysteriously attracted me in my youth.  Jesus Christ is working out His peace and goodness and abundance of life in the world through the people of God.  God gave me peace in being among His people and in knowing that Christ secured my ultimate destiny in heaven with Him.

How about you?  Do you know your purpose in life and your ultimate destiny (heaven of hell)?  What if you unexpectedly die within the next hour in an athletic accident or a car crash?

 

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