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“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when
you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 32).
Bethany Hamilton was thirteen years old when she lost her left arm during a Tiger Shark attack off of the North Shore of Kaui, Hawaii. At that time, Bethany was already becoming known in the world of amateur surf competition as a true up-and-comer. The road (or shall we say wave) ahead looked golden for the young woman whose parents, Tom and Cheri Hamilton, had her on surfboards from the time she could walk. But on Halloween Day, 2003, the attack Bethany endured from an aggressive fourteen foot shark threatened to crush her dreams forever.
After multiple surgeries, the young surfer successfully recovered from the physical damage of the attack. Next, she would have to face the question of whether she would, or even could, surf again. Less than a month after her ordeal, Bethany was back in the water. She was determined to develop a new technique for herself that would allow her to compete in the surfing world again. It wouldn’t be easy, but Bethany was determined to get back in the game.
Throughout her childhood, the young surfer had nurtured a strong personal faith in Jesus Christ. Her maturing faith inspired Bethany to treat the shark attack as something God allowed her to go through—something that could be turned for His glory. Of course, news of her attack placed her in the worldwide media spotlight. But somehow Bethany seemed ready.
As her story became known, her indomitable spirit and positive “can do” attitude began to inspire people everywhere. "I don't pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people,” she later wrote. “But I do know that God knows all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it”. Such characteristic honesty endeared Bethany to a host of people around the world who had become aware of her challenges. Could a young person like her really make a comeback from such devastating circumstances?
As it turned out, Bethany’s comeback was stunning. After only a few months, she began to win and place in prestigious surfing competitions in spite of her lack of a left arm. Over the next several years her amazing accomplishments and personal testimony opened doors for her to communicate her story to millions of people. Along with newspapers and magazines, Bethany’s story was also being featured on television news segments and talk shows. “I guess they see me as a symbol of courage and inspiration”, she said. “One thing hasn’t changed—and that’s how I feel when I ‘m riding a wave. It’s like, here I am. I’m still here. It’s still me and my board in God’s ocean.”
Ever since the attack first took place, Bethany has continued to turn her tragedy into a triumph. She was appointed chairwoman of Beating the Odds Foundation and has served as a spokesperson for the international compassion ministry of World Vision. Her autobiography, Soul Surfer, was published as well as Christian devotional books for teens. A film version of Bethany’s story is also in the works. Speaking of his daughter’s outstanding example of faith, Tom Hamilton observes: “Somehow God gave Bethany an amazing amount of grace in this. I am in awe. She never says, “Why me?”’ For Bethany, the “whys and wherefores” are simple: “This was God’s plan for my life and I’m going to go with it.”
Messes into Messages
Bethany Hamilton’s story is a great illustration of redemption; the fourth component of our five-dimensional healing model. What is redemption? One dictionary defines the word “redeem” as “to buy back, repurchase, to get or win back” (1). This could mean many things. For example, while Bethany will never get her arm back, her hopes, dreams and vision for living have returned—and then some! In the long run, her losses have been mightily redeemed for higher purposes than competitive success. They have provided Bethany with a way to bear witness to Christ and inspire others, having been “bought back” from disaster to bring blessing instead of despair. This phenomenon is not new. God has a long history of turning our messes into messages, our trials into triumphs and our tests into testimonies! How does He do this? By the power of something the Bible calls grace.