Not Defined by Disability
Americans exhausted from coping with life’s limitations the past five months could learn a lesson or two from Mark Andrew Grantham.
For the past 14 years, Grantham has been a C5-level quadriplegic, with paralysis from his chest down. His paralysis left him extremely constrained in the mobility of his arms. He can’t function with his fingers and thumbs. He is strapped into a motorized wheelchair.
Yet one can’t help coming away from an encounter with Grantham without feeling inspired. The perpetual broad smile exhibited by the 38-year-old Grantham belies his physical constraints. His disarming personality, can-do attitude, and tremendous faith illustrate that, despite setbacks, he is living his life with purpose.
“I became a C5 quadriplegic in an instant,” Grantham says. “But I’ve learned to say that is in the past and I can’t change it.”
Grantham holds no grudges that his life-altering mishap occurred as he volunteered to help out the church he has attended since age 3, Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri. On a Friday afternoon — June 9, 2006 — Grantham, with a lifeguard certification, postponed a planned fishing trip and instead offered his services at an in-ground swimming pool on the kids camp property owned by the church.
As kids took a break, Grantham plunged down a six-foot high inflatable water slide — which collapsed and bottomed out. Grantham went headlong onto the concrete on the side of the pool, with his momentum carrying him into the water. Unable to move his limbs, he sank, held his breath, and waited to be saved from drowning in a pool turned red from his bleeding head.
“Not being knocked unconscious was a true blessing,” recalls the upbeat Grantham. “I was the only one there trained to deal with head and neck injuries.”
Thus, the severely injured 24-year-old man directed others how to care for him medically until paramedics arrived. Rather than jostle Grantham along bumpy country roads, emergency medical technicians called for a helicopter to transport him to a local hospital.
Immediately he underwent a five-hour neck stabilization surgery to fuse vertebrae together with metal pins and rods. The day of the injury, Grantham says he had an overwhelming sense of peace and he told God if he never recovered, he would be OK.
Grantham remained in a Springfield hospital for two weeks, then underwent three months of intensive therapy at Craig Hospital in Denver, the premier spinal cord injury rehabilitation center in the nation. There he saw many distraught patients and their relatives cursing God for their conditions. Grantham repeatedly shared with others that we live in an imperfect world and the Lord didn’t cause their injury.
“The circumstances of what happens aren’t what matters in this life,” Grantham says. “It’s what we do about it. I can’t imagine going through this journey — both then as well as now — without a personal relationship with Christ.”
At the time of the accident, Grantham had been physically fit, working out in a gym several times a week and playing a variety of sports, including on Central Assembly’s recreational softball team. But afterward, his metabolism didn’t adjust. The 5-foot, 10-inch tall Grantham dropped from 175 pounds to 107 pounds in seven months. Despite his positive mental outlook, Grantham finally expressed his angst aloud to God as to why he couldn’t stop losing weight.
Scripture provided comfort.
“The story of Joseph in Genesis brought so much encouragement to me,” Grantham says. “He was sold into slavery, then thrown in prison for a total of 13 years. Joseph determined to be effective despite his situation. He did not throw himself a pity party.”
Indeed, Grantham has continued to be involved in ministry at Central Assembly, where his past duties have ranged from teaching Sunday School to third and fourth graders to leading Royal Rangers. He currently is involved with helping youth.
After graduating from Evangel University, Grantham worked as commuter services director at the AG school in Springfield. In 2014, he embarked on a new career as an insurance broker.
The morning of his injury, Grantham met with a jewelry designer to discuss plans for an engagement ring for his girlfriend, also an Evangel University graduate. They went ahead with plans and married in 2008. However, five years into the union, Grantham’s wife told him she wanted out. The divorce became final in November 2014.
“Not that the end of my marriage was easy, but had I not experienced the accident, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it,” Grantham reflects. “There are no givens in this world, except for the Lord’s love for us.”
Faithful friends and family members — including parents Lance and Frances plus four older siblings — also provided a support system to help him cope. Lance is a 79-year-old retired AG minister, whose theology of suffering has evolved since his son’s tragedy.
“We were in a state of shock when it first happened because we had so many years of faithful ministry,” says Lance, who pioneered AG churches in Charleston, South Carolina, and Joplin, Missouri, that he also physically constructed. “But while my wife and I had sadness in our heart, we’ve always felt confident God has a plan and purpose for Mark’s life.”
AN UNEXPECTED BLESSING
By 2019, Grantham had established himself as a motivational speaker, in both secular and sacred settings. Last summer, he asked his friend Jodi Harmon for a suggestion of a writer who could help him edit a promotional video. Harmon recommended her Assemblies of God World Missions co-worker Renée Griffith.
Grantham and Griffith, a graduate of Evangel University and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, found they had much in common besides the Lord. She says he sent her texts offering encouraging spiritual insights he only could have gained through prayer. They both learned they had a fondness for hymns and literary classics. They saw eye to eye on non-negotiable moral perspectives. They began talking by phone for hours.
The business relationship evolved into a romantic one. On May 10, Renée Griffith became Renée Griffith-Grantham. She is effusive in her admiration for him.
“I was struck with his diction, eloquence, and confidence,” Renée says of her husband. “He’s kind and generous — and gorgeous.”
Renée, 30, is just as effervescent as her husband. She never has been shy about her faith, either. As a high school valedictorian in 2008, Renée — despite warnings from her principal — refused to water down specific Christian references in her graduation speech. Griffith v. Butte School District became case law when the Montana Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that school officials had violated Renée’s First Amendment rights.
Renée is a licensed AG minister who spent two years as an AGWM missionary associate in Moldova and Russia. Her father, Lew T. Griffith, is pastor of Faith Assembly of God in Humboldt, Kansas. In February, Renée began working as communications and content strategist for the AG’s Bible Engagement Project.
Mark and Renée are active at Central Assembly. They host a Sunday evening youth group “tribe” at their house, and also are involved in the Wednesday evening youth gatherings at the church.
Mark can accomplish much on his own, including driving a van with installed hand controls. Although he has limited fine motor skills, his gross motor skills enable him to use the controls. He relies on home health aides to get ready for the day and for bed.
“Once I’m up, I can do most everything on my own,” Mark says. “I’m not homebound.” He engages in physical therapy exercises an hour a day, and tries to stay erect in his standing wheelchair an hour daily in an effort to avoid osteoporosis.
Mark credits his father for instilling a love of nature and recreational pursuits.
“I pray and meditate a lot on God’s Word when I’m outdoors,” Mark says. “It allows my mind to be quieted.”
Lance, who worked bivocationally in construction while pastoring, collaborated with Mark to build a specially designed wheelchair-accessible fishing boat. Father and son still go fishing about once a week, and are as close as ever.
“Mark has such a positive attitude,” says Lance, who, like his son, holds out hope for Mark’s eventual miraculous healing. “We never hear him complaining about his condition. We just enjoy his presence. We’re enriched by his love for the Lord.”