We Will Stand (Chapter Excerpt)
From Gracie‐Standing With Hope
As told to Peter W. Rosenberger
©2010 Liberty University Press
In 1983, Gracie Parker Rosenberger fell asleep at the wheel and experienced a horrific car accident that has led to more than six dozen operations …including the amputation of both legs. Although saddled with nearly nine million dollars in health care costs and ongoing severe chronic pain, Gracie has defied the odds and emerged as a powerful voice of courage and inspiration to individuals around the world. The non-profit prosthetic limb outreach she and her husband, Peter, founded, Standing With Hope, continues to help amputees in developing countries. Married for twenty-five years, Gracie and Peter have two sons …one of which attends the United States Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point. Gracie and Peter live in Nashville, TN.
We Will Stand
During the summer of 2003, my husband, Peter, and I flew to Washington, DC for our first trip to one of the most famous hospitals in America. Senate majority leader, Bill Frist (TN) and Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania invited us to speak and perform at a dinner hosted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Accepting the invitation, we both felt the awesome responsibility of participating in such an event …particularly as the war on terror continued providing the first steady stream of wounded military since Vietnam.
Walking into the historic “Red Cross Building” on post at Walter Reed, I suddenly felt as if stepping into our country’s history. Beautifully paneled, the old building continues to voicelessly count the wounded warriors passing through one of our nation’s most treasured military posts. Only the hardest and most callous hearts remained unaffected when visiting the campus of Walter Reed. Every building, every street, and every garden speaks the names of men and women in uniform who walked, or were carried, through the gates.
“There are so many amputees out there,” was my first thought as I looked out across the audience of soldiers that night. Only recently enduring a difficult operation myself, I felt weak and unqualified to stand in front of anyone. Looking around, I paused to once again appreciate God’s perfect plan, as I quickly realized that the soldiers I came to visit didn’t need me to be well and feeling strong; they needed to hear from someone who spent long hours in a hospital …while depending upon God for each one of those hours.
Looking at the assembled crowd, I couldn’t help but be surprised at the dinner. Outback Steakhouse catered the affair, and served the meal buffet style. (If you ever have the opportunity to eat a buffet catered by Outback …I heartily recommend it!) Seated at my table, I looked around at many young men and women missing limbs, others pushing IV poles, and still others in wheelchairs. Puzzled, I asked Peter why the army would allow a buffet for wounded soldiers, many of whom could not even walk; I have a problem with buffets myself.
As the question left my lips, I immediately learned the answer: officers, celebrities, and more importantly, the Republican senators assembled there, all worked together to serve these young men and women.
At our table, we dined with Senator and Mrs. Chuck Grassley from Iowa and then Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota. At my left sat a handsome man who looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Peter stepped in and saved me from embarrassment when he introduced me to former NFL quarterback and sports announcer, Boomer Easison. I watched Boomer and Senator Coleman repeatedly hop up to help each new young person being wheeled into the auditorium; Boomer even offered to get me a plate.
Looking around the room, I recognized more and more celebrities, athletes, and political figures carrying a plate and drink to a waiting soldier. With egos checked at the door, each of these individuals displayed such humility and genuine gratitude to the young men and women bearing brutal scars from the war on terror. Watching senators serve wounded warriors stands out as one of the most meaningful memories of my life. With no media present, I’m sorry our country lacked the ability to witness such an event.
As the evening progressed, Senator Santorum presided as master of ceremonies, and he introduced speaker after speaker. Tommy Lasorda brought the house down with his humor and great stories from coaching. Even as all these speakers shared from the podium, however, I noticed the crowd continued to talk and eat, and generally remain boisterous.
At the close of the evening, Senator Santorum asked for everyone’s attention and introduced us. The room grew quiet for the first time that evening, and my nerves once again felt rattled. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina once stated in her book how nervous she continues to get speaking before a crowd. I sang for Carly at an event once, and Peter and I both had lunch at her table …she hardly looked nervous. But, as much of a pro as she is, she said the butterflies still come.
At that moment, in front of a room full of powerful leaders, I felt more than butterflies. I couldn’t believe they selected me to be the closer for the event, and briefly noticing the faces in this crowd, I grew even more nervous as I made my way to the stage. Leaning on Peter and taking Senator Santorum’s hand, I climbed the four or five stairs leading to the platform. Even that act drew the undivided attention of the audience, particularly the wounded warriors gathered up front.
Walking on stage in a skirt, my uncovered prosthetic legs clearly visible to the assembled crowd, I couldn’t help but notice how many amputees were assembled in front of me. Young men and women (not much older than our son, Parker, at the time,) with scars, casts, and maimed limbs looking all too familiar, sat in wheelchairs in front of the stage; each of them staring intently at my legs, watching my every move.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that if Peter will open up our appearances and kind of “break the ice” it helps settle me down. I never know how to “start,” and usually verbally trip and fall right out of the gate.
Hearing him smoothly convey an introduction to our part in the event, I quickly whipped my head towards him when hearing his voice break. In all our years speaking and performing, I don’t ever remember Peter choking up on stage, but I certainly understood why.
The sight of so many soldiers wounded in service of our country creates an almost reverent atmosphere. Until recently, these soldiers, some barely out of high school, enjoyed life at an absolute peak physical condition. Trained by the greatest military in the history of the world, words such as honor, duty, determination, stamina, and achievement served as hallmarks of their everyday lives. Could they transition those same traits into this dreadful new set of circumstances?
The celebrities spoke from their heart, and gave encouragement to the audience; particularly Coach Lasorda. Although desiring to also offer encouragement, my role clearly involved something else: practical hope. I served as the lone speaker that night who understood the journey ahead for many of them. At the beginning of our country’s war on terror, these wounded warriors were the first of their type since Vietnam …and they now saw a little of their future as I walked across the stage in state‐of‐the art prosthetic limbs.
Just by watching me stride onto the platform, those who were missing limbs observed the possibilities. With each step of my prosthetic feet, I felt the eyes of extremely scared young men and women who seemed to hold their breath with every footstep. Seeing me with a husband, the women with maimed bodies causing them to feel less than beautiful …realized a boyfriend waited somewhere for them. Hearing about our sons, they also realized a family still remained in their future. Lost limbs do not automatically mean lost hope.
As Peter took his place at the piano, I paused for a moment to look at the crowd. Ignoring the famous individuals gathered there, I instead turned my gaze to the anxious but eager faces clustered near the stage. Many of them struggled to understand the purpose of the wounds suffered halfway around the world. For two decades, I wrestled with purpose in injuries; knowing that if some meaning or good comes from wounds …the healing often becomes a little easier. Wounded at about the same age as these “kids,” I knew the questions lurking in their hearts.
Looking at me, they saw possibilities; now, I needed to help direct their eyes to purpose.
“Three weeks ago I had my sixty‐sixth operation in twenty years. In my room after the surgery, I unexpectedly went into respiratory arrest and the code team had to be called to help me start breathing again. It was Peter who saved my life. He was sitting right beside me when I stopped breathing, and quickly got the right people to come resuscitate me. He wasn’t off somewhere, watching TV, or working a deal on his cell phone, he was right beside me; right where God wanted him. I’m alive today because he was where he was supposed to be.
Americans are alive today because you were where you were supposed to be. You helped keep this war away from our streets, schools, offices and malls. You saved the lives of perfect strangers all across the country because you were where you were called to be.”
The room grew even quieter. Peter observed senators locked in their own political battles in dealing with the war on terror, listening intently.
“I fell asleep at the wheel—a stupid mistake. God continues to redeem that event, but there is no honor in my injuries. My mistake cost me my legs; you offered yours. Your injuries have honor because you won them fighting for the precious God‐given gift of freedom.”
Signaling Peter to play the introduction, I sang his song “We Will Stand.” Peter wrote this song for me as an expression of his desire to care for me …and now I shared them with the precious soldiers gathered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Finishing the song, I looked down at the young men and women gathered in wheelchairs as they applauded. I believe they liked the song, but their applause reached past my performance as a singer …and validated the courage to face life with a maimed body. In me, they caught a hint of themselves a few years down the road; hope still remained for a meaningful life …even with amputations. They clapped and cheered for every individual who refuses to be defined by wounds, disfigurement, and disability.
Afterwards we all clustered together; wounded individuals sharing a moment …as members of an exclusive club. Fascinated by my state‐of‐the art components, they peppered me with questions, wanted to touch the legs, and discussed so many more things involved with limb loss.
“Can we get feet like yours?”
“Do you get in the water with those?”
“Do they have a lot of cushion when you step?”
We stayed for an hour longer, until everyone had to leave. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama tried to greet me afterwards, but couldn’t reach past the soldiers. Both of them turned to Peter and smiled … graciously asking him to give me their regards.
“We’re not important; she’s right where she needs to be,” Senator Hatch humbly told Peter.
We Will Stand
Every day I see the struggles that you face
As you fight to run a race that has no end.
In your heart I know you sail above the clouds
But the hurt just pulls you down again.
Don’t let go of the hope you’re holding on.
You need to see a friend will be right here all along.
I will stand with you when you cannot stand alone,
I will fight for you when all your strength is gone,
I will sing for you so all can hear your song –
Take my hand, lean on me, we will stand
In this world, filled with such uncertainty
Hearts are broken easily, and left behind
But in God’s hand, we’re connected by His love
And the grace that through His Son …changes lives.
Peter and Gracie Rosenberger
We Will Stand © 2001 PeterandGracie Music
Used by permission