God answers “Why” questions. He is not angry when we ask them; in fact, I think He likes them. God wants to reveal Himself to us, and He is always the answer to ‘Why?’ There are special people in the world who help us see the magnificence of the ways of God. Mary Daly is one such person. Born with Cerebral Palsy caused by a traumatic brain injury, God provided her with an inheritance of faith. The precious gift of a loving family and a faith-filled mom and grandmother built a solid foundation for Mary. She understood from her earliest days that God had a great plan for her life; Mary knew that the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 did not exclude those with different abilities!
But that did not mean life was easy. Multiple surgeries and excruciating physical therapy assaulted her body. Doctors said she would never walk. Life in a self-absorbed world cut Mary in different ways. When her physical limitations inconvenienced others, she found herself tossed aside. “I was the friend who was always disposable, biodegradable and recyclable.”
Mary shares that she questioned why God chose her to bear such burdens. She wondered why God healed others and not her. She questioned if the CP was a punishment of some sort…was God mad? Did she deserve this? Did He really love her?
Those griefs tore into Mary’s soul; ‘deep depression and crippling anxiety worse than the debilitating orthopedic pain’ blocked her view of the goodness of God. In that darkness, He continued to work and give gifts that helped her through. A love for horses became the key that unlocked the mystery of the love of God!Therapeutic horseback riding had been one of the best parts of Mary’s physical therapy. She developed a love for horses from those experiences. A family trip to Yellowstone National Park that included horseback riding built on that love.
“I was free to soak up every ounce of God’s great beauty with each beat of the horses’ hooves,” Mary enthuses.
A desire for more of that freedom—and formal riding lessons–began building in Mary. Questions plagued her mind: Could she balance well enough to ride? Would her walker frighten the horses? Would others accept her? Would there be a stable willing to work with her?
Complicating (one might think) the whole idea, Mary had just moved 350 miles to a tiny, rural county to attend college. In God’s inimitable way, she found in her tiny town a stable owned by a physical therapist—with a trainer who welcomed the challenges presented by a rider with cerebral palsy. God began to reveal His loving watch-care.
At the stable, the trainer chose a quiet, thoughtful mare named Annabelle as Mary’s mount. The clouds of doubt about the love of God began to roll away. The very first day of riding lessons, the trainer invited Mary to try a trot just ‘like every other student!” Amazed and overjoyed, Mary soared around the ring. Annabelle helped Mary gain core strength, balance and stamina. Practicing the post strengthened her leg muscles and soon Mary joyfully proved doctors wrong by walking a few steps on her own!
Before long, Mary began to desire a horse that could offer more challenge. She loved Annabelle but wished for a bit more pep. The trainer suggested a beautiful black named Jett. Though Mary promised not to lose that special bond with Annabelle, she soon became a fond memory. God gently pressed on Mary: ‘remember those friends who left you? It was not you; it was part of life.’ Understanding eased the losses of the past and increased her ability to accept her own worth and value. It also helped Mary to see life from a fuller perspective, and relationships became easier.
The stable itself helped Mary began to develop a network of friends. The common bond of love for horses, the camaraderie of sore muscles, opportunities to encourage and be encouraged: all worked together, allowing Mary to be a participant instead of a spectator. All of life began to make more sense. For the first time, she understood her brother’s love of sports. In the midst of life, Mary understood: God wanted to be in the middle of her life too. God did not want to be outside looking in either! He wanted to be the center of her life, the answer to every Why?!
In the context of life, God began revealing Himself! Mary began to see beautiful answers to her questions; the answers had never been far from her. They had been waiting for Mary to work them out in the midst of the things she loved. The foundation gifts of faith, hope and love that she always possessed helped her move into the answers as she followed her dreams. The adventure had only just begun.
Just like the love of God that has no end, her dreams grew. First, it was a saddle. “Just having my own tack seemed like the greatest thing in the world,” thought Mary. Indeed, she did enjoy that, but a bigger dream kept nudging in: she really wanted a horse of her own. After much prayer—and plenty of research, Mary approached her mom:
“God shows me little glimpses of heaven on the back of a horse,” she pleaded.
Before long the search for a horse began. Visit after visit to farms with horses for sale produced no horse that matched Mary. She began to wonder if God was telling her to move on and find a new dream. As they looked, Mary continued with riding lessons and grew in confidence. Finally, her mom found a horse she felt was perfect! Mary and the trainer were not so sure.
Since there was one more visit already scheduled, they went to see the horse. He was a large, 15.2 hand black beauty named Eclipse. Mary fell in love with his looks and his personality, and the trainer agreed, but Mom struggled with the height—and her affinity for the previous horse. Mary won her over, and Eclipse became her new partner in the grand adventure of life.
Eclipse intuitively seemed to understand both Mary’s needs and her desires to take on new challenges. Pole patterns, dressage work and doing diagonals kept them busy. Mary, deeply desiring as much independence as possible needed Eclipse to have some additional training. Mary used a mounting block at the stable but had no option for trail rides. Her trainer suggested finding someone to teach Eclipse to lie down for her to mount. Excited by the possibilities that would open up, Mary and her mother began searching for the right trainer.
The loving watch-care of God soon became evident with another miraculous provision. In a chance meeting at a local family restaurant, the Daly’s learned there was a world-renowned trainer right in their community. Despite a typically packed schedule, Mary’s story moved him, and he made room for Eclipse. The question of God’s love continued to be answered as Mary realized: “Everything I had prayed God would bless with me was mine. God has sent ‘angels to watch over me along this beautiful journey. I really do have a wonderful life!”
Mary’s story is one of extreme challenge and extreme blessing; yet it contains truth we all can see. God works in our lives in whatever way will draw us closest to Him. Nothing is too hard for Him to transform. Nothing is beyond His love and care for us. His ways are not ours; they are better. His love in the midst of life gives the answer to Why.
Mary’s beloved Gams, Elizabeth Barron Auld “Bep” McElwee, moved to heaven this past week. This story–and all future adventures–are lovingly dedicated to her.