An introductory note: Before Dick Woodward died on March 8, 2014, Dick asked me to write a tribute to Tim Hansel here on Veracity. Not too long after Dick Woodward realized that he would never walk again in the 1980s, Dick started to read Tim Hansel’s books. They made a huge impact. As you consider Tim Hansel’s example, you might see why Dick thought that this story is so important and still needs to be told… Clarke Morledge
I never met Tim Hansel. He was speaking at a Young Life staff conference back in 1990 and I missed his talk. But I got a cassette tape later of his message. As I was listening to him make jokes left and right throughout his talk, I thought to myself that this guy was a real character. I was laughing right along with him, … until he was telling his listeners that he was living in continuous chronic pain.
To those who knew him, Tim Hansel was an adventurer to the extreme. He never did anything halfway. From football to mountain climbing, Hansel kept pushing the envelope. Life was full throttle, everyday.
But he was not doing this for himself. Hansel loved young people and wanted them to achieve their best, the kind of life that God had in store for them.To do that, Hansel would take students with him on various “wilderness” experiences, working multiple jobs at a time just to make ends meet for his ministry. These high adventure outings proved effective at shaking teenagers out of their apathy and towards transformation:
“The wilderness is still the finest place to train servant leaders because it is a non-neutral learning environment which demands change, and fosters community, trust, and interdependence. The wilderness encourages wholeness, reminds us of what is true and real and affords us an opportunity like no other to encounter God as He is without distraction.” Holy Sweat (1987)
But things changed dramatically one afternoon while descending from a glacier in California’s Sierra Nevada. Hansel slipped and fell into an ice crevasse. It was a devastating fall. He was able to get out and walk back 20 miles to the car. He did not tell his wife about the fall initially. But within days the real pain began. He had cracked vertebrae and crushed discs in his upper back and neck.
For the next 35 years, Tim Hansel had to live with severe chronic pain.
Hansel lost a lot. The stress of the injury impacted his marriage, leading to divorce. It led to other broken relationships. For most people in a situation like this, there would be nothing left but despair.
But it was different for Tim Hansel.
He was coming to a new understanding of what it means to have a relationship with Jesus.
He came to know what real joy is all about.
He wrote a book, You Gotta Keep Dancin’, clearly his best book, which explained his philosophy:
You can choose joy…Life can be tough. Stress, disappointment, heartache, hurt–all are part of the human condition. But while pain is unavoidable, misery is optional!
Our friend here at Veracity, Dick Woodward, was greatly inspired by Hansel’s courage and faith.
. . .
There is one more part of the Tim Hansel story that is important. It is about the people who stuck with Hansel in his darkest moments. Hansel eventually remarried and in doing my research on him I was fascinated by the resiliency of Anastasia Hansel. She was able to care for Hansel (and apparently his ailing mother, too!) as he progressively got worse and worse over the years.
Care giving is far from exhilarating. It can be draining, monotonous and tiresome. Whether you experience chronic pain, or whether you care for someone who has pain like that, it may not be exactly like climbing across a mountain glacier. Nevertheless, it is a “wilderness” adventure. It is a different kind of wilderness, but it is a wilderness where God grabs our attention.
For folks like Tim Hansel and Hansel’s wife, Anastasia, (and for Dick Woodward and his dedicated family who cared for Dick), you can choose joy.
Be challenged and encouraged as you hear Anastasia tell her story.