Word association with singer and songwriter Mark David Williams reveals a lot.
You say suffering, he says perseverance. You say God, he says love. You say eternity, he says truth. You say faith, he says all I have. You say hope, he says unseen, yet seen. You say fear, he says man-made. You say Scripture, he says life. You say forgiveness, he says essential. You say the past, he says important to the future.
The thoughtful 29-year-old who speaks these words with great conviction is my hero. He survived a horrific car crash on December 8, 2001, in Nashville, Tennessee. He spent 11 days in the Vanderbilt Trauma Unit and 64 days in a rehabilitation facility. He sustained numerous body fractures: eye socket, nose, jaw, right shoulder, right wrist, left hip, left knee, and both feet. He endured more than 30 hours of five surgeries, a tracheotomy, a wired jaw, and now lives with metal inserted in his pelvis, hip, arm, feet and face.
Yet you say the present, and Williams says good.
Williams, who has been a Christian since he was five years old, is a well-known and loved guest artist at churches throughout the Twin Cities area and Upper Midwest. He is a native of Minneapolis but lived and worked for several years in Nashville where he was writing for his second album at the time of the crash.
Williams’ award-winning music ministry is taking shape again after months of rehabilitation and recovery. His second CD ("Bless The Day") was released last fall, and as he visits churches he shares how the Lord has brought good from this tragedy. "I hope and pray and believe that more of God’s love is coming forth through me to the Body of Christ," he says. "People are coming up to me after the services and I’m hearing statements like, ‘I was in a car crash, too,’ or, ‘My mother has cancer.’ I can share an understanding of their suffering and where that suffering leads you and how God can use it. There is more of an approachability with me now.”
Williams is the first to admit that grief is a mystery. “We don’t know what to expect with grief,” he says. “We don’t know how to deal with it. But it’s true that the Lord never gives us more than we can bear. My suffering only got to the level where I would get stronger. Isaiah 40:31 says, ‘But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’ That was a special verse for me, because walking was something I was hoping to do.”
If you continue word association with Williams and say death, he says hope. “I had no fear of death, but I never felt close to it,” he remembers. “ I longed for the peace and release of death because I wanted to escape the pain. I wrote on the dry erase board, ‘I want to..,’ but my parents wouldn’t let me finish. They knew that I wanted to write, ‘I want to die.’ Yet I knew that through everything I was going through, I had spiritual life, no matter what. That allowed me to appreciate the physical life more.”
When the soft spoken man is asked to compare and contrast the Mark Williams of 2001 with the Mark Williams of today, he responds in this way: “Before December 8 I felt inadequate at times to bring forth the Gospel,” he admits. “Inadequate with my singing and with my song writing because of comparing myself with other musicians. As a performer you like it when people applaud and buy your CD’s, but now I can honestly say that I know the Lord is going to use me in spite of myself. I have more of an understanding of who I am in Christ. I feel refined. I don’t feel perfect, but I feel like He’s made all things new.”
Suzy Nelson has known Williams since he was 12 years old. Nelson, who is the worship minister at Mark's church, has seen first hand the spiritual growth that has occurred in Williams since the crash.
”I think now there’s such a depth with Mark, a depth in his relationship with the Lord,” Nelson observes. “He has experienced what he sings and talks about. Mark is so gifted and anointed as a worship leader. The power of God is so evident in his life. You can’t deny it. He loves the Lord and he loves to worship.”
Nelson is convinced that Williams is just beginning to tap into the ministry that God is calling him to. "I’ve seen a real heart change in him," Nelson says. "Now his ministry is even more effective because Mark is ministering to people and meeting their needs. I believe that he is now doing what he was created to do.”
Say the word music to Williams and he smiles and says joy. “It’s not about finding a song to write or sing anymore,” he says. “It’s about having a song to write and sing. There has been an underlying central theme in every song the Lord has recently given me: thankfulness. Life is uncertain but the sure thing we do have is Jesus. He’s always there. We can just stroll through life or we can realize how blessed we are and have a grateful heart. During my recovery there have even been moments of pure joy. It goes back to the thankful heart.”
When you say drunk driver Williams responds with one word: dangerous. “My thoughts and feelings toward the driver are actually quite tame,” he admits. “I’ve had some pastoral counseling, as needed, but all I can do is forgive her. I hope and pray she will find a new direction for her life and that she doesn’t go down the same path again with her drinking.”
Williams suspects he will someday be asked such questions as, “Where was God to protect you in the car crash?" And, "How can you sing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness?”
He plans to respond with, ‘Where would I be if God wasn’t there? On all accounts, my doctors say with my facial fractures that I should have had brain damage. I have no brain damage. I have no internal injuries. I have no spinal cord injury. God protected me from knowing the full extent of my injuries, and how long I would be hospitalized. And through it all I had hope. My God protected me. Jesus suffered and was forsaken. I was never forsaken. I’ve had tremendous support. Even when I was pinned in the car on the night of the crash, waiting to be rescued, I asked a bystander if somebody could pray for me. Nobody did, yet I didn’t feel alone. Jesus was with me.
“The message I need to convey to people is this,” Williams continues. “Don’t wait for a tragedy to force you to realize and appreciate all that you have in life. After a tragedy you tend to look at things in a different light. It’s almost indescribable....that inner peace that allows you to enjoy things.
“Cultivate your alone time with God,” he continues. “Press in. I had so much alone time that all I could do was stay in His presence and ask Him to fill me with His hope and peace. With the tracheotomy I couldn’t talk so communication was very internal with the Lord. I was doing daily Scripture memory work.
“It’s all about meeting and waiting upon the Lord. You develop patience because there is nothing else you can do. But patience is one of the best things to learn because you then have it the rest of your life! Romans 5:3-5 was a huge Scripture passage for me during recovery. ‘And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character; and character, hope.’”
There is one final word association for Williams. You say life, and he says? “A gift.”
Spoken like a true hero.
(For more information on Mark's music ministry visit www.markdavidwilliams.com)