It was supposed to be a bit of harmless fun with his teenage boys – jumping off a ramp on a bicycle into a foam pit – but the moment Shane Clifton landed upside down he knew he had broken his neck and his life had changed forever.
That was in October 2010. Now an Associate Professor of Theology in Sydney, Shane has written a book about his experience of coming to terms with quadriplegia entitled Husbands Should Not Break: the Pursuit of Happiness after Spinal Cord Injury, co-authored with his wife Ellie.
The theologian came to believe and trust in Jesus for his personal salvation as a 16-year-old. At that time the death of his father's business partner from cancer caused a crisis of faith in the agnostic family that brought them all to the conclusion that Christianity was the answer to the big questions about life and death.
That year, his second last year of high school, was also the year Shane met Ellie at the church they were attending. They started dating and were married a year after school, at age 19.
"I look back, and I've got a child at the moment whose 20, and I think goodness that's young. But we were married at 19 and it worked wonderfully," Shane recalls fondly.
At the time Shane had intended to continue with his accounting studies and then join his dad is his accounting business on the coast, but in his mid-20s he felt called to Bible College.
Now he teaches systematic theology, which addresses theological topics one by one (e.g.. God, sin, humanity) and attempts to summarize all the biblical teaching on each particular subject.
Before his accident Shane, an avid surfer, skateboarder, and golfer, was just days away from his 40th birthday.
"The local church group had built up a jump into a foam pit for the youth. I had three teenage boys at the time and they were jumping push-bikes and skateboards off this jump into a foam pit.
"I was one of these fathers that was actively involved in all of my kids sporting activities, so I decided to have a go. I took the jump and landed upside down and knew immediately that I'd broken my neck."
What followed were some of the scariest moments of Shane's life. Struggling to breathe, unable to move and aware that everything had changed irrevocably in the blink of an eye.
He was air-lifted to hospital, where his damaged fourth and fifth vertebrate were operated on and he spent the next seven months rehabilitating and learning to adapt to life in a wheelchair.
During this time Shane was also wrestling with the inevitable question: "Why, God?"
is that to be
human is to
suffering”"The truth is, I experienced lots of doubt, and asked lots of hard questions," he admits.
"I think sometimes that trust in God involves being honest about the doubts that you experience. But I was really blessed to have really great people who walked the journey with me."
Together with friends and mentors, Shane explored the problem of pain for the bulk of the seven months and "in fact it's a topic I've thought about a lot since that time".
"The reality is that yes God can and does heal," he says, "but miracles, by definition of the miraculous, are rare, and the reality of life is that to be human is to experience suffering and heartache and death.
"Being Christian and exercising faith doesn't free you from those realities. Faith isn't trust that I will be healed. Faith is trust in the providence of God in the midst of whatever circumstance I'm going through.
"So I do believe that God heals, but I also know that life is fragile and for me to live with my disability I can't keep holding onto some future healing that may or may not happen. You need to face up to the loss that you are experiencing and get on with life. So that is what I've done."
In hospital Shane discovered voice recognition software and started writing for his blog and journaling.
"I was able to process my loss and think through it by writing about it. Spinal cord injury involves massive change and massive loss.
"The problem of pain is at the heart I think of theology and Christian faith. So strangely I was in a position where my experience could be related to my profession and to my writing," he explains.
"Probably a couple of years ago now I realized that I had accumulated enough material that I could put it together in a book and so that's what I did."?
Husbands Should Not Break: A memoir about the pursuit of happiness after spinal cord injury by Shane and Ellie Clifton is available from Amazon.