The story behind the Matthew West classic
“Out Of My Hands”
Window of Opportunity
“Two weeks… Fourteen days.” As I walked through the yard to my house, the words bounced around in my head like the chorus of a catchy tune. I was almost giddy. I felt like a kid counting down the final days to Christmas, but it was the last week of July. And the gift I was expecting wasn’t a toy train set, but the vehicle that would put my career on the fast track.
“Just two more weeks.” The notion put a spring in my step as I paced off the final few feet to my front door. The dream I had watched others attain; the goal I had worked so hard to achieve was now, finally, within my reach.
Without breaking my stride I took hold of the door knob, turned, and pushed. All of my anticipation, all the inertia of my forward thinking carried me across the threshold. Then – BLAMM!; I collided with an unexpected, bone-jarring barricade. The door was locked.
I jiggled the knob and leaned into it. Nothing. My fingers dove into every pocket I had. No keys. As my hands searched, my mind started its own inventory. This wasn’t my first run in with this door. Nor was it the first time I had to consider improvising ‘another way’.
Growing up a pastor’s kid just outside of Chicago, my path was often blocked by well-meaning parishioners who pinched my adolescent cheeks and gushed, “You’re gonna grow up to be a preacher, just like your dad, right?” Never knowing how to tactfully answer, I’d smile through my red, stinging cheeks, and scan the sanctuary for the nearest exit.
Choosing a vocation, especially the door Dad had walked through, gave me pause; his selfless, 24 hour-a-day job had always required more courage and strength than I could ever muster. And though my parents’ faith was an inspiration, I chose ‘another way’, and set my teenage sights on a career far less strenuous – Sports.
All through high school I kept one eye on the ball and the other searching the grandstands for that football or baseball scout who would offer me a scholarship – that door to the big leagues. But the illusive doorman never showed. And by the time senior year rolled around, I realized that I was going to have to improvise yet ‘another way.’
So with the sports door shut as tight as my front door, I reluctantly laid down my ball glove, picked up my hobby – my guitar – and began to play. It took a while, but eventually I worked my way up to touring the college circuit and writing songs for other artists… That’s when the illusive doorman finally showed up – not on the sidelines of some ball field, but in the audience of a record label showcase.
Now, everything was going my way. I was dating an amazing girl, Emily, and I was two weeks away from crossing the threshold of a new musical career. There was just one glitch… I couldn’t get past my own front door.
The last time I locked myself out I discovered an alternate route, a window of opportunity. So doing my best Spiderman, I once more scaled the side of the house and began my encore acrobatic performance.
But this time the handle of the old frame window didn’t want to cooperate. Staying in one position for a long time tends to make some windows a real ‘pane.’ So marshaling my strongest arm, my left hand pounded the frame with a series of upward blows. Nothing.
I was about to sign a record deal that would change my life, I was on the verge of my biggest break! Surely, after improvising all of these alternate doors, I was capable of breaking in my own house through a window! So I pounded harder…. and the glass exploded.
All of my frustration and impatience carried my arm through the frame and BLAMM!, it collided with a shower of skin-dicing shards. In a strange, almost surreal slow motion I watched as a large wedge of glass sliced through the main artery of my strongest arm. In an instant everything was red. I had never seen so much blood.
Trying not to panic, I applied pressure with my right hand. But it didn’t help. I started to run, screaming to the top of my lungs, “Help! Somebody! Help!” But in less than two minutes all of my strength was gone, drained out of me like air escaping from a punctured balloon. And I crumpled, like a rag doll, into my neighbor’s front yard… wanting nothing more than to sleep.
“Two weeks… just two more weeks.” I could feel the dream I had worked so hard to achieve slipping away as fast as my blood spilled into the grass. The hand that was so capable of signing my record contract, just a moment ago, could no longer move. This time there was no improvising another way. I was helpless.
It’s out of my hands
It’s out of my reach
It’s over my head
And it’s out of my league
As best I could I kept calling for help. But the bright July sun was getting dimmer with each blood-draining moment. Soon, all I could feel was a hint of the warm summer wind on my blue, numbing cheeks.
After what seemed forever, my delirium conjured two men wearing construction overalls, standing over me. My ears heard their fast, frantic words, but in my haze it was gibberish. One was talking on his cell phone, the other was tying his bandana around my arm. For an unmeasured span of time they poured water over my face repetitively to keep me conscious, and continued their rapid back and forth gibberish. Finally, a single word they kept repeating over and over seemed familiar; it was the Spanish pronunciation of “Jesus.” My Hispanic rescuers were praying… and so was I.
There’s too many things
That I don’t understand
So it’s into Your will
And it’s out of my hands
When I came to, five days later, I was in a hospital bed surrounded by people. The first face I saw was Emily’s. The moment she heard the news she left her desk at the record label, and had rarely left my side since my arrival by ambulance. The surgeons, likewise hovering over me, wouldn’t let me look at my arm. But the expression on Mom and Dad’s face told me more than I wanted to know.
The glass had lacerated one of the two main arteries in my arm, coming within a centimeter of destroying the main nerves necessary for movement. Considering the damage, the doctors thought it best to tie the vein off and reroute its blood flow to the secondary artery. The procedure would have been just the ticket had the “tie-off” remained tied. But somehow the doctor’s efforts had unraveled.
In short, it would take a year before the extent of the damage could be realized. And there was a high probability that my strongest arm would never be strong again… Two weeks…. It might as well have been two centuries.
There you go changing my plans again
There you go shifting my sands again
For reasons I don’t understand again
Lately I don’t have a clue
What was I gonna do? It takes two hands to play a guitar. If I can’t play, what about Emily? Our plans? Our future? Had all my perspiration and self motivation propelled me into a hospital bed? Did I have nothing else to look forward to but months of physical therapy?
The deadline for my contract passed without fanfare. And weeks later I was still far from well.
The surgeons had rerouted the blood in my arm. But redirecting my thought patterns, my path to reason, was up to me. It was a task I had not auditioned for, nor ever aspired to. I was standing at another locked door. I jiggled the knob and leaned into it. Nothing. And I couldn’t find the key.
Playing the guitar was easy. Writing lyrics for a living was a breeze. But from my bed that dream vocation now seemed not only physically improbable, but mentally and emotionally impossible. In my mind I began to honestly examine the prospects of other occupations. At that moment, even dad’s job seemed easier.
Being a pastor, a 24-hour-a day shepherd to his many parishioners, had always seemed such a daunting task. But he handled it with confidence and ease. He knew his job and did it well. Even those construction workers who came to my rescue, they knew what to do. They called 911, wrapped up my arm and kept me awake with water.
Why were their difficult tasks so much easier than mine? What could a Chicago pastor and a couple of Nashville construction workers possibly have in common?
As my mind raced, searching its inventory, it hit me… Neither stopped repeating the name of “Jesus”.
It was like colliding with a bone-jarring barricade that just gave way. All of my anticipation and forward thinking had been spent trying to cross the threshold of my dreams — without paying the proper attention to “The Door”.
Just when I start liking what I see
There you go changing my scenery
I never know where you’re taking me
But I’m trying just to follow you
Instead of improvising another way, I realized that I needed to be more aware of The (only) Way. Jesus, the Son of God was the One that put me on my path. My parents had taught me well. It’s just that sometimes, we get so busy with our dreams, we need reminding that His way is always better. And on occasion, learning that lesson may require a few locked doors, and a window of opportunity shattering, in slow motion.
Move me, make me
Choose me, change me
Send me, shake me
Find me, remind me
The past is behind me
With the optimism of a Spiderman wannabe, I crossed the room, and forced myself to sit down at a piano. It wasn’t my instrument of choice, but it did allow me the option of using one hand. Struggling, I started plucking out chords, one note at a time. And as I began to scribble down some words, I realized that the insights I was composing with my weak hand, could never have been written with the strong.
There you go healing these scars again
Showing me right where you are again
I’m helpless, and that’s where I start again
I’m giving it all up to you
They say that all new artists spend their life writing their first CD. But all those tunes paled in comparison to the words and music I discovered gazing through my broken window of opportunity. Even my record label heard the difference. And they gave me the time to mend, restring my guitar, rethink my first album, and even get married.
When you put your future in God’s hands, it’s amazing what you can do; even with a weak arm.
Let me dream big, but never so large that I overlook Your plans.
And help me to always see the blockades in my path for what they are…
Reminders to stop and look for You.