Ema McKinley: The 18-Year Miracle That Was Worth the Wait
Through a devastating disease, Ema McKinley developed a deeper walk with God and received a Christmas miracle that even the doctors couldn’t explain.
The Christmas season has always been one of the most special times of the year for Ema McKinley. The gathering of family and friends was one of the best ways she could ever think of to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. He has always been her special guest, and she has always savored their intimate time together—but 21 years ago, McKinley never could have imagined just how much she would have to lean and depend upon that spiritual relationship.
On a busy Easter weekend in 1993, McKinley was working and assisting her customers. Dedicated to the job, she went looking for an item in a storage room. One moment she was searching through stacked boxes; two days later, she woke up in a hospital room with no memory of how she got there or even the trauma she had experienced. In the 24-plus hours that had transpired, McKinley learned that she had come face-to-face with the blazing flame of a roaring drum heater. The force of the heat had blasted her petite body, and she had fallen and somehow dangled upside-down solely by her left foot for two-and-a-half hours before anyone noticed her.
The news she received was startling, but the devastating prognosis and events that followed were disturbingly incomparable. By all accounts, the fall and resulting trauma to her body triggered Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)—a rare nerve disorder that cripples limbs and causes extreme sensitivity to touch. RSD is listed as having the highest rate of pain of all diseases and has one of the highest rates of suicide, as well.
The gravity of her situation was becoming just as real as the pain she felt with virtually every movement. Days turned into months, and months into years, as she dealt with the overarching effects of RSD. Eventually McKinley’s left hand began to retract and stiffened into a permanent fist. Most incapacitating was the fact that her neck and spine ultimately curved to nearly a 90-degree angle, confining her to a wheelchair 24 hours a day and severely limiting her mobility. Total rest and relaxation were excruciating and nearly impossible, as was just about everything else in her life.
McKinley’s life was filled with doctors’ appointments, insurance evaluations, pain management clinics, therapies, side-effect illnesses, and several near-death experiences. Despite her condition, she always tried to remind herself of the promises of God and the benefits of a simple smile. Her resolve was that God would one day heal her. Somehow, God became more than just a source for healing—along the way and through her disease, she found him to be her friend, her confidant, her strength, and even her chastiser.
Through her dire situation, McKinley recognized her own faults—little, deeply embedded faults that only a predicament like hers had the ability to reveal.
Her realizations and God’s manifestations became like little miracles throughout her journey. Some were welcome, and some not so much, but they all served the purpose of building a better woman. She recognized the miracle that she only survived her fall because God was with her during those two solitary hours; the miracle of two God-sent caretakers; the miracle of a new house built just right for her contorted body; the miracle of overcoming pain medication detox; the miracle of encouraging others in her bad situation; even the miracle of recognizing her own flaws and the ability to appreciate the power of God to redeem her through and beyond those flaws.
“When we choose to rejoice in trials, we find more peace,” McKinley said. “We see trials as a means to grow in patience, which develops character, which translates into deeper faith and hope for what God will do in the future. I think God allows suffering to help us focus on our eternal home. Our circumstances are temporary compared to the glory that will soon be revealed in us.”
Perhaps it was McKinley’s insistence that God would heal her body, or maybe it was her determination to remain positive. Whatever the reason, God chose Christmas Eve of 2011, 18 years from the date of her first fall, to miraculously heal her body after yet another demoralizing fall. Emma thought her time was finally up. She had lain on the floor for eight agonizing and painful hours, when she says God literally showed up. She felt His presence and witnessed her healing.
“As he stood over me, I had only one response: complete trust,” she said. “Abandon. I’d do whatever He said. I’d trust Him with everything in me. Like the rest of my body, my hand shook as I raised it. I was now lifting my newly reconstructed hand. Time stopped as we touched. Waves of warmth. Strength I’d never known. My heart was completely taken over. Lost in Him.”
In her new book, Rush of Heaven, Ema details her story and pointedly serves as a reminder that even in the darkest times God is still there, and miracles still happen.