Renee Bond, a Catholic speaker and recording artist, is an incredible example of a person who has been able to rise above adversity. She finds and sustains hope where hope would not normally be found. I had the privilege of hearing her speak at the annual gathering of the Catholic Association of Music on July 19-23 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and can’t shake the memory of her presence there. I recorded her talk and then immersed myself in her life, reading her book, The Last Dance but Not the Last Song, and then transcribing the talk. Transcription can be a tedious job, but this job bore much fruit in my life and continues to do so. Susan Bailey
The following article details this talk where Renee offers her listeners ways in which she copes with the stresses in her life.
Eighteen years ago, 29-year old Renee Lacauque had everything to live for. She was in love with her job, teaching vocal music to high schoolers at San Clemente High School in San Clemente, CA. She was in love with her finance, Mike Bondi, whom she was scheduled to marry soon. She had a good walk with the Lord. In short, she was in love with her life.
But, as the lyrics to her song, “The Last Dance but Not the Last Song” reveal, “Life has a way of changing all your plans.” The night after her formal engagement to Mike, after chaperoning the senior prom for San Clemente High School, Renee experienced a most bizarre accident which changed her life forever.
She described what happened: “That night I went to bed feeling wonderful, really excited about my life. The next thing I know, I woke up out of a sound, deep sleep diving off the end of my bed, onto my head. I’d woken up midair thinking ‘huh?,’ hit my head on the ground, hurt my neck, finished the flip on the front of my back with my feet halfway in the closet and my head up against the dust ruffle, BOOM! And I thought, “Oh man, now I’ve done it!” I just thought I had royally kinked my neck, that’s all. But the rest is history. I had broken my neck, leaving me quadriplegic. The doctors said I would never walk again, that I would never have functional use of my hands again.”
The doctors also said she would never sing again. This was a woman whose whole life was totally immersed in music. Throughout her high school and college years, Renee was a member of the Young Americans, a group of young, professional singers who toured the country performing. After graduating from college, she worked for three years at San Clemente High directing the choir. Under her direction and due to her dedication, the choir mushroomed from 18 to 150 members and they won a prestigious competition. She had just begun recording her first CD. Music permeated her soul. There was no way this woman’s voice would be silenced!
Nor would her injury keep her down. Renee fought back. One year after getting out of the hospital, she and her finance Mike married. Three years later her voice started returning and she resumed directing choirs (although at her church) and was able to finish recording her first CD. And 6 years into her marriage, Mike and Renee became proud parents of a baby boy, Daniel, who is now 11.
After receiving requests for speaking engagements and concerts, Renee formed Bondi Ministries and now travels around the country, sharing her story and her music with women’s groups and churches. Although lifelong “staunch” Catholic (as she calls herself), Renee’s ministry crosses all denominational borders.
Renee found in her travels that people would ask her questions about her life. “As I travel around the country, people come up in that ‘meet and greet’ line afterwards and share their hearts, share their stories with [me]. And they really do want specifics: ‘How do you get up out of bed every day and smile from that wheelchair? How do you laugh? How do you move on?’”
She felt a need to address those questions, wanting to let people know that “I’m not laughing and smiling every day. There are days when I just want to throw this wheelchair in the toilet and have my legs back and my hands back, of course! I’m not always a quiet sufferer.”
Renee came up with three things that helped her to cope when she started to feel herself going down into the valley. And she called them her SOS.
The first ‘S’ – Sanctify
The dictionary definition of sanctify describes the word as meaning “to make pure, to make holy.” Renee wondered how she could make her life pure and holy, especially on those days when life was just plain lousy and she felt irritable and frustrated.
A hospital chaplain she met during the early stages of her injury showed her a way. She describes her experience:
“When I first broke my neck and I was 5 months in the hospital and flat on my back, this sweet hospital chaplain would come in and bring me Communion . . . I remember one day when she was coming in and saying, ‘Renee, let’s pray.’
And I said, ‘Oh. Go ahead’
And she said, ‘Ah. Let’s reduce this prayer to the simplest of prayers. Renee, breathe in, say ‘Jesus’.”
‘Exhale. Say ‘mercy’.’
‘Okay now, let’s try it again. Breathe in – Jesus. Exhale – mercy.’
That morning I did the simplest of prayers with that sweet lady probably 16, 17 times, and by that 17th time, my heart was starting to change. Why? Because what our Southern Baptist friends say is true: “there is power in the name of Jesus!” There really is because that simplest of prayers, ‘Jesus, mercy,’ takes me right to Him.”
Another experience gave Renee a new way to sanctify her life. Two years ago she sustained a pressure wound injury that is common to paralysis patients. This wound required that she lie on her stomach in bed for seven months. As she puts it, “How do you make your mind pure and holy when you’re on your stomach for 7 months?? So I was starting to go down again.”
Believing that calling upon others who are “veterans of the war you are fighting,” was a prudent move, she called upon dear friend Joni Eareckson Tada, a well known Christian speaker who herself had been quadriplegic for 38 years. Renee describes what Joni suggested.
“I called Joni, I said, ‘Joni, I’m going down. I need some new tools. I’ve prayed, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I’ve done everything and I’m still losing it. Give me something new please!’
And she said, ‘when that happened to me, memorizing scripture became PARAMOUNT.’
I said, ‘Alright, send me some of your favorites.’
And she said, ‘I will. I want you to put it on 3×5 cards, stick it on a bulletin board right next to your bed so that when you wake up and your eyes open up, your eyes will fall on those words and you will start memorizing.’ ”
Two scripture passages that Renee found most helpful were Psalm 57:1 (NIV) “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has past,” and Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely; whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
The hope she derived from Psalm 57:1 was from the last part of the verse: “until the disaster has past.” It meant there was a light at the end of the tunnel – she would eventually get off her stomach and get out of that bed. Even when people have questioned her about the fact that she was not healed of her paralysis, she speaks of her hope in heaven and how she cannot wait for her “heavenly body.”
Philippians 4:8 gave her no less than eight ways to reflect on the goodness of God. By reflecting on those specific things in her life that were true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, Renee found her heart and mind had changed. One of the more significant changes was her attitude towards her wheelchair, as she describes it: “I had NEVER looked at my wheelchair as a friend. It was NEVER something that helped me. It was ALWAYS my obstacle, ALWAYS my foe, ALWAYS what kept me from doing what I wanted to do. Or so I thought. I’ll never forget one day, laying down on my stomach, opening my eyes, and I looked over and I saw my empty wheelchair over by the closet. And I remember saying out loud, ‘Well hello old friend. Sure wish I could hang out with you awhile. Sit with you and go do some things.’ And when I realized what came out of my mouth, I laughed. And I went, ‘Ah ha! Got it!’ And from then on, this wheelchair has been my accompanist, it has been the tool used to get out of bed and get going on this life.”
Sanctify: to make pure, to make holy.
The ‘O’ – Organize
Renee knew that she had four components in her life and she needed to organize them in the right order. Those components were: her spouse, her child, her job (being her ministry) and God. Oftentimes she found herself putting these components in the wrong order but through prayer and faithfulness to God, she found the right order for life. Her prayer for others is “that God would be first, and then our spouse, before our children, because that’s what they need, and then our ministry or our job.” Through this proper ordering of her life, Renee found much needed peace.
The Last ‘S’ – Surrender
Renee faced yet another tremendous challenge in her life which taught her the true meaning of “surrender.” Without that total surrendering to God, she would never have regained the peace in her life she had fought to gain.
As the last of four children, Renee enjoyed the privileges of that station, being the self-proclaimed “spoiled child.” Everything came easy to her growing up, mainly because she did not take life all that seriously. Anger was never an issue in her life; in fact she had never really known true anger. Even after the accident that left her paralyzed, Renee never succumbed to anger. She certainly knew frustration in her life, but not that deep, festering anger that can lead to despair and bitterness. That changed when she got the call about her sister, Michelle some 11 years ago. She recounts what happened:
“The phone rings. We’d known that my sister had been on a family vacation with her husband and 2 boys doing what you do as a wife and a mom of two boys – they were out near Yuma, AZ riding 3-wheeler ATVs, all-terrain vehicles. It’s a long story but Michelle had an accident. Hit a bush, went flying, broke many ribs which punctured her lungs, ruptured her spleen, and broke her back. And now she too is in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, and permanently confined to the wheelchair.
I can tell you for the first time in my life (at that time I was 36), I was MAD. I was screaming, I was yelling, I was cussing like a sailor, I was MAD at God. ‘What’s this? You want TWO of us?’ What do you do with that kind of anger? It was a brand new emotion for me – I had never experienced it before in my life. What do you do with it?
Well, I just sat in it . . . because I had a RIGHT to be mad. Nobody around me could move fast enough, or slow enough, or right enough. You definitely didn’t want to be my caregiver at the time, let alone my spouse. I sat in it for about 5 months.”
But God’s grace finally broke through as she goes on to describe: “One day Mike and I had to be out of the house – we had to be somewhere at 10 o’clock. And I was screaming, I was yelling, I was barking orders, “Hurry up! Get the lead out! Why can’t we ever be on time? If you’d gotten up an hour earlier, maybe we’d be on time.” As if he has nothing else to do: he has a quadriplegic wife and a newborn baby. And here I am barking orders. And he stopped, and he looked at me, and I looked back. And then I looked again. And I could see his eyes saying, “Where is my wife??” Right then I said, “Got it! I got it!” And I bowed my head and I started sobbing and crying my eyes out saying, “Lord, I surrender this anger, I surrender this anger, I surrender it, I ask you to take this anger and replace it with Your peace. I had Your peace at one time, I don’t have it now. I surrender it! I surrender it! I surrender!” And I kept babbling and saying this prayer of surrender over and over and over again. Not just once – that’s where we screw up. But 5, 6, 7 times. I would surrender this way over and over again. That went on for about 4 months. And then finally, one day, I was out with a girlfriend of mine, having lunch. She said something to me, I don’t know what it was, but she said something and I started howling, laughing. We were in the middle of this restaurant and we were just busting up, howling, cracking up, laughing, tears rolling down my face, and I stopped and thought, ‘Ha! You did it! You did it! You replaced my anger with Your peace.’ ”
She recounts the scripture that summed up the peace she had experienced: “Philippians 4:7 says “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And I believe that that day when I bowed my head in the hallway of my home, and I started crying and saying, “Lord, I surrender this anger,” that I was guarding my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus because that’s all I had left was my heart and my mind and I didn’t want anybody messing with it but the King of Peace!”
Renee believes there are times in life when it’s totally understandable to be angry, to be frustrated, even a little bitter. But it’s how LONG we stay there that can and will become a problem. She believes at some point we have to surrender and give it to the King of Peace.
Save our ship
Sanctify. Organize. Surrender. Renee Bondi’s SOS can be anyone’s SOS. The focus is simple: fixing our eyes on Jesus through prayer and scripture and seeking our hope in Him through complete trust. While the focus is simple, the living is often not easy. Renee would be the first to tell you that. But this SOS truly saves her ship; her life has been a daily demonstration of that. And it can save ours too.
Learn more about the ministry and music of Renee Bondi.
Listen to our Catholic Moments Podcast featuring Renee Bondi.
Copyright 2009 Susan Bailey