German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” For one local family, that quote has literally come to fruition in the past few years.
Geoffrey Arbuckle and Blake Gordon have experienced a journey of acceptance, resiliency, and faith and agree that while they wouldn’t have chosen their circumstances, they are stronger as a result of them.
In 1989, Geoffrey was a passenger in a car struck by a drunk driver. His C2, C3, C4, and C5 were broken, leaving him paralyzed below the neck and on life support. He was told he would never walk, breathe on his own, or eat by mouth. Geoffrey became determined to prove doctors wrong and become stronger in many ways than he was before the accident. A former collegiate athlete, Geoffrey put his physical strength to the test, but more importantly, he says his faith in God played the most important role in his recovery. “It was God who saved me that day, God who healed me and wakes me every day to live for Him. God, knowing what was best for me, left me with disabilities that would be needed many years later for a son who had not yet been born, but a son who would need all that I had been gifted with. Odd as it sounds, my disabilities are a gift that was, and is, needed.”
Fast forward to 2012. Geoffrey Arbuckle married China Gordon, gaining her children Chandler, Blake and Madison as well (Geoffrey also has son Will, from a previous marriage). He made it clear he had no intention of replacing their father but looked forward to giving them love, time and attention on their journey together. Blake was a bit apprehensive, as any 15-year-old would be when another man enters your mom’s life, but he soon realized Geoffrey was a man of integrity, character and inspiration. Little did he know how much he would come to need his stepfather’s example and encouragement.
Last fall on September 15th, 26-year-old Blake and a friend stopped at a railroad crossing to watch a passing train as they headed home from dinner. Blake is fascinated by trains and wanted to stand closer to watch and feel the wind as it went by. The absence of light along, with unstable rocky terrain, led Blake to stumble. As he fell forward, the vacuum created by the train pulled him onto the tracks. As his right arm was run over, his body twisted and his right leg was also caught under the wheels. He then had the sensation of being pulled away as his body was thrown several feet. Miraculously, Blake was able to crawl away and call for his friend. He remained conscious and applied a tourniquet to his arm, crediting his time in the army with his ability to react as he did. Blake spent several days in a local hospital and was transferred to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, where they had to amputate his right foot and his right arm a few inches from his shoulder. While many twenty-somethings would likely despair the loss of life as they knew it, Blake has been remarkably able to reflect on what happened and how to move forward. Blake states “I believe God pulled me from underneath the train and saved my life. All along, I have felt and experienced a peace that only God can provide. I look forward to every day, knowing that He is with me and has plans for me.”
Blake, the “son who had not yet been born,” has been able to draw upon Geoffrey’s strength and example to focus on recovery. Geoffrey shared the biggest change for him after his accident was how he viewed people and the world. “When Blake had his accident, I knew God would change his eyes as well. I knew Blake would interact in, and with, the world differently.” Geoffrey’s accident caused paralysis on his left side while Blake’s right limbs were affected. Laughingly, they say together they make a whole person! Both Geoffrey and China knew Blake was going to be okay when he started making jokes while still in the hospital and his sense of humor appeared unscathed. Blake says it’s “comforting to have someone who understands without necessarily saying anything. We share looks, laughs and at times, quiet silences, and in those is a bond that comes from what we uniquely share in our disabilities.”
Blake and Geoffrey’s journey together continued to take unexpected turns. A GoFundMe account was set up by Blake’s sister and brother after the accident, and an acquaintance of Geoffrey’s made a generous donation. Although Geoffrey and Vaughn Baker were high school classmates, they had not seen each other in many years. Geoffrey contacted Vaughn to thank him, which started a series of conversations between them. Vaughn asked Geoffrey about his career history and accomplishments, and shared that his company could use a Chief Operating Ofﬁcer. Geoffrey now serves as COO of Strategos International. Vaughn started Strategos in 2002 as a faith-based security company that provides consulting, training, protection and investigations for churches, schools, government, and corporations. Having had experience in the military and with business development, Blake was brought on board. “Now, I get to work with Geoffrey every day, and more importantly, I get to work with men and women who are amazing Christ followers, who manage their business by faith and Biblical principles and love others equally. Strategos sees our abilities, not our disabilities.”
It's evident how much respect these two men have for each other and how they lift one another up daily. Blake continues to face challenges (like tying shoes and carrying in the groceries, he jokes), but he’s not slowing down. The VA Hospital has helped Blake with his ‘very cool’ prosthetics and he is adapting and learning how to do things he has always enjoyed like hunting and rock climbing.
Our community is fortunate to have Geoffrey and Blake in its midst. Their examples of relying on faith and finding purpose in what seems to be the worst of times, can encourage all of us to be stronger.