A modern-day Job story reminds us of God’s grace and love.
Julie K. Wietzke
For most people, it would have been the worst day of their life.
Maybe it was for Spencer Beach, a member at St. Peter, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, as well. While removing flooring from a new home, he was caught in an explosion and flash fire that caused third- and fourth-degree burns over 90 percent of his body. He was given a 5 percent chance of survival.
Sixteen years later, he still can remember every detail of that day, down to what it felt like when his skin was shrinking as the fire burned through layers of his fatty tissue and muscle.
Yet now he focuses on God’s daily miracles and blessings rather than this “bad day.” “If God can take a guy whose quality of life should have been so poor that he should have not been given a choice to live and work me into the person I have become now, how can you not see the grace and love of God?” he says.
“How can I ever say that this was not a blessing?”
Spencer grew up in a strong WELS home in St. Albert. He made some bad decisions with drugs and alcohol in high school, which left him barely able to graduate. He joined the family business of installing flooring right after high school.
On April 24, 2003, at the age of 29, Spencer was using powerful chemicals to remove vinyl flooring from a brand-new home. He had a feeling that the process was highly dangerous, but as he says, “I was taught to work hard and not rock the boat.” He was never trained in safety, but he followed the routine of opening the front door and the door to the garage to let the fumes out.
After taking a break to smoke and call his wife, he closed the front door to work on the flooring behind it. That change in the air current caused the garage door to slam shut as well. When a coworker opened and shut the front door again as he went outside, the change in the air temperature caused the furnace to turn on, pulling the oxygen to it, along with the powerful chemicals. “I heard a loud whistle and a bang and the fire ignited,” he says. There was even a mild explosion, but Spencer says he never felt it.
Spencer was covered in flames and immediately grabbed for the front door. It wouldn’t open. He made his way to the door in the laundry room that led to the garage, but that didn’t open either. “I could feel my clothes burning. The heat was deep. . . . It was inside of me,” he says. He went back to the front door but still could not open it. “I could feel my energy being drained from me. I knew that I was in trouble.” He tried one more time, returning to the laundry room door, but was trapped.
“At that point, I couldn’t take it anymore. I just gave up. I collapsed into a ball,” he says. “I just wanted it to end. I was ready to go to heaven.”
He says that time stopped and everything became really peaceful. But then he thought about his wife, Tina, and their unborn baby she was carrying. He thought about everything important to him, everything he prayed for at night. He got back up and tried the door again. It opened.
Now Spencer says he can see the blessings God gave him that day—that moment of peace he felt when he thought he was going to die, the off-duty nurse who was outside when he rushed out of the house, and the best burn-unit doctor in Canada serving as his physician.
But at the time he knew the situation was dire. “When the paramedic knelt beside me, the expression on his face was burned into my memory,” he says. He was awake as he traveled by ambulance to the hospital, where he, covered from head to toe by a sheet, was rushed past his wife. All she saw was his arm.
The next five minutes were crucial. The doctor told Spencer how bad the burns were and gave him a 5 percent chance of survival. “I’m a very focused person, so to me a 5 percent chance meant I wasn’t going to die,” says Spencer. “But he was telling me, ‘You’re going to die.’ ”
Then the doctor asked Spencer if he wanted to live or die, because if he decided to fight and he survived, his quality of life would be poor.
“My exact words were, ‘I don’t care. Do what it takes for me to live. I do not want to die.’ ”
After seeing his wife and his mother for a few minutes, Spencer was put into a medically-induced coma, during which he had six weeks of nightmares based on what was happening to him in real life.
When he woke up, he was down to 112 pounds. He couldn’t talk, couldn’t eat, couldn’t move.
“I had a lot of time to contemplate,” he says. “I would replay the events over and over again. Replaying the events really led to a blame game. I began asking, ‘Why me?’ ”
“Everything I ever prayed for, God protected. I stopped looking inside and started looking outside and seeing things worth fighting for.”
He sank into depression and was filled with anxiety. “I was holding onto God’s Word, but at the same time I was pushing it away,” he says. “My faith was being twisted and challenged. There was a battle going on, and who was going to win was unknown at that time.”
After eight weeks, he remembers being able to talk for the first time. He was finally able to say, “I love you,” to his wife, Tina—words he had forgotten to say the day of the accident. It was his gift to her on their fifth wedding anniversary.
He also remembers his pastor and a Christian brother from church visiting him to bring him the Word, although he says he sometimes turned down Communion because he didn’t think he deserved it.
“I was angry and depressed. I didn’t see anything worth fighting for,” he says. “I was looking inside, looking at someone I didn’t recognize anymore.”
At one point, his depression got so bad that he started having suicidal thoughts, actually planning how he could kill himself.
“Physically, I couldn’t kill myself, which is another blessing,” he says. “This gave me time.”
He continues, “I finally hit rock bottom and internally screamed out, ‘All right, Lord, you said you wouldn’t give me more than I can handle. You take it!’ ”
God did take it and provided Spencer a blessing that changed his perspective. That blessing was the birth of his daughter, Amber.
Five months after the fire, Tina was laying Amber into Spencer’s arms. Amber was one day old. Spencer still couldn’t move, but he could hold her and look at her and love her.
“I found out what was important,” he says. “Everything I ever prayed for, God protected. I stopped looking inside and started looking outside and seeing things worth fighting for.”
He continues, “I didn’t want to get better up until then. Now I saw all these people trying to help me get better, and the only person that was not helping me get better was me. God had already given me everything that I needed. I just wasn’t using it.”
Five months later, Spencer was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. After two weeks, he rolled over by himself, something he never thought he would be able to do. “I thought to myself, What other stupid barriers am I putting in my way that I haven’t challenged yet? Instead of asking, ‘Why me?’, I started asking a different question, ‘What else can I do?’ ”
Sixteen years later—after an initial hospital stay of 14 months, five years of recovery, and 39 surgeries—Spencer is a motivational speaker. “People look at me and see this guy who is disabled, but I’m not. There is very little that I can’t do,” he says.
He’s also involved in his church, serving as a Pioneer leader, treasurer of the congregation, and even as a delegate at the last synod convention.
“I realized that not only is there a place on this earth for me, I should be proud of who I am—and I need to take that charge forward with full vigor. To hold back in any way is not only going to hold me back, but I also am not living up to the purpose of why God put me here.”
He continues, “Although nothing was wrong with me being a floor layer, my life is better than it ever was. I have more purpose and meaning and passion and inspiration.”
Going back to his question of why me, Spencer says he discovered the answer: Because I’m alive.
“In the fall into sin, God said there will be bad days. . . . and that’s the whole basis of the answer,” he says. “If you think you can go through life without having a bad day, you’re not alive.”
He continues, “There are so many passages that say hardship is going to happen and when it does, come to [God]. But that’s the opposite of what we do. When hardship happens, we blame God, which is the old Adam and sinful nature coming out.
“You need to turn to Scripture; trust in it. Open your eyes, see those miracles, and use them. Let your bad days happen. Bad days are a part of life. But if you’re having weeks of bad days, then maybe you need to stop and check and say, ‘Is this how I want this week to go? Another week of bad days?’ Or do I want to turn my eyes out? Do I want to grab on to these blessings that God is continually throwing into my path?
“My life is better than it ever was. How can I ever say that this was not a blessing?”
Spencer is willing to do free presentations for any WELS congregation or group. Contact him at spencerspeaks.ca/contact.
Hear more straight from Spencer himself
Listen to these two audio clips from Julie Wietzke’s interview with Spencer.
Fighting for his life
Imagining life as a flower garden
Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 107, Number 03
Issue: March 2020