Jeremiah 29:11 has always been my favorite verse. It says, “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV).
And up until July 23, 2022, my life reflected every positive vibe of this verse. I had loving parents who paved the way for my success, awesome sisters and friends, and I played the game I loved—baseball.
Even before I could walk, I had a bat and ball in my hand. I’d sit there in my diaper, swinging my plastic bat at a plastic baseball propped on a stand. My dad fed the baseball bug inside me, and every day, I’d wait excitedly at the front door for him to come home from work so we could play.
Out in the sandbox, we’d pretend I was one professional player or another, and I’d take on the role of their respective position. My favorite was Brian McCann, catcher for the Braves. Other times I became Josh Hamilton, outfielder for the Rangers, or Derek Jeter, infielder for the Yankees. Before we played, Dad and I would stand, place our right hands across our chests, and sing the national anthem.
This dedication led to my commitment to play baseball for East Carolina University in the ninth grade. I had opportunities to play in larger programs, but being a Pirate felt right. Plus, both my parents had attended ECU. We had no idea then how important the Pirate community would be to our family when I headed to college for summer school in June 2022.
Greenville was a fun town, and I bonded quickly with my teammates. My dreams of playing college ball had finally come true; I thanked God for His awesome plan.
And then, on Saturday, July 23, I went out on the Pamlico River with my new friends. My girlfriend, teammates, and I had a blast on the back creeks, skimming across the water on inflatable rides behind my friend’s family boat.
As one would imagine, things got a bit wild; we were, after all, a boatload of teenagers. My friend Dixon and I boarded the tube and held tight until we could hold no more and we were ejected from it. We laughed and groaned as our bodies skipped across the water.
When our friend returned to pick us up, I decided I’d had enough. I grabbed the rope and pulled myself in toward the boat. At the same time, my friend put the boat in reverse. Suddenly, the rope was caught in the propeller, and I was pulled under the boat into the prop’s spinning blades.
A water-savvy teammate from Florida saw what happened and jumped into the water. He had just lost a friend in a boating accident and wasn’t about to lose another. He helped me get to the side of the boat and the others pulled me inside. Blood mixed with dirty river water and spread throughout the boat as everyone frantically tried to figure out what to do.
Our boat was inoperable since the rope was still caught in the prop, so my teammates started waving and yelling for help. My girlfriend called 911, and someone applied a makeshift tourniquet to my thighs.
After a few minutes, a man drove over to us. He refused to help us, though, saying he didn’t want to expose his children to the bloody scene. He threw us a first aid kit and drove away.
Soon, another boat approached. There was a nurse in that boat who immediately began attending to my needs. She was like an angel from heaven, bringing order and peace to our chaos. I was transferred to their boat and taken to the marina, where an ambulance awaited. I fought to stay awake, knowing if I dozed off, I might die.
From the local hospital, I was airlifted to ECU Health in Greenville. I had an out-of-body experience during the transport. I was floating above my body, watching the medical team working on me, and wondering how this day could have gone so wrong.
At ECU Health, I was rushed into surgery. It was a three-hour drive from Laurinburg, my hometown, to Greenville, but Dad had the pedal to the medal, and they made it in record time.
The days that followed are a blur for me, as I went in and out of surgery, but for my parents, they were a living nightmare. I can only imagine the pain they endured and the helplessness they felt as they stood by. My parents faced heavy burdens as they balanced work and family and soon decided to relocate to Greenville permanently. My sisters and parents made a huge sacrifice to be by my side.
I underwent 22 surgeries, including on August 4, a leg amputation below the knee. There was no time to grieve the loss of my leg or even process what it might mean for my baseball career, as we were focused on my survival.
People all over eastern North Carolina were praying for my recovery, and many sent letters of encouragement. The support of the Greenville community blew my parents’ minds. This was not even our hometown, yet people cared so deeply.
The community’s support and prayers carried my family and me, especially when the doctor told us that blood had ceased flowing around my knee. I would need another amputation, this time above the knee.
The news didn’t shake me at first. My leg was already gone; what was a few more inches? But my dad knew that losing my knee meant losing our dream of a baseball career, and that news hit him like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t thought of that possibility until he shared it. I lost it, and we both began to cry.
Mom, however, was not going to throw in the towel. “Look at me,” she said fiercely. We looked. “No one can tell you what you can or cannot do. No one can limit you, and no one knows your future. You decide. And if you want to play baseball, then that’s what we’ll go for. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you!” Her words smacked me and Dad back to the truth. Mom also knew nothing was impossible with God (Matthew 19:26).
My family had raised me to believe in God, and I had put my faith in Jesus Christ for salvation long ago. But in this trial, we all learned to trust God more deeply. We’d never experienced such an obvious need for His intervention. Our prayers grew in intensity.
Our faith soared when, days later, doctors spotted a trickle of blood moving through the vein in my knee during a washout of my wound. We had our miracle! The doctors could not explain the return of blood but gladly postponed the surgery. Then, blood began to flow freely through the once-dry veins. My knee was saved.
This was great news, but it didn’t erase the reality of my new situation or the pain I would face in the coming months. It was hard to reconcile Jeremiah 29:11’s promise of God’s good plan with this painful mess. I even told Him, “God, I’ve always trusted You have a plan. But this plan doesn’t feel so good.”
I didn’t know what to make of it all, but I felt God reminding me that His plan never intends harm. Somehow, He would bring good out of this pain; I just had to trust Him. He assured me, losing my leg wouldn’t be the end of my dreams.
I had plenty of opportunities to get angry with myself, God, and others. But I couldn’t let anger and blame have any place in my life if I wanted to move forward. I had to trust God’s love for me and stay humble. I had to start at ground zero, put one foot in front of the other, and learn how to walk again. And it wasn’t easy.
I talked to myself a lot. “Get up, Parker. Keep going. You can do it—God’s with you! You will play again.” It didn’t matter that I didn’t know of any other leg amputees playing ball in Division 1 baseball. But doesn’t there always have to be a first? So why not me?
I remembered the saying, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” In baseball, it didn’t matter that I had natural talent. Even with both legs, I’d had to work hard to succeed. So it was time to get off my rear and do my part to experience God’s plan. Otherwise, it would never come to fruition. Faith takes action.
It’s been 15 months since my accident, and today, I’m medically cleared to play baseball. In February 2024, I hope to step onto Lewis Field as a shortstop for the ECU Pirates. I still have a ways to go physically, but I’m sticking to my goal of being 1 percent better each day. Sometimes it feels like I’m going in reverse, but progress often feels that way. I just have to keep my eyes on the goal.
When I’m back on the field, I hope people do more than admire my comeback. I hope they are inspired to get into the game of life. One lady told me recently that I’d inspired her to take the stairs instead of the elevator. That’s the kind of inspiration I’m talking about.
It’s hard for me to believe my life today. This Southern teen, who admittedly mumbles his words, is now a public mouthpiece for God. If it hadn’t been for my accident, I would never have had such a story of inspiration. God has taken my life and the game of baseball and given them an eternal purpose.
Maybe, like me, you are facing a painful trial that came out of nowhere, and you’re left confused and wondering, “God, what’s up with this plan? It hurts.” Please know there is still hope.
Trust God and obey Him. Lean into Him and refuse to give up. In time, you’ll make it. God will take the messes of your life and work through them for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
Don’t listen to the negativity around you, especially that nasty voice in your head. No one but God and you can determine your future. You might not see the good of His plan as quickly as I did, but it’s coming. So don’t give up. God is on your side, and that’s enough. Remember, with Him, all things are possible.
PARKER BYRD is an East Carolina University student and baseball team member. You’ll find him sharing his inspiring story at various venues when he’s not studying, working out, or swinging the bat with his teammates.