To the outsider, Darrin Ray has every right to live a life of bitterness and resentment.
Born with a bilateral cleft palate, Ray’s early years were defined by a series of surgeries and relentless bullying from his peers. Despite being raised in a Bible-believing home, the constant pain he endured as a child left him questioning God’s goodness.
“When I would undergo a surgery, doctors would put splints on my arms to keep me from touching my face, so I never developed good hand-eye coordination,” he recalled in an interview with The Christian Post. “I couldn’t play sports and I looked so different from peers that I was the constant target of jabs and bullying. I felt like God had abandoned me and made me ‘ugly’ because He didn’t love me.”
After enduring a difficult childhood, Ray finally reached a point where life seemed to be coming together. He was happily married, living in California with his wife and three-year-old daughter, and earning a stable income. Feeling God calling him to the ministry, he started seminary where he studied Christian counseling.
“Life was good,” he said. “I was a deacon and leader at our local church, and I was learning so much through the Scriptures about counseling.”
All of that changed on Aug. 20, 2006.
“I had gotten up that morning to go to church,” Ray, 50, recalled. “My daughter was in the backseat, and I got about a mile from my home in a 20-mile-an-hour school zone when a man who was intoxicated and high on prescription pills came the other way going 60 miles an hour. And he crossed the double yellow line and hit me head-on. The combined crash was like driving my car into a brick wall 90 miles an hour.”
The front of the car came down on Ray, crushing both of his legs, while the car battery exploded, covering his arms in battering acid. His left femur was broken in several places, while his right ankle was shattered.
“I was bleeding to death,” he said. “Paramedics had to use the Jaws of Life to peel the car from around me. It was a terrifying experience. Thankfully, my daughter had nothing but a scratch.”
Ray spent a month in the hospital where he endured a series of surgeries. Doctors informed him his right foot and ankle had been shattered and would require years of surgeries, including total reconstruction.
“They told me I entered the hospital in the body of a 30-year-old man and left in the body of a 70-year-old man,” Ray recalled. “They told me that even after years of surgeries, it wasn’t a guarantee that my foot and ankle would be healed. My other option was amputation.”
“I didn't know what I should do,” he said. “And then, Jerry Roberts, the chaplain at the hospital who had been a huge support to me, said: ‘Darrin, I know God's placed a calling on your life. Do you think that calling is to be a professional patient for the rest of your life?’”
“And that really hit me,” he continued. “He said, ‘I can't make the decision for you, but I think you know the decision you need to make. Make the decision that’s going to allow you to do what God wants you to do.’ I chose amputation."
After undergoing the amputation, Ray returned to seminary — yet he was still full of anger toward the man who had devastated his life.
“It was the man’s fourth DUI, and the state had revoked his license,” he said. “I had a picture in my head of who this guy was: A big, mean, evil-looking man. It was easy for me to be unforgiving to him.”
But, according to Ray, there were "a number of things" that God used to help him forgive the man.
"One was first to change my perspective of him,” Ray said. “When the man walked in the courtroom, he was just 49 years old yet looked 70 due to years of harsh living. God used that to soften my heart and dispel what I originally thought he would look like.”
When reading Scripture, Ray came across the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus prayed, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," and later said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
“I didn't feel like forgiving the man,” Ray admitted. “But I knew it was what God wanted me to do. I trusted Him to help me forgive. I prayed, ‘Lord, I don’t want to forgive. Help me to do what you want.’”
At the court hearing a short time later, Ray went before the judge and asked him to forgive the amount of debt that the man owed his family directly.
“The judge looked at me and said, ‘Why do you want to forgive this man that debt?’” he said. “And I looked at that judge, and I told him, ‘Because I have a Savior that forgave me. He paid my debts that I could never repay.’”
“When I forgave that man, I was instantly freed from bitterness and anger,” Ray continued. “When you truly think about how much Christ has forgiven you, it helps you to forgive others who have wronged you. Now, I’m able to walk in freedom and wholeness.”
Ray shared his powerful story of forgiveness and redemption in the newest White Chair Film production from the Christian storytelling organization I Am Second.
“I wanted to share my story because God has done just such an incredible work in my life, and there was such a contrast between the despair I felt and the hope He gave me,” Ray told CP.
Based on his experiences, Ray said there are three things he knows to be true about God: “One, how much He loves us. Two, how much He has forgiven us. Three, He has wonderful, incredible plans for us, and His plans never fail.”
“We have to trust HIm, we have to look to Him, even when we don’t see Him there,” he stressed. “When you surrender yourself to Him, with everything you are, you will see His hand at work.”
Today, Ray serves as a pastor ministering to seniors and those with disabilities. He told CP that he continually reminds those struggling physically that even when their circumstances don’t make sense, God has a good plan for them.
“When I got to the point where I said, ‘Lord, here I am, do with me as you will,' that’s when I saw Him do miraculous things in my life,” Ray said. “That’s when He helped me forgive. I saw Him open doors I never thought would open. God took the broken pieces of my life and He put them back into something completely different to make me whole again.”
Watch Darrin Ray’s full testimony below.