A lust for life grows from despair | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A lust for life grows from despair

When German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger,” it could have been interpreted as a Bible verse to Jeff Hibler.

While he worked for Ponderosa Glass, the now 44-year-old South Shore man endured a back injury a decade ago that led to a collapsed disk, eight surgeries and a plunge in his mental outlook on life.

Hibler still lives with a debilitating condition, but he believes divine intervention may have lifted his spirit from the abyss of hopelessness.

At one point, he reluctantly ended up in a wheelchair.

“I always had a mental thing that I’m not getting in a wheelchair. That’s the end,” he said, as his 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, snuggled up to him in the family’s Cochise Circle home.

“We were at our end,” his wife, Sandra, said. The two have been married for 12 years.

Hibler, who considered himself non-religious before Oct. 23, 1994, found the courage to come before 400 people to share his struggle and pain at Lake Tahoe Christian Fellowship.

“I had never believed that stuff in my life,” he said.

Hibler also decided to go off his medication that helped him deal with pain.

“I said, ‘OK Lord, if you can do this, you can do that,'” said Jeff Hibler, who has since been forced to return to his meds.

On Saturday, he and his wife will return to that church to share his journey with 450 other people gathered to hear Joni Eareckson Tada for Ladies Night Out.

Tada, who at age 17 lost the use of her arms and legs from a diving accident in 1967, is bringing her worldwide Christian ministry for the disabled to South Lake Tahoe through the greater Sacramento chapter. The regional ministry will receive the proceeds from the fund-raising night which includes a gift-basket raffle.

Those who follow the ministry in Lake Tahoe hope to raise awareness among the area churches to expand programs like Special Delivery into the basin. This program offers gift packages to families in need.

The Hiblers, who would like a support group formed on the South Shore, found the organization through a family with a disabled child who lives in the neighborhood.

“We couldn’t understand how they could keep going when we had struggled so much,” Sandra Hibler said, watching 22-month-old Daniel run around the coffee table with a toy truck.

She was pregnant with Daniel as her husband tried to work through the hiccups of his recovery, which placed a tremendous strain on the family.

Taylor would often care for her father when she wasn’t in school, “a burden no 10-year-old should ever have to endure,” Jeff Hibler said.

They all went to the redwood country of Santa Cruz last June to attend a family retreat that changed their lives. The ministry paid for their visit.

“At first, Jeff didn’t want to go,” Sandra Hibler said of the effort. “He went for us.”

The experience of empathy and support from the ministry presented a complete catharsis for the family, in particular, Jeff, who as a boy growing up was “raised not to cry.”

He cried most of the weekend at the retreat — the family’s first vacation, the Hiblers said.

“She had never seen me cry (before),” he said.

The memories prompted Sandra Hibler to cry again.

“I noticed he had no inhibitions,” she said.

The long struggle has brought them closer together.

The couple receives comfort meeting other families going through the same kinds of issues and challenges.

“I’ve grown drastically. I used to say, ‘I’m in control. I can handle anything,'” he said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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