How do you handle adversity? Do you cry out, “God, what are you doing? How much more can I possibly handle?” Or, would you allow God to use your pain for His greater purpose?
Rebekah DiMartino steadfastly maintains, “Whatever you are going through in your life, don’t give up because God has got a plan for everything, and everything that we go through, it ultimately works together for your good.”
That’s not an easy statement for her to make, considering what happened.
The Louisville native and graduate of Eastern High School was at the Boston Marathon on April 2013, standing just three feet from where a bomb exploded at the finish line. But she’s quick to tell you that she isn’t a victim; she’s a survivor.
She now lives in Texas, but DiMartino recently spoke at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, telling about her experience at the marathon, her months-long recovery, and how her faith has played a large part in it.
“It was my birthday weekend,” DiMartino began. In Boston for her first time, she was there to watch her now mother-in-law in the race. “No, I was not the runner,” she quipped. “I was actually the one on the sidelines eating chocolate-covered pretzels and watching everybody else pass.
“Here was me,” she said, pointing to a spot on the floor. “Right here was a bomb!” she exclaimed, pointing only three feet away. “Three! And I’m alive, and I’m standing here to tell you about it,” she marveled.
“But the most miraculous part of my story is the way that God uses me,” she continued. She told how God had used her leg that day to shield her then 5-year-old son, Noah, and spare his life. On the screen behind her was one of the most iconic pictures of the Boston Marathon bombing: Her little boy being rushed away in a wheelchair by first responders.
When the bomb went off, Noah was sitting at her feet, playing with some small rocks. Had he been standing, she was told, he likely would have died instantly. “I took everything in the back of the legs so that Noah would be saved,” she said. “That is God’s purpose (for me),” she nodded. “I cannot feel sorry for myself in the least bit, because I know my son is running around like normal today. … I thank God every day for my little boy still being here.”
DiMartino stayed in the hospital for 56 days, though. In the past 18 months, she endured 30 surgeries—more than half on her left leg alone, which below the knee down was nearly destroyed. Doctors told her that it may never function again. “I was miserable. It was weighing on my heart for me to have to endure the pain and frustration of a leg that didn’t work,” she said.
So, she decided to amputate and, in a bit of moribund humor, wrote a break-up letter to her leg. “It was like a bad boyfriend to me,” she explained. “There are things that hold you back, and this was one of them that I realized and where I could make a change.
“And God’s glory shines through better when things don’t hold you back,” she asserted.
“My leg is not my life,” she said. “I’m so thankful that I get to be here. A leg is just a leg. Cut it off, and give me a new one.” She introduced her new prosthetic as though it were a baby: “On Jan. 7, Felicia was born. She weighs 4 pound, 8 ounces—18 inches long. She’s absolutely beautiful. I just love her; she’s a doll. She’s so high maintenance, but we’re working it out.”
When you have tough decisions to make, she discovered, it ultimately leads you to your greater purpose. “I believe with all of my heart that my purpose in life is to inspire and encourage other people,” DiMartino said. “I don’t feel I have it figured out at all. But I know that I have such a passion to help other people, based on the struggles that I’ve been through … and that’s what I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing.
“It’s a scary world; change it!” she urges. “I try very hard every day when I wake up to say, God, let me have that open heart to where whoever talks to me, whoever comes in my path, sees that I radiate some type of light for you.”
As for her, rather than let adversity destroy her, “It’s gonna make me stronger,” she declared. In a couple of months, she hopes to run the Boston Marathon. “I’m going to climb mountains; I’m going to dance’ I’m going to run; I’m going to do anything and everything that I can, because it’s my life and I’m not going to waste a second of it.”
Across Felicia, her new leg, is the word “blessed” in embroidery. Discovering a blessing in adversity—it’s an inspiring word for us all.