NOTE: This is the first post I wrote for Relevant Magazine's God Column. It was an enormous blessing to see the Lord use trial, sorrow, and the valley in my life to be an encouragement to others. I think that's a vital part of our journey as Christ-followers - our suffering and sorrow shaping our hearts and drawing us to the great Comforter. I hope you are encouraged.
Have you ever had that moment, that experience, that phone call that you won’t forget for the rest of your life? I have. It was Friday night, January 9th, 2004, at 10:15pm. I was at one of my former students homes; he had just returned from boot camp and a group of us had gone over to hang out and hear the stories. My phone rang and it was my brother. He asked me where I was and if I could get somewhere private. “Are you sitting down?” This immediately pushed the panic button. I went into a bedroom, closed the door, and said, “What’s going on?” Here is the point where life changed…and has never been the same.
A sidenote for background purposes: My parents had just a year and a half earlier built their last house; the one they would retire in, have the grandchildren playing in the backyard, host BBQ’s and dinner parties – the house was great. And it wasn’t anything ridiculously extravagant. It was just what they needed. One of the details about my parents home that added so much to its beauty was the 12-foot ceilings. This made the house seem so much bigger than it probably was. I loved that house.
So I sat down and asked my brother, “What’s going on?” Very calmly Brent told me that Dad had been in the attic and fallen through the ceiling. And when he fell (12 feet down) he hit his head on the island in the middle of the kitchen. They were in the ambulance, headed to the hospital and Dad wasn’t conscious. I kept waiting on the “good part”, the part where he says, “…but the paramedics think he’s fine…he’ll be OK….” The good part never came.
That night was filled with phone calls, prayers, tears and 15-minute segments of sleep here and there. It seemed eternal. The next morning I got on a plane with my wife and daughter and took the Wichita to Dallas flight. We were at Harris Hospital in Ft. Worth before 9am. As I entered the hospital, I remember being awestruck by the hundred or so people gathered in the lobby from my parents church. Yes, hundreds. You see, my dad was a pastor. Not a preacher…a pastor. And for years, if you were a member of Fielder Road Baptist Church and you were in the hospital, or your spouse had suddenly passed away, or your child was lying in NICU with a breathing tube, or your daughter had run away in anger, or your marriage was being torn apart – my dad was there. You would be hard-pressed to find a handful of people at the church (and we’re talking out of thousands) who had not been touched or impacted by my dad and his ministry. And now suddenly, HE was the one in need. It was as if this countless army of people who were part of our family had no choice but to come…to be there. And I remember standing there in the lobby at one point that morning, being touched by people with tears and smiles, and someone suddenly breaking out into my dad’s favorite hymn, “The Love of God”. I was moved.
I remember my mom taking me into my dad’s room in the Trauma ICU and not being able to do anything but stand there, hold my dad’s hand and cry. I remember as my mom left the room, leaning over on my dad’s chest and weeping, asking him to wake up. You are never the same when you’ve seen someone you love strapped to a bed with wires coming off of every part of their body and a breathing tube snaked down their throat. It changes you. Instantly.
The next day I was in my dad’s room, with my head again on his chest, and all of a sudden I heard a man named Don joyfully and confidentally praying over my dad, claiming his life and ministry could not possibly be coming to a close. Don put his hand on me at one point and I lost it. I believed everything he was praying, I just couldn’t get those words out of my own mouth. I didn’t feel that I could say anything to God without screaming. I would re-live this moment and many like it over and over again the next weeks. And then, something happened.
I remember, after returning to Wichita and attempting to return to life as normal, the phone call from my mom saying, “Dad’s opening his eyes!” You don’t know the power of those words until you’ve lived everything that came before them. This was the beginning of a very long road; a road with twists, turns, hills, potholes, detours and passers-by, oblivious to the baggage we were towing. It’s also a road that my family remains on today. You don’t walk this mountain and return the same. Things don’t return to normal. But I think one thing I’ve discovered is, normal is a mirage; it’s a figment of our imagination. Normal is a sedative we allow ourselves to swallow that makes us think we’re untouchable and that life as we know it is in this invisible bubble. Well, my bubble was popped.
I’ve realized that there was so much God had done through my dad’s accident, recovery, and his new life, that would never have happened without walking through this trial and experiencing everything that came with it. I think of the countless times I’ve been able to put my hand on someone, pray with them, and feel their pain in my heart. I KNOW what they’re going through. I know what it’s like to feel powerless, wanting that person you love to wake up, get up, go back and to have never gone into that attic, or gotten in that car. I drive by people now and realize that I have no idea what might have been thrown their way today. I just don’t know, and neither do you.
I’m not sure if you’ve gotten that phone call or had that moment, but if and when it comes, know that you will be changed. Know that the things you see and the way you will look at life could never have been seen from the other side. And know that the times when we are rendered powerless, we are never hopeless. Those are the moments God made us for.