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 a Friday night, and I was at a former student’s home who had enrolled in the army. He had just returned from boot camp, and a group of us had gone over to hang out and hear his stories. While listening to this new soldier my cell phone rang. It was my brother. When he asked me if I could get somewhere private, I immediately felt panic. I went into a bedroom, closed the door, and asked, “What’s going on?”
Very calmly Brent told me that Dad had been in the attic of our parents’ new house and had fallen through the ceiling. Brent explained that, as our father fell, he had hit his head on the island in the middle of the kitchen. He continued to tell me that he was in the ambulance, headed to the hospital and that Dad wasn’t conscious. I kept waiting on the “good part”, the part where my brother was supposed to say: “… 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. The night seemed eternal. The next morning I got on a plane with my wife and daughter and flew to Dallas. We were at Harris Hospital in Fort Worth before 9 a.m. 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 is a pastor. Not a preacher—a pastor. For years now, if you were a member of Fielder Road Baptist Church and were in the hospital—or your spouse had suddenly passed away, or your child was laying 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. It would have been hard to find a handful of people among the thousands at my father’s church who had not been touched or impacted by my dad and his ministry. But ironically, he was now the one in need. I remember standing in the hospital lobby at one point when someone suddenly broke 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. I was unable to do anything but stand next to my dad, hold his 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 confidently praying over my dad, claiming that his life and ministry could not possibly be coming to a close. Don put his hand on me, and I lost it. I believed everything he was praying, but 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.
After returning to my home in Wichita in an attempt to return to some semblance of normality, another phone call came. This time though, It was my mom. “Dad’s opening his eyes!” she said. It’s hard to 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 an invisible bubble. Well, my bubble was popped.
I realize that God has done so much through my dad’s accident, recovery and now, his new life. 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; all the while wishing that person would never have 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.