I only met her once, well, twice if you count that time in the hospital, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Recently, I had one of those defining moments in life, a moment that changed who I am and who I will probably become. I was driving with my family on a damp Thursday night when it happened. I hardly recall anything but headlights coming toward us in our lane; I slammed on the breaks, swerved frantically and ended up ramming the car in front of us. The car that caused the accident hit the car in front of us head-on, and consequently, we hit them. After impact, I checked my family out—everyone seemed to be OK, so I stepped out of my car to check on the other drivers. I walked over to the car that caused the accident and found a middle-aged lady crunched up in the driver’s seat. I opened the door, and the first words she said to me were, “The beer cans in the back aren’t mine.” Naturally, I was convinced. We exchanged a few subtle words, and she seemed to be relatively unharmed. Even though the accident looked violent—airbags, broken glass, twisted metal—there didn’t seem to be any serious injuries. People from nearby houses started popping out to see the wreckage; the police blocked off both sides of traffic; and we stood there in between a 50-yard stretch of road like a circus sideshow.
The word quickly got out that this woman had been drinking. People started to murmur about the lady’s drunken state; it started to get pretty ugly. I found myself pretty ticked-off as well. This lady put us all at risk because she wanted to drink. Eventually she was taken away in an ambulance—even though there were no visible injuries. It took a few hours to finish the paperwork, and I must have walked up and down that 50-yard patch of road a hundred times. I had no idea how that small length of road would really affect me until a few days later.
During the next week my anger began to gather steam. When I would explain the details of the accident to others, I would make sure to tell them that a raging drunk driver caused it. I also began to question what God was doing in this situation. Well, to be honest, I may have done more complaining than questioning—you know how it goes. Then, I found out through the insurance agent that the lady, we’ll call her Carol, was still in the hospital. Suddenly, I felt God whispering in my ear, “You need to go and check on her.” I didn’t want to. I wrestled with God about it, but in the end I found myself in front of Good Sam Hospital in downtown Dayton looking for Carol’s room. Making a hospital visit is part of my job as a pastor, or as they say at the hospital—clergy. But let me come clean: I don’t feel like clergy. I am barely 30 years old; I never wear suits; and I don’t fit the mold of the typical highly esteemed clergyman. I never pictured myself making hospital visits— it’s a stretch for me. I still never know what to wear; I know that sounds silly, but I haven’t got this whole clergy thing down yet. I guess I’m kind of an accidental clergy, at least for Carol anyway.
When I got to the hospital, I found out she was in Intensive Care. I walked up to the room, took a deep breath and entered. There was Carol, hooked up to a hundred machines methodically beeping in rhythm with her heart; I found out that she was in a coma. The nurse explained to me that Carol had battled alcohol for years, and her liver was failing—she would die soon. The accident shook her up enough to put her struggling body over the edge. I was speechless; she was fine at the scene of the accident, and now she was dying. Suddenly, all of the guilt from the drunk-driver bashing I had done the week before swept over me like a heavy rain. I had no idea that the woman I was bad-mouthing was teetering close to death.
When the nurse left, I felt like God was telling me to walk over and talk to Carol. It was awkward and strange, but I leaned over the bed and began to talk to Carol about the love of God. Then, I leaned over a little closer and prayed with her and asked her if she wanted to pray with me. I know what you’re thinking—did she hear me? I don’t know, but something tells me that it’s possible. I finished praying and slipped out of the room. On the way to my car my eyes swelled up, and I started to fight off my emotions.
When I reached my car, the dam broke; I cried like a baby. I had been so caught up in my circumstance, my inconveniences, that I had forgotten what this life was all about. I had forgotten my very purpose on this earth. I had been bad-mouthing the drunk driver that totaled my car, and I never stopped to think about her story, her life.
I have never felt more aware, more in step with what God wanted to do with my life than during that moment. Even through the pain and the numbness, I felt myself beginning to change. It’s as if God chose to transform my heart in that exact moment.
I never saw Carol again; she died about a week later. I know these things happened for a purpose; they weren’t slapdash events that randomly fell together in my life. God placed them where He wanted them. About a month later, I was sharing this story in church, and I found out that one of the nurses who took care of Carol was visiting our church for the first time. That’s no coincidence.
I think these events have driven me to see the divine connection of every detail and that every detail is an opportunity to live in the story of God, even for an accidental clergy like me.