In commemoration of God sparing our life on a cold October night, I’m expanding a little devotional I wrote in April 2011. Most of what’s in here is taken from the piece, “Trust and You Won’t Be Crushed.”
It was just at the edge of dusk, 6 years ago this evening, when I woke up to find that I was lying flat on my back on the cold pavement. I remembered seeing the dog run out in front of our motorcycle; and I remembered us bracing and hitting it, then it was like being tumbled in a dark clothes dryer. There hadn’t even been time to be scared, much less avoid the impact. How long had I been unconscious? Someone had already stood up our motorcycle, and a couple of men were looking through the tour pack for some ID. I could see out the corner of my eye that Dana was lying about 10 feet away from me, but I couldn’t hear him speak and I couldn’t see if he was moving. People standing over us were saying things that indicated to me that we were both bad off.
At first I couldn’t even talk, and it was so hard to breathe—I suppose from having had the wind knocked out of me. My helmet was shattered. Later I would find that I had a basal skull fracture as well as a fractured bone in my neck. I vaguely remember a woman holding my helmet and talking about how messed up it was. Someone commented that my head was bleeding. I wanted to get to Dana but I couldn’t raise up; and they were trying to keep me still so they could put me on a backboard. My arm was twisted over my head and I thought it was dislocated, but was told later that the shoulder was broken in two places. In the midst of the confusion and the excruciating pain, reality began to set in about what had just happened. The loud noise of onlookers and emergency workers was making me more and more uncomfortable as I struggled to get someone to tell me whether my husband was ok. A couple knelt on the ground and asked if they could pray with me; and as they prayed, the Holy Spirit rose up inside me and I began to pray loudly in Him. It sounded like an authoritative voice not my own was declaring boundaries around the two of us! As the noise of urgency began to subside in His presence, I could hear, quite clearly, the Lord whisper just one word to me…“COVENANT.” And in that moment, I knew exactly what He meant. I began to cry and say, “Thank you, God, for rebuking the devourer for our sakes!” A peace I can’t even begin to describe rested on me, one that would get me through the longest night of my life.
I’m told for a little while at the first hospital, Dana was conscious, and he was giving them fits; wanting to come and get me and take me home. We were airlifted, one at a time, from Williamson Memorial to St. Mary’s. I begged the paramedics to elevate my head. I felt like I would absolutely smother to death flat on my back, and would feel that way for the remainder of the night. No one would move me though, for fear of a spinal cord injury. I was more afraid of suffocating than I was of being badly hurt. Once at St. Mary’s, my stepson Coby held my hand and coached me to breathe in sync with him while they repositioned my broken shoulder. The only relief I had from the discomfort was to occasionally lose consciousness. Then, as I lay on a gurney in the hallway, waiting to go into a CT scan, a doctor came up and with no expression whatsoever, told me, “Your husband is unconscious and has a serious brain injury. His brain has begun to swell. We’ll do what we can.” With that, she turned and left. I had to make up my mind right then and there…am I going to trust God or am I going to collapse under a weight of fear? I chose to trust God, and that’s exactly what I called out to her back as she was walking away.
For just a little while, they wheeled me into a holding room with Dana. He was lying there, eyes closed, not moving. I reached my fingers through the bars on our gurneys, gripped his hand, and prayed for him. Looking back now, I wonder whether the doctors might have thought he was going to die, and they were giving me a chance to say goodbye. But I spoke to him this Scripture which came to my remembrance, before they wheeled us in two different directions, “(You) shall live and not die, to declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17)
That was a long first night in the hospital. Eventually, by the wee hours of dawn, I felt like I could breathe again, but I would have to watch for the next several weeks as a machine did the breathing for Dana. Angels on assignment kept vigil over him, as did family and friends around the clock for the first nearly three weeks. I was too sick and injured to sit up with him for the first week or so, even though I stayed nearby and spent as much time as I could in his room.
There are those times when we have to choose to believe, or be crushed under the weight of despair. And there are times when we can’t just think it or hope it…we have to hear ourselves say it—I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE. I learned to say it out loud, and often, beginning that first night. I stood on the Word and quoted Scripture as I stood in the gap, and prayed day and night over my husband. When anxious or despairing thoughts tried to do war internally in my soul, I smiled on the outside in front of others; and I would privately share my sorrows and fears with Jesus. I bet some folks thought I’d knocked my brains out on that pavement, when I’d counter the negative news with what God’s Word says… but I really didn’t care. This was a battle for my husband’s very life. The Holy Spirit cautioned me to set a watch on my lips. Had I allowed myself to give voice to fear or unbelief, my actions would have followed. Sometimes I actually wanted to let my vulnerability show, to cry on someone’s shoulder, but the Lord made me brave in the face of a lonely secret: my words were declaring what I didn’t always feel in the natural! Faith does it even when we are scared, friends. And God proved faithful. When pneumonia and infections came, He kept Dana from succumbing. When acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) threatened to cause his lungs, one of which had already been collapsed, to just deteriorate and stop working altogether, God was there. When Dana lay so long with his eyes partially open that the whites turned into what looked like pink sponges, God spared his sight. Through blood clots, through huge wounds that were left undiscovered and untreated on the back of his head because of the position he had to lie in, through an unbelievably high fever that could have cooked his already-damaged brain, God kept him. And when they had to bring the crash cart as he came out from surgery for being trached, God did not let him die. When I had to sign consent for them to give him a special paralytic drug that totally disabled his functions so that his body would stop fighting the respirator, God gave me peace that He would keep Dana alive. So many miracles that came, so much blessed assurance just in the nick of time. I still marvel over how the Lord preserved my husband through the next six weeks without a bite to eat or even a sip of water in his parched throat and mouth. He was tube-fed and intravenously hydrated all that time.
When Dana regained consciousness in the second hospital, he couldn’t speak, but because he made eye contact with us and seemed to understand us when we talked to him, we assumed he was ok; however, when at last they capped his trach and he was able to speak, it became apparent that the head injury was affecting his personality and his cognizance significantly. He was hallucinating, saying things out of character, behaving not like himself. I didn’t recognize the man inside the man; and I thank the Holy Spirit for holding onto me and numbing the pain of uncertainty of how long Dana would be this stranger. His behavior begin to grow worse just as we moved him to the rehab hospital, and the brain injury made him very combative and angry and hard to handle. Because he only slept for very short periods of time, so did I. He acted at times like he despised me, but would go into an anxiety mode if I even left to step into the restroom. He couldn’t even walk yet without a walker and a person or two at his elbows; but one night managed to get out of bed and wobble around on that walker, swearing he was going to find the exit and go home…in 6 inches of snow. I had to lie to him (forgive me, Lord!) and tell him they bolted the exits from the outside after visiting hours were over…it was the only way to settle him down and make him go back to his bed! At one point, the hallucinations were so bad, he even thought he was married to two different women at the same time–me and me. He told me, “She’s good to me, but YOU are the one I love.” Folks, this wasn’t a cake walk. At times it has been downright scary and it took every ounce of faith I could muster. If God hadn’t held us in His hand, we couldn’t have made it. I only share these very private memories with you because I want you to understand what God’s brought us from, and how He kept bad situations from spiraling completely out of control. I knew from the start that there were ways this situation could’ve been infinitely worse…yet the Lord was merciful.
The Word and our prayer partners kept me together as I stayed for nearly three months either right there with him or close by. I only left Huntington to come home a few times to catch up my work, to get clean clothes, pay bills, etc., then right back to the hospital. Until he was able to be moved to the rehab hospital in December, I’d stayed at a hospitality house. I’d come come home on a Thursday afternoon, work for 24 straight hours on the parts of my job that couldn’t be handled remotely on my laptop; and then Dana’s dad would drive me back (I was in a neck brace and a sling, so I couldn’t drive for quite some time). At the rehab hospital, I was finally able to move into his room with him. I just set myself an office up in the corner and kept working! And, friends and family kept driving the nearly two-hour drive to Huntington to those three hospitals. We had a steady stream of visitors. I’ll never be able to thank them for being there for us…that they even cared this much for us moves me to tears.
On January 21, 2011, Dana was finally released from the hospital. Even now, he remembers nothing about his hospital stays except for vague little bits the last couple of days or so. Leaving the hospital was another chapter, and another time when trusting God was critical to survival. I still was concerned about his healing brain and whether I’d be able to do anything with him if he had another “episode” like the night he tried to leave the hospital! We weren’t able to go directly home. We would spend the next four months in his dad’s den–him in a hospital bed and me on a couch beside him, because Dana was still in a wheelchair and walker and couldn’t climb the steps to our house. He also still had to have his liquids thickened and his solids very soft, to keep from choking on his food from his damaged trachea. God bless Joe and Thelma for persevering right there with us. We couldn’t have made it through this without them. Near the end of May, seven long months after our ordeal, we got to sleep in our own bed again for the first time.
Dana spent 82 days in 3 hospitals, and couldn’t even swallow an ice chip for the first 43 days. He lay in the ICU trauma ward for 17 days comatose, and running an insanely high fever for several days. He had multiple fractures, multiple brain bleeds, and a series of serious complications; but when Satan tried to take him out, God drew the line and said, “No.”
Though it’s been at times a physically and emotionally exhausting 6 years for both Dana and me, we have not lost our joy and we have not lost our love for life and one another. God has been so good to us. We have adjusted to a “new normal,” and part of it is to lighten up a little and find humor in what would otherwise be frustrating or difficult or just…different. The head injury left Dana’s personality and behaviors a tad changed from before, but mostly in very good ways. I think of it as “Dana’s personality—on steroids.” 😉 Dana has a childlike, literal faith that God can and will do exactly what He says. I’ve watched the Lord transform a lukewarm/backslidden man who’d completely stopped serving God before our wreck into a mighty man of God who prays for hours each day, witnesses to others continually, and encourages folks to believe and speak the Word. (I will draw an exception here however, and I would be remiss in leaving this out: when he had stopped professing faith and attending church before our wreck, he was still diligent to tithe and give. He would repeatedly tell me on payday: “Whatever you do, don’t forget to pay tithe and give offerings on my check. I may not be living right but I won’t rob God!” Could it be that, in the time where our lives hung in the balance, God honored a man’s tenacity in this small thing????). What God has done and continues to do in Dana’s life, inside and out, is quite miraculous. We still confess and believe for the areas of restoration that are yet to manifest. We believe that what still needs to become whole will be whole again– as our friend Cathy had confessed over us repeatedly, “nothing broken, nothing missing, nothing lost.” We have surely come from a mighty long way.
And God proved to me that He doesn’t leave; He didn’t leave me and He won’t abandon you, either! Even on those days when you feel frightened, alone, ashamed of your personal struggles, numb to all emotion or crying uncontrollably, He’s there. He watches over His Word to perform it. Our job is to take that Word and keep speaking it over our lives even when there’s no evidence whatsoever yet that it’s doing a bit of good. We are to speak it even when our hearts are hollow and the words seem to fall to the ground. The answer will come if you and I will pray and not faint; or if we fall, we keep getting back up as often as it takes. There were days when I was so overwhelmed that I wished I’d died that night on the pavement, but God restored joy to my life and a stronger faith in His faithfulness! God helped Dana and me to emerge from a catastrophic situation to become more resolute in our faith, more devoted to one another, and hopefully better people for having persevered during this detour on our journey.
I’m telling you, friends, you need Jesus. You need Him, your marriage needs Him, your family needs Him to carry you through times like this. It’s not a matter of if you’ll ever have to go through hard seasons, but when..and when you do, faith in God can preserve your very sanity. Covenant relationship with God doesn’t mean you’ll never face difficulty. It can, however, mean the difference between you surviving or being mowed down by the enemy. It will keep you when you go through depression, through loss, through grave uncertainty, through the outright unfair happenings of life in this fallen world; and on the other side of your storm, God will pull out a mysterious parcel and hand back to you. You will find that you didn’t lose your joy and innocence after all; He’d wrapped it securely in the Holy Spirit’s comfort and kept it from being annihilated by the tribulation of life.
Sooner or later, we all have to face the most difficult time of our lives. Are you prepared? God can keep you from falling apart. I can say that because, six years later, Dana and I are still held together by the duct tape of God’s wonderful, saving grace. Even these fractured pieces form something beautiful…like a prism of glass that scatters light in every direction, testifying that truly, love never fails.
“But the LORD God keeps me from being disgraced. So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down.” Isaiah 50:7 CEV