When the Church Shows Up
I'm startled awake. It's bright. Silent. Weirdly silent. I'm in the family van and we were driving home. Why are we stopped? As the blur turns into focus, I feel my head pounding and hear crying. Who's crying? Is that Logan? He has always been a crier... no surprise there. Man, my head is pounding. I feel my hand lifting to my head in a weird attempt to stop the pain, then I feel warmth and wetness. I recoil to look at my hand. What is that? Staring at my hand I see...blood. Lots of blood. Enough blood that everything is definitely not okay.
I see a rush of movement to my left. I flinch, unsure if it's something that could hurt me, and cut my eyes that direction. A face stares back at me and reaches up to knock on the van window.
"Is everyone okay? Is everyone okay?!" Clearly not, lady. This is not the feeling of okay.
In slow motion I survey the scene to figure out...is it okay? My mom is in the seat to my right. Logan is in the front seat, maybe for the first time ever. And yes, he's still crying. I hear Mom being a mother, attempting to comfort my little brother. He is in kindergarten and wanted to be a big boy and ride up front. Little brothers…to my right, I'm jarred by the sound of a loud noise. I flinch again and glance that direction to see the van sliding door opening.
"Is everyone okay? Is everyone okay?” Again, clearly not lady.
"Kid, can you move? Kid, come here, you need to get out of here"
I look at my mom for direction and she is encouraging me to go as well. I slide past her and into the arms of this lady. The sun is bright. Really bright. And my head hurts. Like really hurts. Now she's running with me in her arms, but my eyes are closed...where is she going?
"I'm going to sit you here. Don't move."
I feel grass beneath me. As I lay on the grass, I know what happened. We were in a car accident and I know where I am. I start remembering that we'd just seen Corey at Baptist hospital, but clearly something went badly wrong. As I lay in the median, the warmth of the sun and the wetness of the blood make me tired. I'm not panicked. I'm almost calm. But not calm because I know everything is okay; calm because that's the only way I can process what is going on. As the scene flashes back over me I realize...my dad said nothing. Oh no, what happened to my dad?
Sirens. I hear sirens. Good. Help is on the way. The sirens stop, I hear the sound of running and wheels. I feel their presence and next thing I know, I'm being swept up. I don't open my eyes because the blood is now pooling in them and did I mention it was bright? I'm laid onto a stretcher and wheeled into the back of an ambulance. I don't see any of this, eyes still closed. I don't want to open them. As the doors of the ambulance close, I feel coldness sweep over my body. I hear a voice.
“Don't be alarmed, we need to cut off your clothes,” the paramedic said.
As the clothes are peeled off, the coldness marches methodically over my whole body. Why is that even necessary? Just me and the paramedics, I trust these people. Not for any particular reason, other than I know I'm alone and have no other choice. I wasn't scared or fearful. I'm not really sure why, but there just wasn't.
Once we arrive at the hospital, it's all a bit of blur. I remember seeing people I know. My memory is that they were there when the ambulance arrive, but I'm sure that's unlikely. It was probably more likely after I got stitched up. I was taken into a room and was told I had a head injury...the doctor tells me they're going to give me medicine and fix it. I trust him. Soon Clarence Bishop, a friend of my dad’s, shows up. There were others in the room, all there to hold my hand and give me the courage for the stitches I was about to get on my forehead. I remember as the doctor got over my eye, the feeling in my skin started coming back. The doctor told me they weren't going to give me more medicine, because he was so close to being done. I gritted my teeth through it.
As I'm wheeled out of the room I'm wheeled through a waiting room and recognize face after face. So many faces, but the looks they were giving me are kinda goofy. What must I look like? I'm taken to a room and still don't know where my family is. Because of the injuries, we were taken to three different hospitals: me to Children's, my dad to Mercy, my mom and brother to Baptist. Fourth grade and in the hospital alone with no family around. But no, that's not right. There was family: my church family. I only stayed through the night, but had someone by my side at all times. Laura Manahan and Marquita Starks are two people I remember being in the room.
My brother sustained a similar head injury and I later figured out why my dad didn't talk; he was out cold. He had knee injuries and had to be peeled out of the van by the jaws of life. At NW Expressway and 63rd, we'd been hit head on. We got one of those lucky lights: hitting the green light with no cars in front of us. Unfortunately, a man going the other way had mistaken the green straight light to be a green turn light for him. Because of that intersection, we hit almost exactly head on the driver's side, going close to 40 mph. I guess I got my 15 minutes of fame...we were in the paper. My mom got the worst of it. She broke her back and her organs were cut in half by the seat belt. If not for the miracle of her being taken to Baptist and her friend overhearing a nurse in the hall and somehow (we know how) having the intuition to know it was the friend who'd just come to see her son, she might not have made it. If not for the wisdom of that friend to insist the nurses come and immediately treat my mom, my childhood would have been drastically different.
I later learned that there were people at all three hospitals at the side of each family member. I'm not sure how that's even possible, but people were there. Immediately, with no delay. It was a Sunday afternoon and we'd gone from church to the hospital to visit a friend. As we headed back home, trying to decide where we'd pick up lunch along the way, this wreck happened. Our church family had been at church, then gone to lunch, and was probably settling in for the afternoon nap. But there was no hesitation to help. That evening, there was even a prayer service following the normal Sunday evening service.
Over the coming weeks and months, I don't remember all the details but I remember a lot of food, a lot of people, and a lot of prayer. My mother still has cards we received from a steady stream of church friends who were there to encourage us during our rough time. It was over two months before my mom could drive so church members picked up my brother daily from kindergarten and took care of other necessities. I remember going back to church for the first time, still with a huge scar on my head and being so scared. The day I wanted even less attention than I normally wanted as I was overwhelmed by the love of the people who were in that building.
So why do I share all of that? It's easy to downplay the events in our life and act as if they didn't shape us. I've done that a lot with our car accident. But the reality is much different. That accident had a huge impact on my life. That car accident shaped our family and shaped our love for the church. That car accident is, I believe, the reason I have felt such a connection to the people of CHBC and why I ended up staying with my church home once moving back from college (because staying was not the plan). If I didn't stay, I probably wouldn't have gone to lunch the fateful day Claire Myers told me she wanted to set me up with my now wife, Samantha.
I tell this story because it is similar to the stories that so many other people have. And if we don't tell the stories, the stories get lost. We've seen a ton of good stories in our years at our church, but most are forgotten by all but a few. If we told these stories and praised God for them on a more regular basis, maybe we would be more grateful and caring to those around us.
Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
I also tell this story because I know the church has wounded a lot of people. And while I cannot deny that is the case, I know the church is full of loving people who want community and care for those around them. But if you take the chance and plug into a church and show those around you the love of Christ, I believe they'll show you the same and when necessary, they'll carry your burdens as well. And if you cannot find that, I have a place you can visit.