Scary Beyond All Reason

Dear Will:

Bryn drives this 1995 Chrysler LeBaron convertible. It’s a sort of plum-lavender color not otherwise found on America’s highways (thankfully), with a white ragtop and a white leather interior. For reasons often explained but still understood only by Bryn, she calls this aging wonder Ernesto. Her brothers, for their part, have christened it Yzma because of its resemblance to the wrinkled, purple-hued, Disney character often described as “scary beyond all reason”—a much more fitting moniker if you ask me.

Yzma—er, Ernesto—has spent the last year or so mostly getting in my way and dripping oil onto the floor of my garage while Bryn has been living in New York. So you can imagine how delighted I have felt knowing that in just a couple of days Bryn and I will be driving the car and a backseat full of Bryn’s earthly possessions to Utah where she will begin her first semester at BYU.

At least that is the plan. Did I mention that Ernesto is almost 20 years old? And that there are over 600 miles of desert between here and Provo, Utah? And that it’s a Chrysler?

Thus the mixed emotions with which I have anticipated the drive: delighted that Bryn gets to experience the fun and challenge of university life, thrilled to reclaim the open space in my garage, and trepidatious over whether the LeBaron will make it past Victorville.

Which is to say that yesterday’s phone call from Bryn didn’t exactly come as a surprise. “Um, dad?,” she started, trying to sound cheerful. “So my car won’t start.” She was stranded somewhere in Anaheim.  I’ll spare you the play-by-play from this point forward, but as you might guess it begins with busted jumper cables and ends three or four hours later with a repair shop calling about a new fuel-something-or-other and $600. (I definitely remember the $600 part.)

Now I’ll admit that my first thought as this ordeal began to play out was not, Thank God. Rather, I immediately started worrying about the logistics of transporting her to school and getting her from place to place while she’s there. I began wondering about potential disposal fees and replacement costs and probably several more months of oil stains on my driveway. And I thought a lot about all of the things I should have been doing rather than standing around a parking lot waiting for the guy from AAA to show up.

No, Thank God was not my first thought, nor my second or third or even my seventeenth. But somewhere around seventeenth I finally got to Thank God and in a big way. What if, it occurred to me, that fuelamajig had gone out somewhere between Vegas and Mesquite? What if Ernesto decided to give up the ghost a week after I had left him and Bryn there in Provo—or worse, when Bryn and a couple of friends were in the middle of a weekend adventure trip on some side road north of Indianola? What if? “Scary beyond all reason” does not even begin to capture it.

Thank God, indeed. The timing and location of Bryn’s breakdown probably could not have been better. Do I think God had a hand in that timing? Well, I do not know if He bothers himself with 19-year-old LeBarons, but I do know that He cares a whole lot about His 19-year-old daughters. And I know this also: You can never—never—give God too much credit for the good things that happen in life.

So let’s try this one more time: Bryn’s car broke down yesterday—Thank God.


God Always Shows His Hand

Dear Will:

It’s been quite an autumn.

It started with the prostate surgery in September. Everything seemed to go well, but about a month later I was in the ER for what turned out to be an “incarcerated bowel” (four feet of my intestines had escaped the stomach cavity and quit working). That required a nine-day stay in a remote hospital, most of it spent living on nothing but IV fluids and ice chips. And then for good measure I returned to the ER last week because I have developed a deep vein thrombosis, which is a fancy way of saying I have a blood clot in my leg.

Not fun. After going over 40 years without hospitalization, I have been in the hospital three times in less than 90 days. It has been painful, boring, frustrating, and (most of all) humbling.

At times, I’m sure, God comes to us when we call for Him in a moment of crisis. I have seen, however, that there are times when He actually goes before us and is waiting there for us when the crisis arrives. I can’t begin to tell you how often and in how many ways He showed His love for me in the midst of my suffering. God always shows His hand in such circumstances, and you don’t have to look very hard to see it.

Most often, His hands were the hands of friends and family, kind nurses and diligent doctors. The light in my hospital room always shone brightly because the love of God was there, expressed by the unexpected visit from a ward member, a note from my Seminary students, a simple act of kindness from a nurse’s aide. It was a profoundly moving experience to see, day after day, that He was watching over me and sending His children to me to let me know.

Do not get me wrong; I would not choose to go through again what I have been through these last few weeks. But having been through it, I remain very grateful. What a blessing to have my life touched in so many ways. How much wiser and more compassionate I will be in the future as I interact with others who likewise find themselves with physical or emotional challenges.

When I returned from the hospital at the end of October and sat down for the first time in 10 days with my family for dinner, I could not hold back the tears of gratitude that we were reunited. It might seem a small thing, but it was profoundly important to me. Consequently, when we were gathered around a Thanksgiving meal just a couple of days ago, I gave added thanks in my heart for the privilege and blessing of being together in that way.  I also feel blessed to have modern medicine, capable doctors and nurses, health insurance and an understanding employer. And above all, I have felt a deep gratitude for my wife who has somehow managed to keep the family operating even though I have been a heavy burden throughout what has proved to be an extended convalescence. Her compassionate service to me has often brought to mind the baptismal invitation that we might “bear one another’s burdens that they might be light.” Thus inspired, I am determined to go and do likewise.

I do not share all this to invite your sympathy. Rather I do it as an affirmation that God loves us and watches over us, and even when times are hard He is there for us and with us, every step of the way.


The Miracle of Taylor’s Life

Dear Will:

A couple of weeks back I attended a funeral for the son of a very close friend. It promised to be a very sad day.

Taylor had been born with just a single chamber (as opposed to the usual four) in his heart. He had his first surgery the day he was born. Doctors told his parents, Mark and Tammy Hyer, that Taylor’s life would be a short one—maybe a few days, at most a few years.

Defying the odds, Taylor’s heart held on for several years more than that. It was hardly a normal childhood inasmuch as he had very little stamina and thus could not play as hard (or do all of the same things) as other kids his age. He also had multiple surgeries and took a bunch of medication. But he was in a great family who enabled him to do as much as he could and who filled his life with laughter and love.

About a year ago, Taylor’s heart finally gave out. Somehow he had wrung 13 years of life out of that tiny, misshapen organ. And in doing so, he had finally grown big enough for a heart transplant. Now if you know anything about transplants you know that you can stay on a list for months waiting for a suitable donor. Well, Taylor waited only a few hours—and it’s a good thing, for his heart literally shut down as the donated heart was rushed into the hospital. The surgeon kept him alive just long enough to give him a new, four-chamber heart.

For Taylor, it was a true miracle. For the first time in his life he could breathe. Instead of watching the other kids play basketball, Taylor could join the game himself. He could climb mountains, ride his bike, act like a kid. His body began to take shape, and Taylor was finally just a normal teenager.

How we all celebrated that wonderful, life-changing surgery. His family shed many happy tears as they recounted the unlikely sequence of events that led to the transplant. They offered many, many prayers of thanks for the extension and enhancement to Taylor’s fragile life.

Thus I was stunned when I received the phone call telling me that Taylor had died. Barely 14, he had returned from a backpacking trip, had enjoyed a couple of fun but uneventful days with the family. Everything seemed to be going great. Then on Sunday in the middle of the night, he awoke feeling very ill. His parents attended to him and his father gave him a blessing of comfort. As soon as the blessing was over, Taylor’s dad gave him a hug, and in that instant Taylor died in his arms.

As I spoke to Mark and Tammy about this tragedy, their calm perspective astonished me. Thinking that I had come to their side to give them support and comfort, I found them comforting me instead. “We’re just really grateful that God gave him that bonus year of life to find out what it’s like to be a normal kid,” they told me. “What a blessing for him to get the chance to do the things he had been missing out on for so long.” There was no rancor or self-pity, no bitterness or despair. Rather they expressed gratitude to God for the miracle that was Taylor’s life—a life that by all accounts lasted at least 10 years longer than anyone could have reasonably expected.

I anticipated that the day of the funeral would be very sad indeed. Instead, I found my faith renewed and my love expanded. It made me want to hug my kids (of course), but it also made me want to be a better person. And it made me grateful for my faith in God that helps me to see that beyond the transitory sadness of today there is purpose and promise that extends into eternity.