As many of you know, on Jan. 28, 2013 I was on my way to our region’s annual Minister’s Institute in Newton. The last clear memory I have is leaving Centerville Mercy Hospital after a quick visit with a patient. Apparently there was heavy fog on the road and I missed a turn near Knoxville and suffered critical injuries in the accident. From that point memories and dreams are blended and confused as I spent more than 40 days in hospitals, mostly in critical care. My injuries included two fractures to the spine, numerous broken ribs, a collapsed lung, bruised kidney and large gash in the head that caused traumatic brain injury. I underwent two brain surgeries and a procedure to relieve edema that swelled my body with 80 liters of extra fluid. My next clear thoughts after the accident were on March 14 when I arrived at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb. for the second time. I was weak and still had a gastric tube and a tracheotomy, but was finally alert and coherent. Two and one half weeks later I was able to walk out of Madonna and return to my apartment without aides. This week I formally returned to work part time as the pastor of the Drake Avenue Christian Church. My recovery is a testimony to the power of prayer, and to the love and support that is provided by a church family!
Thank you to everyone who prayed, visited, sent cards, letters, e-mails and gifts, members of my church and countless members of the community. Thank you for the meals, rides, hugs and support since my return to Centerville. Thank you for the financial support given to the church, to myself and to my family. And thank you to my family for their care and support, especially my sister Juanita who was by my side during so much and who had to make decisions no family member ever wants to face. I know there are many more who deserve special thanks. Forgive me for not including you all here. There is not room or time to name everyone. Please know that you are all loved and appreciated.
I am feeling wonderful! There are still doctor visits and physical therapy as I continue to strengthen and recover. But I am back in the pulpit and beginning to resume my regular duties. It feels great to get back to a routine and to be involved in both the congregation and community once again. We have visited at church about the power of prayer, the meaning of miracles and the loving grace of God. It would be presumptuous to attempt to explain how or even why my recovery has been so rapid and complete. What I do know, beyond any doubt, is that I was upheld and strengthened by the love of my church family and by their prayers. That family is much larger than my congregation, it literally circles the globe.
Scripture says “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” and I felt that joy, strength and love calling me to wake up from the dark and frightening places where I felt trapped by the coma. I know that prayers gave me strength to take the first shaky steps in therapy after more than 40 days of hospitalization, and to continue the work even when I was weary. The overwhelming number of cards, notes, e-mails, phone calls, visits and gifts gave me smiles and hope no matter how hard the work was.
This is why we need the church. Many have claimed that they can know God without it, that they can study scripture and follow the teaching of Jesus without it. It’s true, we can. But none of us is strong enough to face the real tragedies and trials alone and we don’t have to. That’s what family is for. The church, local and extended, is a family that can lift us up and support us when we are troubled. The church family can celebrate with us and share our joys great and small. I have smiled and laughed more since I woke up in March than I think I have at any other time in my life. Not only do I have a new appreciation for living, but I have a new joy and humility for the love that surrounds me in this life. Our creator made us to be social beings. We need others in our lives, and sometimes the families we depend on need a larger family to support them as well. That is why we are called to be church.
It is my prayer that everyone might find that place, those people who will lift them up with love and support. It is my honor to number you among my church family. I look forward to seeing you around Centerville and I invite you to stop by and visit. As the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1.16, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”