Clinging to Christ

Saturday, February 18, 2017, began like so many of our Saturdays. It was a warm day, which was also not unusual for North Carolina. We loved a break from the cold weather. We got up and began to clean up the yard, put down grass seed, and get ready for spring.

Our oldest son, Samuel, was home from college for the weekend. Our youngest son, Gabe, was looking forward to playing outside with friends. We had planned to grill out and have dinner together as a family, as those opportunities became fewer with one away at college. Jason, our middle son, had his own plans—getting the truck washed and breakfast at Waffle House. He was waiting for the next text from friends to plan the rest of his day.

About midday he and his friends decided they wanted to go hiking. They planned to meet at Hanging Rock State Park at 4:30. We negotiated a compromise. He would help out around the house until then, but he would be back by 7:30 for dinner together. Plenty of time for a hike. He walked out the door about 4:00. I had my head in the freezer for dinner prep. Ben was in the garage.

That would be the last time we would see him outside of his hospital bed.

The day went on as usual until 7:30. Jason was not home for dinner. We admittedly were annoyed because our first thought was that he lost track of time. Dinner came and went. Cleanup came and went. At 8:30 we got a call from a number that we did not recognize. I answered. That was the beginning of what was the biggest trial of our lives so far.

Jason had been involved in a fall. The call was a life flight nurse. She told us that Jason had been in an accident but gave us very few details. Our reaction was fear and confusion, but it never crossed our mind that Jason might die from his injuries. She told us to meet them at the hospital. We dropped everything and raced the 30 miles to the hospital.

Beginning at that moment our faith in a sovereign God would be tested. Not only tested but held to the fire in a way that we could not have imagined. As we arrived at the hospital, details of Jason’s fall and rescue began to be revealed to us. At approximately 6:30 that night, Jason had fallen 60 feet into a crevice of a mountain, requiring dozens of rescuers to reach him. In order to get him to the waiting helicopter, they had to use ropes, pulleys, and ATVs to bring him down from the mountain. It took them hours.

We learned that two of the EMTs that administered life-saving measures were faithful members of our church body—God’s perfect timing and the first of many gifts of grace from our Lord. During that time, we were eating the dinner that we had planned to share together. We were still oblivious to what was going on until we received the call at 8:30.

As we waited for the helicopter to arrive at the hospital, we still had no idea of the gravity of the situation. We were ushered into a room and given very little information even as he was brought into the hospital. Our youth pastor, Danny, had arrived by this time along with other church members and my parents. The longer we were in the small room, the more it began to dawn on us how serious it was.

As the weight of the moment pressed in on us, we had a strong desire to hear Scripture read for comfort. Danny read several passages, but the one that stood out to us was Hebrews 4:13–16 and particularly verse 15. It remains with us today: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

As the evening turned into night the doctors were still giving us limited information and many who had come to support us began to filter home. Samuel took Gabe home. It was just my husband, Ben, and me. We were finally led to the Trauma ICU waiting room at about 1:00 in the morning. Jason was unconscious. His lungs were not properly inflating. Jason’s brain was swelling and he had two broken arms and a broken wrist.

At about 2:00 am, the doctor finally came out to give us information. He did not have good news, in fact he plainly told us that if this last procedure did not work then Jason would die tonight. The weight of that news shook us to our core. The very same High Priest, Jesus Christ our Lord, that we had read about earlier, was the only person who could sympathize with us in that dark, lonely hour. We were in a pit of weakness and tempted to despair. We needed God’s mercy.

Our hearts were breaking over our son that night. Words that we could not utter, God knew and heard and lovingly drew us to the “throne of grace” as it is said in verse 16 of Hebrews, chapter 4, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive with mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

In God’s perfect will, Jason responded to the treatment and survived the night. We were able to see him and be near him. To say he was fragile was an understatement. As we took turns sitting by his bedside, we were still in disbelief. The Lord was using the medical expertise of doctors to sustain his life. The night turned to morning. That was Day 1. The next 24 days were a roller coaster—ups and downs, endless medical terms, and procedures. Things too hard to understand and wrap our brains around. We were working hard to understand from the doctors just what was going on with Jason.

The doctors were fighting two battles. His head trauma and his lung damage. Both were equally severe. One day we would see a decline and the next day we would see improvement. Sometimes that would happen from hour to hour. Another of God’s graces would be revealed in the next day or so. We had a small problem. So many texts, emails, and phone calls were coming in, that we could not handle them. A dear friend of ours set up a Facebook page for us to update as often as we could and that would serve as a help in answering all those calls.

But this would be way more than an info page about the condition of our son. This turned into a platform for the proclamation of the gospel. Almost 2,500 people were tuned in to that page and so many more as folks shared. They were given a daily gospel message in addition to an update on Jason. We included scripture, as well as questions posed as to what the readers own fate would be when the Lord called them home. You see, we realized that this was not about Jason, or us, or anyone else. It was all about the Savior of our souls! Therefore, how could we NOT use this platform to glorify His name? Even in the face of what the world saw as a tragedy, God, in His sovereignty, saw as planned. Just as R.C. Sproul once said, “If there is one maverick molecule floating through the universe, then God is not sovereign!” We were told of several salvations through the ordeal of our son!

Meanwhile, we watched Jason’s body decline. This is significant because he was strong and physically healthy. He worked out with weights in the garage at home every chance he could. He was on the high school football team, active in school, and active with friends from our church. He worked hard in the weight room at school. People noticed his work ethic in this area of his life. His friends nicknamed him Eugene “Boulder Shoulders.” His strength served him well. He had thick thighs and strong arms, but it did not take long for him to begin to lose the muscle mass that he worked so hard for.

This gave us a new perspective on Isaiah 40:6–8, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.” It continues to be a reminder of how frail and temporary our physical bodies are. Each day was a challenge, but God measured enough grace for that day.

It really became overwhelming to grasp the outpouring of love, prayers, and assistance we received during that time. We saw God’s grace in so many ways and were constantly reminded of God’s grace and kindness in our lives. His body—the church—ministered to us on a daily basis. As well, members from both of our families were faithful to encourage and walk with us in so many ways. Coworkers visited as often as they could. Old and new friends from Facebook and a GoFundMe page were so generous and gracious. The community in which we lived rallied around us in tangible ways during this time as well.

During this ordeal in our lives, the Lord gave us a gift. Yes, a gift. We were able to be with Jason while he lay in the hospital bed. The doctor’s indicated that Jason could likely hear us which led us to read as much Scripture as we could to him. The Lord led me to read Ephesians 2:1–10 to Jason often. God’s Word is powerful. The fact that Jason was not conscious was no barrier for those powerful words. His Word does not return void and God uses it in mighty ways.

I prayed that the Holy Spirit would work in Jason’s mind and in his heart as he lay in that hospital bed. Our pastors and elders prayed with us and prayed with him. They were faithful to give us guidance when needed. Ben and I each were blessed at separate times by him opening his eyes and giving us a response as they would perform the AGPAR test on him. It’s so funny that it didn’t happen when we were together—it was our own individual moment with Jason.

As we started the fourth week of Jason’s hospital stay, the swelling in his brain was slowly coming down. He began to make enough improvements that the doctors wanted to change the way he was receiving oxygen. The procedure would make him more comfortable and it was important to remove the breathing tube from his throat and mouth. The procedure was scheduled for March 14. We were optimistic and excited that this might be the beginning of his road to recovery. As we made our way to his room, we were informed that they were not able to perform the surgery. His numbers had dropped too low. We were so disappointed. They said they would try again the next day. That would not be the case.

As the week went on, his lungs deteriorated. The doctor’s and care providers—who were amazing—simply could not get his lungs to respond to treatment. It was a grueling week; Samuel, our older son, was involved in several long nights with Jason. Gabe, who had been largely cared for by family, friends, and church family, was brought in to see his brother as he lay in the bed almost lifeless. The week before Jason’s death, March 17, is nothing that I can even describe. There are moments in that week that I am not sure that I will ever be able to put on paper or express to anyone other than my husband. They were so private and tender that God holds those in the palm of His hand and the tears from those times are “collected in His bottle” (Psalm 56:8).

During that week, each day revealed the fact that Jason was not able to recover from his injuries. As I write this there is still an element of disbelief. We quickly realized that the previous three weeks were not a recovery but a long goodbye to Jason. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that the Lord extended Jason’s life for those four weeks. Every parent who has lost a child has a unique story. I often think of how blessed we were that Jason did not die instantly as some children do. Some parents lose their child in an instant. Some parents do not have the opportunity to say goodbye.

The evening that Jason died we were again surrounded by faithful family, church family, and close friends. Those that were not with us physically, we knew were praying for us and were with us in spirit. Our pastors ministered to us as we prepared for Jason’s organ donation. That evening, Ben and I experienced something that few parents experience. In the early morning hours of September 1, 1999, we welcomed Jason into our family and in the evening of March 17, 2017, we said goodbye.

We know that God fully sustained our family through those weeks. He continues to do so as the sharpness of grief becomes a dull ache. God carefully unfolded a story of grace, mercy, kindness, and compassion to our family and the larger community through the death of our son, Jason. He used His Word to comfort us and Jason; he used His sovereignty to show us true peace; and He used His body, the church, to show us love that surpassed any human understanding.

How is it that we say God was kind to us when our son has died? God is always kind to us just by allowing us to continue to breathe. He gives us a measure of grace each day and we don’t thank Him for it. What is the purpose of this life then? The first purpose is to glorify God. God had already been gracious to us by allowing us to have three healthy boys and we wanted to continue to give Him the glory. Our instinct as humans is to turn to despair, but when you glorify God you turn all things over to Him.

It became abundantly clear to us how important the gospel message was at this time and in all times. God’s glory, the salvation of those whom He has called, and the message of Christ’s death and resurrection were reinforced so lovingly by our great God through the Holy Spirit during this time of trial. God uses trials and temptations such as these to draw us to Him like no other time in the normal flow of life. We can look at the story of Job and his faithfulness as God allowed all of his possessions to be snatched from his hands. Or the teaching of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:1–2, where wisdom tells us that “the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” and “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting.” We are taught so much more through trials than through any joyous time in our lives. First Thessalonians 4:13 instructs us to “not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” We place our hope in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Hope & Helps

Scripture we clung to on the hardest days/nights:

Both:
Psalm 103; Revelation 22:1; Ephesians 2:1–10; Romans 1:16

Ben:
Psalm 119 (emphasizes the importance of God’s Word); Ephesians 1:3–14; Romans 8:26; Romans 8:38–39; 1Peter 1:3; 1Peter 4:12–13

Stephanie:
Romans 5:3–5; Psalm 145:17–18; Psalm 54:4 (This was taped on my desk at work. There were many hard days at work because I had taken a new job. Between the overwhelming grief and the long, difficult days at work, I clung to this truth); Psalm 59:16; Deuteronomy 31:8 (during the last week of Jason’s life)


Helpful things people did to minister to us:

  • There were so many things that so many people did for us. It seemed we were helpless to do anything for ourselves in the beginning, so several people took over. If there was a need, someone filled it.
  • Many people wrote down passages of Scripture for me to have on hand on note cards or slips of paper. And instead of keeping those hidden or put away, I pass them along to others who are going through a tragedy or trial.
  • Someone helped me take notes when the doctors would talk to us.
  • Food and meals were always good.


What you should NOT say to someone in a similar circumstance:

  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “Let me tell you about something similar that has happened to me.” This does not affect me like it does others that are going through loss. I expect people to say things that they think are helping but aren’t really. I simply have sympathy for them and it can show me where they are spiritually so I know how I can pray for them.


Hymns or songs that comforted us:

Ben:

  • He Will Hold Me Fast, Habershon/Merker
  • My Hope and Stay, Norton Hall Band
  • Give Me Jesus, African American Spiritual
  • Books: I found great comfort and joy in so many books by Puritans and reformers.

Stephanie:
My song list is too long but I do have a couple of books that ministered to me in a great way after Jason died:

  • Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss
  • The Path of Loneliness, Elisabeth Elliott
  • Leaving Darkland, Ed Wallen
  • Quote by Charles Spurgeon that gave me great comfort:
    “When a tear is wept by you, do not think that God does not behold it. The Lord said: ‘I have indeed seen the misery of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them’ (Exodus 3:7–8). Perhaps no figure of speech represents God in a more gracious light, than when He is spoken of as stooping from His throne and coming down from heaven to attend to the wants and woes of His redeemed people. How can we but love Him, when we know that He numbers the very hairs of our heads, marks all our paths, and orders all our ways? “When a tear is wept by you, do not think that God does not behold it, for ‘You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book’ (Psalm 56:8). Your sigh is able to move the heart of Jehovah, your whisper can incline His ear unto you, your prayer can stay His hand, your faith can move His arm! Do not think that God sits on high taking no account of you. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward Him.”


The hope Jesus has given us through our loss of Jason:

Ben:
James 1:2–4 says that we should consider ALL things joy! That is inconceivable to this world! Then, as I look at the words of Solomon, who says it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of rejoicing, how can we worship a sovereign Lord in one breath and doubt what He is doing with the calling home of a loved one in the next breath? He simply causes us to grow in holiness. Our life is fleeting and eternity is forever!

Stephanie:
In Revelation 21:3–4 it says: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning , or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Jesus is that provision for us on this side of eternity, but my greater hope will be the day when He comes again to abolish pain, tears, mourning, sin, and evil forever.

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