It is a very small church with less than a hundred--perhaps less than sixty in attendance in the tiny sanctuary--but they have a huge commitment to teens and have a part-time youth pastor with a Wednesday night youth group nearly equal to the size of the Sunday service. When we showed up, we knew several people there, as it is a small town, and Tano was greeted like a long-lost son. He is obviously well-liked there. The man who was standing in to preach for the pastor who was out of town had accompanied the youth on a camping trip last summer and knew Tano well, so when it came to the sermon illustration where he needed three young men as 'volunteers' to come up to the front, there was no escape for the boy.
"Christopher, come up here please. I need you. Aaron, you too. Get up here. Let's see...Tano; you picked the wrong day to show up here, man; I'm sorry. Now get on up here to the front. Ok, Christopher and Aaron, I need you two to stand here at the bottom of the steps. Face each other. Good. Tano, go up to the top step. Come on, all the way up on the platform. Take a good look at these two guys below you. Now turn around and face the wall." He hesitated for a moment. "Tano, fall backwards."
Everyone gasped at his words, but he spoke with such authority, like a man who is accustomed to being obeyed, that the two young men below scrambled to join hands to form a net and Tano, cautiously, turned and slumped awkwardly four steps down into their arms.
"No, that's not it," the preacher said simply. "Tano, get back up on the step again. Turn around. Now fall back."
The boy glanced quickly over his shoulder and again slumped into the waiting arms of the other two young men.
"No. Try again. Don't turn around and look this time. Tano, fall."
This time, Tano crossed his arms over his chest, closed his eyes, and let himself fall, straight as a board, into Christopher and Aaron's arms.
The preacher grinned with satisfaction. "Good! Well done! Tano, why did you let yourself fall like that?"
"Because I knew they would catch me."
A chuckle echoed around the room. The brave fourteen year old kid, visiting the Sunday service for the very first time and completely put on the spot, had answered well.
But the preacher pushed it one step further. "How did you know they would catch you?"
Tano answered well again, his deep voice rumbling confidently from the front, "Because they had always caught me before."
A sigh of understanding passed through the small crowd of worshippers. The preacher had made his point.
Fast forward two weeks.
Several days ago my son crashed his bike while going off a BMX jump. I was out for a friend's birthday celebration in Missoula--forty minutes away--when it happened and a wave of helplessness washed over me when I received his cell phone portrait of his scraped up face. The caption read, "Crashed my bike. Landed on my face. I'm fine tho." I didn't feel fine, myself. I tried to remind myself that this sort of thing happens to kids; I used to ride recklessly off jumps myself, too, much to my own mother's dismay. I have a photo of my brother covered with scabs from a bike accident that happened when he was about the same age my son is now.
I was showing the photo on the phone around to my girlfriends and trying to keep my composure when the phone rang. It was the boy. "Are you ok?" I heard myself repeat far too many times, as he assured me he was. He wasn't even calling about the accident; he was calling to see if he could spend the night at his buddy's house. I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to answer, so I told him to call his father with that question instead. Dad said it was ok.
By morning, I really just wanted to see my boy. I wanted to see for myself that he was ok. I wanted to make sure his wounds had been properly cleaned out. I wanted to see what else had been hurt, other than what was in the one photo he sent. I called him at nine o'clock in the morning, waking him and his friends out of a dead sleep, and told him I was coming to get him. He said he was fine to ride his bike home like usual. I was having a hard time with him actually being ok, for some reason.
Perhaps it was because he was not a daredevil child. While other moms were exasperated with their toddlers climbing up onto kitchen counters and out windows, my son was sitting quietly in the living room, looking at stacks of books. While they tried in vain to find baby gates that would actually slow their kids down enough to not fall down the stairs, my son sat on the floor next to the wood stove and admonished anyone who came nearby not to touch the tile floor around the stove, for fear that they might get too close to the hot stove. "No tile! Hot!" When sports seasons came around and other kids got hit by the ball, shook it off and kept playing, my son would drop to the ground and writhe in agony. This new-found teenage toughness thing is still new to me. I couldn't figure out how he was ok, after going over the handlebars and landing on his face off a steep jump. But he is a typical teen boy now. He laughs at physical pain as he and his friends push and challenge each other to stoicism.
When he got home, I insisted on cleaning out his scrapes again, much to his dismay, but other than one tiny wince when the sting first shocked him, he stood and took it bravely. Indeed, he seemed to be ok. His behavior wasn't the slightest bit abnormal. He had a headache, but he was not nauseous or overly tired or suffering from any loss of memory, vision or speech. I finally relaxed.
That evening, however, as we all sat up way too late doing work on the computer or watching a bit of TV (all except for Ellie, who was off at summer camp for the week), Tano called out with a start, "Um, I think there's a problem. It feels like I have a hole in my skull!" There was a nervous wavering in his voice as his fingers probed an area of his head about two inches above his hairline over his right eye--right where the scabs that went down the side of his face began. "I'm serious! There's a hole! Come and feel this!" He was quickly moving into full-blown panic mode.
I figured he probably had a little bit of swelling on his head from the impact and the soft swollen spot felt strange to him. My primary job would be to calm him down. After all, I'd already concluded he was fine, right?
I went over to him on the couch and let him guide my fingers to the 'hole.' I didn't feel a swollen lump, as I'd expected, though. I felt a sharp and jagged edge of bone and then what felt like a definite indentation, with a center of soft tissue. Knowing that Tano couldn't see my face from where he was seated, I turned my head silently toward Andy and nodded solemnly. Something was indeed not right. Andy rose from his chair to put his own hands on the boy's head and I went back to my computer to learn about different types of skull fractures. I quickly landed on "depressed skull fractures." This is a serious type of fracture in which a section of the skull, upon severe blunt trauma, actually collapses inward. It is generally accompanied by obvious symptoms of serious head injury, which he wasn't displaying, but left untreated, the fragments of bone can place pressure on the brain and cause brain damage. In depressed skull fractures larger than a centimeter in diameter, surgery is generally performed to attempt to elevate the collapsed section back into place.
Larger than a centimeter? The apparent depression in Tano's skull was about the size of a half-dollar.
Tano knew I was researching at my computer. "What are you finding out over there?" he asked, trying in vain not to hyperventilate as tears of fear streamed down his face.
I kept my voice calm, the way my old college roommate, Mary Beth, always did in a crisis. She was training to be a nurse then, and could always be counted upon to be a calming presence in the most stressful situations. "Well, Buddy, from what I'm reading, it seems like it is something that we should check out. Your behavior is fine--no symptoms of head injury at all--but you should probably go in and let a doctor take a look at it anyway, just for peace of mind."
Andy asked me to tell the specifics of what I was learning, so I did. Tano began to really freak out and we prayed with him to help him calm down. He didn't calm down. It was decided that Andy would take him in to the emergency room and I would keep my phone nearby. If there was a reason for me to come in, I would follow in the other car. I suggested the guys grab sweatshirts and books to read. Tano pulled on a hoodie and reached for his Bible. They were out the door in seconds for the forty minute drive to the hospital.
The van's tires crunched briefly in the gravel of the driveway, then everything was silent.
The fear I couldn't admit to while trying to calm my son began to rise up in me. I could feel it inching from the pit of my stomach up toward my throat. I prayed a bit and then got online to see if any good friends were available to chat and maybe pray for us. No one was there. It was midnight, after all.
It was midnight. And other than my sleeping father-in-law in the back bedroom, I was alone while my husband took our son to the hospital for.... The fear was taking a definite foot hold. I checked online again for anyone to talk to.
Alison's little green dot, indicating her online presence, was on. Alison is a friend from childhood who has lived at least a thousand miles away from me since we were twelve years old. She and I have grown up together, our long-distance friendship as comfortable with the written word as the spoken. But what was she doing online? Last summer, her house was burned to the ground by a serial arsonist. The family escaped with their lives. This summer, they moved into their rebuilt house after a year of trauma and insurance battles. That day, the day after Tano's bike accident, they'd had a terrible rain storm that flooded the poorly graded hillside behind their brand new house and filled their basement. I'd seen photos of their small army of friends, trying to bail out their new home. I knew more battles would have to be fought as a result, with the builder this time and maybe with insurance again. I knew they were so weary already and this was just too much. And now, here she is online at two o'clock in the morning her time, probably just now finally heading for bead, poor thing. I hated to bother her, but I needed someone to know. I needed someone to pray for my son. I needed someone to pray for me. I knew she would gladly do it. This is the transcript of our typed conversation:
S: you there?
S: sorry about your flooding, but could you add us to your prayers tonight?
tano may have a skull fracture
headed to the hospital right now.
A: Oh no! Of course I will pray. Heads are so important!
S: he had a significant bike accident yesterday and is pretty scuffed up, but no behavioral issues at all. tonight, however, we found an obvious soft spot on his head. research says it may be a depressed skull fracture
it's good sized
A: Well, I will pray. Tell Tano, I'm sorry, and of course my heart goes out to you and Andy. Paul and I have raced Christopher to the hospital a couple of times.
S: Andy took him in. I'm still at home. I wouldn't have bothered you in the midst of your own craziness, but I decided to open up chat to see who might be available and your little green button came on
A: Oh this is just craziness, a hassle, money, negotiation with the builder, etc, not a kids' head.
S: he's really scared
A: How are you?
S: on edge
a little shaky
A: Very understandable
Dear God, we know you have Tano in your hands. We know you love him and his parents. Please bind him to your will and purposes, heal his head. Calm his heart and mind. Put your cross between him and Andy and them and the hospital staff. Fill all the Chidwicks with your love, fill them with your peace and cover them with your grace. May your presence be felt.
now that I'm talking to you I'm actually falling apart a bit
pray against fear for me
having flashes of "what Tano was like before the brain damage"
A: I understand. In this moment, I encourage you to offer your trust. As the fearful thought comes just tell God the simple things you know to be true, "I love you. I trust you." and requests: "Heal my boy. Preserve his brain."
A: And it's scary.
A: Some times i just say Jesus' name again and again, because it's all I have.
i know it's the middle of the night there.
will you get to sleep tonight?
A: I'm going now. I'l keep praying as I drift. I love you and - I don't say this lightly - I have peace about Tano. Concern, but peace.
thanks so much
i needed your words more than i realized
silly that sometimes someone else has to tell you what to pray, but it helps
A: Oh, I know. And some times you need another to carry peace for you.
goodnight, my friend
A: good night. I'll check for an update in the morning. Don't forget to breathe in and out.
S: working on it
did I already say thanks?
I love you. This mothering is a big work
S: really wish I were strong enough for it
love you, too
A: good night
I continued struggling to breathe for a while, even after my conversation with Alison was finished. Sucking blessings in and blowing out prayers. My mental fight to trust and not panic played itself out in a very real way, physically.
Breathe in (I know you love my boy)
Breathe out (I trust you)
Breathe in (You know what you are doing)
Breathe out (please protect my son)
Whooo---heeee---whooo---heee... (remember childbirth classes?)
I know you love me.
I trust you.
I know you love me.
I trust you.
I was in such a state that I would forget, between labored breaths, what I was supposed to pray, time and again allowing panic to jump back to the forefront, and I would have to scroll up through the chat session again to see what Alison had suggested. Oh, that's right: I trust you. I trust you. I trust you.
I left it on the screen in front of me, so I could return to it again and again.
Her words were such a grand gift to me that night, while I waited for the phone call from the hospital. What a blessing to have friends who can encourage spiritually, as well as emotionally.
As God took my desperate prayers and began to trade them in, one by one for peace, I began to return to normal breathing patterns and my thinking came more clearly again. I was struck then by the reminder of a prayer I have prayed many times for my son. I have prayed that God would do what it takes to develop my son into a man after His own heart. I have prayed that, if it takes hardship and pain to do the work in him, that God would bring it. My number one request is that my boy grow into a Godly man, and whatever it takes to get there is ok with me. This is not an easy prayer to pray at any time, if you really mean it, but it is definitely easier to pray when the sky is blue and the birds are singing and the sun is sparkling on the water. It takes more courage when it is midnight and you are alone and your firstborn is at the hospital facing possible brain surgery and perhaps even brain damage.
But that is what I chose to pray. The more I gave my boy over to his true Father's care, the more at peace I felt. After a bit, I even felt boldly confident. God was caring for my boy. He was caring for us. He was all over it. We would be fine--no matter what the prognosis was--no matter what the final outcome was.
"I trust You" became something I could speak with quiet contentment instead of trembling fear.
At 1:32 AM, my phone buzzed with a text.
"Going to get a CT scan. Doc says only 20% chance its a fracture but wants to be sure. Said its most likely a hematoma."
I prayed more.
I trust you. I trust you. I trust you.
Breathe in, breathe out. God is building my son into a man after His own heart, but His building materials are often perceived as unconventional to us earthlings.
The next text came in at 2:43 AM. "Doc says it looks ok. No fracture! Thank you God! We're on our way home."
The hematoma was a strange one, for certain, and had really confused the doctor at first, the way its shape and location was imitating so perfectly a depressed skull fracture. He understood completely why we were concerned and was glad we'd brought the boy in to get it checked out. It did look serious until the scans were run.
But he's ok.
The hematoma is a crazy thing, and after banging the injury site hard on a hanging flower pot the next day, it has increased in size and covers much of the frontal section of his skull. We are patiently waiting for it to shrink back down, which the doc says may take two weeks.
But he's ok.
I learned a little lesson in trust that night. I fell backwards and God caught me, filling me with peace even before I had the certainty of the desired outcome. But what if the answer had been surgery? What if the outcome had been brain damage...or worse? Would I still trust that God is doing His work, for His purposes? Would I still breathe in and breathe out and trust Him?
I don't know. I suppose I will have to practice falling backwards into His arms again and again.
I trust you. I trust you. I trust you.