Heaven Is Real

I found this on GoogleNews today:

Angels at Arby’s

The Fourth of July holiday calls up memories of patriotic parades, the savory scents of smoky barbecue, sweet corn, and night skies bursting with showers of light. But for my family, the July Fourth weekend of 2003 was a big deal for other reasons.

My wife, Sonja, and I had planned to take the kids to visit Sonja’s brother, Steve, and his family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It would be our first chance to meet our nephew, Bennett, born two months earlier. Plus, our kids, Cassie and Colton, had never been to the falls before. (Yes, there really is a Sioux Falls in Sioux Falls.) But the biggest deal of all was this: this trip would be the first time we’d left our hometown of Imperial, Nebraska, since a family trip to Greeley, Colorado, in March had turned into the worst nightmare of our lives.

To put it bluntly, the last time we had taken a family trip, one of our children almost died. Call us crazy, but we were a little apprehensive this time, almost to the point of not wanting to go. Now, as a pastor, I’m not a believer in superstition. Still, some weird, unsettled part of me felt that if we just hunkered down close to home, we’d be safe. Finally, though, reason —and the lure of meeting little Bennett, whom Steve had told us was the world’s cutest baby — won out. So we packed up a weekend’s worth of paraphernalia in our blue Ford Expedition and got our family ready to head north.

Sonja and I decided the best plan would be to get most of the driving done at night. That way, even though Colton would be strapped into his car seat against his four-year-old, I’m-a-big-kid will, at least he’d sleep for most of the trip. So it was a little after 8 p.m. when I backed the Expedition out of our driveway, steered past Crossroads Wesleyan Church, my pastorate, and hit Highway 61.

The night spread clear and bright across the plains, a half moon white against a velvet sky. Imperial is a small farming town tucked just inside the western border of Nebraska. With only two thousand souls and zero traffic lights, it’s the kind of town with more churches than banks, where farmers stream straight off the fields into the family-owned café at lunchtime, wearing Wolverine work boots, John Deere ball caps, and a pair of pliers for fence-mending hanging off their hips. So Cassie, age six, and Colton were excited to be on the road to the “big city” of Sioux Falls to meet their newborn cousin.

The kids chattered for ninety miles to the city of North Platte, with Colton fighting action-figure superhero battles and saving the world several times on the way. It wasn’t quite 10 p.m. when we pulled into the town of about twenty-four thousand, whose greatest claim to fame is that it was the hometown of the famous Wild West showman, Buffalo Bill Cody. North Platte would be about the last civilized stop — or at least the last open stop — we’d pass that night as we headed northeast across vast stretches of cornfields empty of everything but deer, pheasant, and an occasional farmhouse. We had planned in advance to stop there to top off both the gas tank and our bellies.

After a fill-up at a Sinclair gas station, we pulled out onto Jeffers Street, and I noticed we were passing through the traffic light where, if we turned left, we’d wind up at the Great Plains Regional Medical Center. That was where we’d spent fifteen nightmarish days in March, much of it on our knees, praying for God to spare Colton’s life. God did, but Sonja and I joke that the experience shaved years off our own lives.

Sometimes laughter is the only way to process tough times, so as we passed the turnoff, I decided to rib Colton a little.

“Hey, Colton, if we turn here, we can go back to the hospital,” I said. “Do you wanna go back to the hospital?”

Our preschooler giggled in the dark. “No, Daddy, don’t send me! Send Cassie … Cassie can go to the hospital!”

Sitting next to him, his sister laughed. “Nuh-uh! I don’t wanna go either!”

In the passenger seat, Sonja turned so that she could see our son, whose car seat was parked behind mine. I pictured his blond crew cut and his sky-blue eyes shining in the dark.

“Do you remember the hospital, Colton?” Sonja said.

“Yes, Mommy, I remember,” he said. “That’s where the angels sang to me.”

Inside the Expedition, time froze. Sonja and I looked at each other, passing a silent message: Did he just say what I think he said?

Sonja leaned over and whispered, “Has he talked to you about angels before?”

I shook my head. “You?”

She shook her head.

I spotted an Arby’s, pulled into the parking lot, and switched off the engine. White light from a street lamp filtered into the Expedition. Twisting in my seat, I peered back at Colton. In that moment, I was struck by his smallness, his little boyness. He was really just a little guy who still spoke with an endearing (and sometimes embarrassing) call-it-like-you-see-it innocence. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean: the age where a kid might point to a pregnant woman and ask (very loudly), “Daddy, why is that lady so fat?” Colton was in that narrow window of life where he hadn’t yet learned either tact or guile.

All these thoughts flashed through my mind as I tried to figure how to respond to my four-year-old’s simple proclamation that angels had sung to him. Finally, I plunged in: “Colton, you said that angels sang to you while you were at the hospital?”

He nodded his head vigorously.

“What did they sing to you?”

Read More

These types of stories fascinate me, due to my own and my uncle’s experiences.  For me, it is just as simple as seeing my great grandfather as a very young child while I lived in Midwest City, OK.  He helped me find my belt.

But my uncle…he actually died.  Possibly more than once in his life (he has had some real hardcore accidents).  But the time I am talking about he was dead for quite some time.

One night he was on his Harley.  It was a race set up, with a bigger engine and all sorts of race mods.  Truly, a beast of a bike (although it was ugly, as he didn’t invest in paint and chrome).  Living up to his role as Sergeant at Arms for an Outlaw Biker Gang, he was drunk and likely high (he mentioned a few other drugs).  He was confused as to the street he was on, and was going between 80 and 100 mpg when he came upon a dead end.

When he hit, he hit a dirt embankment that rose about 2 feet hard enough that he broke off his pegs, and went airborne with his Harley, each travelling about 30 degrees off from the other.  His bike went on unmolested to crash into the ground about 200 feet away.  He was not so lucky.

He hit a fencepost face first.  The fencepost had barbed wire, which became wrapped around his right arm as his face broke off the fencepost.  He travelled about 250 feet, and as the barbed wire became taught it ripped his right arm off at the shoulder.  Being a man who was 6’6″ tall and weighed 300lbs, you can imagine the force it took.

When he landed, he landed on his tailbone and skidded to a stop.  It was the middle of the night, and an alert neighbor heard the turmoil and alerted EMS.  When they arrived he was dead.  They cut the barbed wire off so they could try to take the arm with him, and started pumping him full of saline.

When he arrived at the hospital he was still dead.  They slowly revived him, and he spent the next 2 months in a coma.  They had to perform fasciotomies to try to salvage as much muscle as possible, and he became infected with VRE.  Matters were made worse by the severe necrotic state of the tissue in his lower back from the impact.  The long term issues have been trying to recover from massive ischemic damage in his extremities.

Since he recovered (which has been beyond miraculous, as he can actually walk although it is not a safe or stable form of locomotion for him.  His wheelchair is far superior in both regards) I have talked to him about it.  He has let on that he has some memories of things that he saw, but doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

But he is changed.  This tough kneebreaker for an Outlaw Biker Gang is now a church goer who has developed a deep philosophical bent.  He still attends the biker club meetings, but mostly to piss them off by contesting some of the plans they have that he, in his newfound spiritual state, doesn’t agree with.  One of the perks of being a founding member of the chapter, and a lifetime member of the national level club is they can’t make you shut up.

He mostly focuses on how the experience changed his outlook.  Not because of what he saw, but more because of what he went through.  He developed a new sense of self, and moral compass.  Is it perfect?  Not one bit.  Like any human he has errors in moral judgement.  But the man I know today is a far cry from the man I knew 20 years ago.

Regardless, this is a rare book that I actually plan on buying.  I would suspect that I am not the only person with my motivations to do so, either.

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