July 1st 2014.
There are some days where every miniscule detail that occurred is embedded in your memory never to be erased or washed away. Neither should they be because each event, whether good, bad, happy or sad is part of us. Our past is an intrinsic piece of our story, and the way in which we manage each situation determines the remainder of our story.
Memory is a gift! But sometimes that gift is wrapped in sorrow. And yet, even in the midst of that sorrow and lament there can be, and should be, echoes of joy. July 1st, 2002 was one such day for me.
It began as an ordinary day. The air was heavy with heat while the skies were a soft ink blue filled with chirping birds despite the intensity of the sun. All the vibrancy in the air seemed to spur me on in the accomplishment of the numerous daily chores to be completed in an inordinately short space of time. This day, however, would end very differently to how I anticipated, and would forever change my life. No, let me re-phrase that! It would turn our family's lives upside down and change the way we lived our lives.
I had returned from the store and was unpacking my groceries when the ringing of our doorbell startled me. I walked casually to the door, opened it and saw a big, burly police officer at my door. “What on earth does he want?” I thought. “Hmm… yes, I know, money for the police force,” I quickly decided, as I smiled and greeted him. “Are you Mrs. Alexander?” he said. “Yes” I replied courteously, wondering how long it would take before he asked me to empty my wallet for a good cause. “I have some terrible news for you!” he said nervously. “Well,” I thought, “I don’t want your terrible news, so buzz off and take it with you!” But, even as I was thinking those thoughts, the words were spilling from his mouth, and as quickly, fear was rushing through my body like wildfire. His voice seemed distant; he was there, but somehow he was far away! “Your son has been involved in a very tragic accident.” Fear settled in my belly; intense, burning and excruciating agony. In the midst of untold fear, I knew my God was there, with me at that moment, I could sense Him!
We arrived at Carolina’s Medical Center approximately an hour and a half after the horrendous car accident that left Jason’s car pulverized and unrecognizable. He had been airlifted to hospital and we were told to, “Wait!” And, wait we did. We waited, what for, we did not know. I am not sure how long we waited, but waiting for me, was far better than death, so wait I did... all day if it would delay the inevitable…telling me my son had not made it. Those were words I simply could not comprehend hearing of my twenty two year old, blonde, blue-eyed son…so I would wait!
Eventually, three grim faced doctors appeared and ushered Paul and me into a private room with our Pastor. By now, Anna had arrived and the desperation and pain etched on her face made me want to protect her from the horror confronting us. I couldn’t! This was our reality; we could not run from it, hide from it or will it away. We had to face it! “We are going to be honest with you,” the doctors said. They were trying to be compassionate, but they could not hide the dismal truth. “People with your son’s injuries do not survive,” and they began to list some of his injuries. Those were harsh words indeed, lacerating our hearts to pieces. Paul had to walk out the room because he suddenly felt drained, emptied out and scared to death. He stood over the toilet bowl and retched. After splashing cold water in his face and calling out to God, he walked back into the tiny room and we were informed that we should go up to the fifth floor and wait there for further news.
Our long dark night was just beginning.
As we walked out of the room, our Anna; gracious, beautiful girl, put her hands gently on my shoulders - tears coursing down her cheeks, she didn’t care…her brother was on the fifth floor fighting the greatest battle of his life, “Mommy, my brother is NOT going to die, he is going to walk out of this hospital,” she sobbed. The pain and fear did not diminish or subside, but a quiet and deep hope filtered through my being and would sustain me through the greatest test of my life.
“Your son has a ruptured aorta, his lungs, liver and spleen have all ruptured and a rib has penetrated the left ventricle of his heart. Please sign these forms as we need to take him to surgery immediately,” Dr. Mark Reames, the thoracic cardiologist told us. I was glad that Paul was with me; his strength, his courage and his faith were my anchors. I was dazed, but as I looked around I saw people everywhere! They were lining the corridors, sitting in the waiting room, standing around us…”Where were all these people from?” I only recognized a few faces. We had only lived in Concord, North Carolina for five months, and yet, the hospital was filled with people from our church and our community - this beautiful, incredible, life-giving community, the Body of Christ.
Jay was in surgery for over seven hours that night. When we were given permission to go and see him, we could hardly recognize our own son laying there. He was on life support, there were drains in his body and needles everywhere. Desperate! I had never felt such heartache, vulnerability and spiritual nakedness.
Jay was in ICU for 28 days and in an induced coma for 21 of those days. They were agonizing days to say the least. The full story will be told in my book Wild Hope. Suffice it to say, those days were filled with every possible emotion. Despair. Hope. Pain. Agony. Hope. It was a roller coaster experience of different emotions. One moment we were elated at the smallest sign of progress, the next one we were spiraling downwards into the tunnel of despondency.
We emerged from our dark night into the brightness of a new and beautiful day. Anna’s prophecy, “My brother will walk out of this hospital,” came to pass. Jay was alive! He came through his ordeal, and we did too…not without some horrific moments. One of those moments, was when the doctors from the Trauma Intensive Care ward called our Pastor to tell him to come to the hospital on the third day because they were losing Jay. More of those phone calls followed. Dread filled days!
That was twelve years ago today! And so I must pause...remember that day, and above all else say, 'Thank you!" to a gracious God who miraculously gave our son back to us.
Are we still tender on the inside? Yes, I think we will always live with the rawness and depth of that experience. We came so close to the death of our precious son; we were touching its edges as it hovered close to his door hour after hour, day after day. Sadness? Yes, I feel sad and heavy-hearted, for those who did not have the outcome we did. My heart aches for those who have lost loved ones.
What did we as a family take from this experience? How has this ordeal changed our lives? Well, joy and thankfulness are close companions that flow through our family DNA. Our lives have changed because we are acutely aware that life is short. It is a gift! Our days are numbered, and truth be told, none of us know when our time will come to breathe our final breath.
And so it is, that as a family we value each moment we have with each other. We don’t think you can ever say, “I love you!” enough. Spending reckless moments of time with each other, drinking copious amounts of tea, and belly laughing over meals, is part of our joyous response to our memory of lament. Each and every precious moment with each other is a gift so extraordinary and beautiful that somehow, there will always be echoes of joy emanating from a memory of deep and abiding lament!
In the midst of it all, our amazing God upheld us through each moment. We felt His tender love and care expressed through His people. His sorrow was evidenced through so many individuals who traveled from afar to weep and pray with us. Thousands of friends around the world joined us in our journey of lament and upheld us with their prayers.
And now we live with the echoes of eternity and the realization that when life on earth is over, it will just be beginning. Therein is the fusion of lament and joy all wrapped up in the promise of Hope after life! These are the echoes of joy that emanate from our lament.