Back From the Dead, and Not Yet Born

She never saw the truck coming, didn’t have time to brace for impact. In an instant she was blasted across the console of our brand new Toyota Celica, her head knocking out the passenger side window. The truck had run a red light and broadsided her. Witnesses rushed to her side and helped her. In minutes an ambulance took her to Baylor Hospital.

I was working several miles away when the company phone rang. A coworker offered me a ride to the hospital. When I arrived an hour after the accident, doctors were still digging out glass from her head and ear. She was a bloody mess. But there was a worse problem: she was seven months pregnant with our first child!
After a couple of hours waiting, one of the doctors came out and summoned me for a private meeting. “Your wife is extremely shaken,” he said, “but she should recover okay. Our real concern now is for the baby. We can’t find a heartbeat.”

“What does that mean?” I stumbled, not knowing the right questions to ask.

“It’s not uncommon,” he comforted. “Sometimes in a shock like this a baby’s heartbeat may be dramatically subdued. But usually, by now…”. He hesitated.

They kept her for observation, and I prayed long into the night that tomorrow they’d tell us the baby’s heart was beating and everything was going to be fine. But instead when I went to pick her up and take her home, the doctor told me to take her to our pediatrician right away.

After long scrutiny the pediatrician prepared us for the worst. He was holding out hope the heartbeat would return. But we should come back to him in two days. We did. Still no heartbeat. He prepared us kindly. The baby would be stillborn.

We should keep a bag packed and be ready to respond immediately at the first sign of labor. My wife’s body would naturally reject the baby, and the baby’s lifeless body would be expelled.
We continued to return to the pediatrician every few days. He was surprised that after two weeks of no heartbeat we had not had to make that emergency trip. Then it was three weeks. Then four.
The pain of losing our firstborn had weighed enormously on us. After four weeks I saw that one of my friends was preaching at a hotel in north Dallas, and I asked my wife if she wanted to go hear him. Just an excuse to get out of the house. I was surprised that she did.

When the service was over, we were among the first to slip out, hurrying through the foyer to get back home, back to bed, back to waiting. As we crossed the mezzanine, a familiar voice called out, “Danny boy!”

It was my childhood pastor, Rev. Paul Hosch. He summoned us over, smiled down at my wife’s tummy, and said, “I like to pray for all the girls in my church when they’re pregnant. I know you’re not in my church, but I just feel like I ought to pray for you. Do you mind?”
We didn’t, of course, and right there in the foyer of the hotel he prayed that my wife and baby would have a perfect birth. He didn’t know the situation. We had not been in touch with him for a long time.
We got in the car, swallowed up in our loneliness. “It was sweet of him to pray,” my wife said, looking out the side window as tears fell.

We dressed for bed. She was exhausted from her first time out of bed in a month. We hoped she hadn’t overdone it. I checked to see that the packed suitcase was still in its place.

Around two in the morning I was awakened by my wife’s screaming. Instinctively I jumped from the bed and began to pull on my clothes. She was saying, “No, no, no!” I was saying, “It’s alright. It’s okay. You’re gonna be fine!” I was dressed before I realized she was telling me to stop dressing. She was crying, but she was laughing.

“Feel!” she yelled. I saw that her hand was rubbing her tummy. I put mine there, and for the first time in four weeks, our firstborn was kicking.

A few weeks later, both mom and baby had a perfect birth!

“Stoopid” Daddy

My oldest daughter was about 6 years old, playing on the floor with a church friend of the same age. My youngest, Ashley, was three. She was excluded from their game. Chutes and Ladders was too complicated for her, they thought. But she could count, and proved it to them, so they let her in.
After a few plays they called to me. “Daddy, you want to play with us?” I guessed the door had been opened to outsiders, so I left my book on the dining table and headed to the contest.

My youngest was being bratty. Every time she would climb a ladder, she’d chant in a sing-song, “Na na nuh na na, I’m gonna win.” The others rolled their eyes.
Chutes and Ladders is a tricky game. In just a few spins, the little taunter hit a couple of slides and fell back, and Daddy hit a couple of ladders. And just like that, I won the game.

Without thinking, I chanted in her sing-song, “Na na nuh na na, I won the game!” And suddenly, without warning, she exploded in rage, jumped to her tiny feet, and yelled, “Well I coulda won if it hadna been for my stoopid daddy!” And then she turned and ran to her room.

The three of us were shocked. I didn’t know what to do. Meekly I whispered to the two girls, “Keep playing. I’m going to sit out for a while.” And then I went back to the table and my book.
Quite simply, I didn’t know how to respond. She’d never called me stupid. I had not seen that kind of rage in her. I felt partly guilty because I goaded her, but she had been doing the same. I imagined what my father might have done to me if I had ever called him stupid. But I elected to just keep reading my book.

After a while, I was aware of timid little steps behind my chair. I sensed her. She didn’t speak. Momentarily I turned around to face her. Her little body was in complete surrender. Her arms hung limp at her chubby little sides, her head hung down. She wouldn’t look up. She knew she was in for it, and she had come meekly to get it.
“Do you want something?” I asked. She never looked up.

“I sawwy, Daddy.” A tiny tear fell.

I opened my knees and pulled her into my chest and just hugged her. The other little girls were watching. I whispered in her ear, “It’s okay. I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have teased you.” And then we just hugged for while. After moments, I said, “We gonna be okay?”

“Yep.”

“Want to go back and play?”

“Uh huh.”
So I let her go. As she turned, heart all healed, tension all gone, I reached toward her and caught her attention. She froze for second. “Hey,” I whispered, “You don’t really think I’m stoopid, do you?”
Her face screwed up for a second, and then, “Sometimes!” And she was gone. Before I could backhand her across the room, she was playing again.

I spun back around to the table and laid my head in the crook of my arm. I was having a moment, and I needed to have it privately.

“God,” I whispered, “I wish I could know that you love me like I love my kids. I love my kids even when they’re brats.” And in one of those rare moments of life, I heard God whisper back in my ear, as I had in hers, “Where do you think you learned to love? I don’t love you ’cause you’re good; I love you ’cause you’re mine.”

JUST PRAY!

My father was a simple man who offered simple solutions to problems. When I was a teenager and trying to be a good Christian, I would ask his help with some problem, and more often than not his advice would simply be: “Why don’t you just pray about it?”

That would be it. Just pray. I saw that as a cop-out, an unwillingness to hammer out the details of a resolution. As a result, I probably over-reacted the opposite direction. I tried to resolve all conflicts. I tried to figure out the complex issues, and talk for hours. In the long run, prayer became a “last resort” for me. If all else fails, then I’ll pray about it. But for my dad, prayer had always been a “first resort.”

I wish I had learned from him a little earlier.

Along the way I’ve accidentally discovered the power of prayer.

It would take too long to list the many opportunities I’ve had to discover the value of prayer, but it is necessary that I tell at least one.

In Vietnam, I had my first bout with fear and depression after about 8 months in the country. My fiancee had dropped me, and my family was going through a huge crisis, and I was out of touch, unable to call home and communicate. And remember, I liked to talk things out and work out long resolutions. The helpless and hopeless feelings slowly drove me into a deep despair, and one day I simply walked away from my duty post without explanation. My commanding officer saw me and yelled at me, but I waved him off, telling him I couldn’t function. I wandered aimlessly, then wound up at my hooch, and fell across my cot. Still didn’t pray though. For a long time I just lay on my face and tried to think things through. There had to be a solution. I just couldn’t see it yet. Finally, in complete, silent helplessness I just leaned back on my knees and stretched one hand toward heaven, with my eyes closed tightly.

When I did, one of my buddies had apparently been watching me over the plywood divider between our cots, and he actually reached down and gripped my hand. I flushed with embarrassment, and wondered which of my friends was so ignorant that he would do this to me.

I kept my eyes closed tightly while I counted to 10, trying to think of a comment I could make that would get us past this awkward moment. Finally I decided I would just look at him and say, “You nut, what are you doing?” and see how he responded.

So I took a breath, and opened my eyes. To my surprise, no one was there. No one gripped my hand, although I had felt it squeeze, and squeezed it back. And even now, looking up, I felt the hand in mine, though none was there.

Chills raced up my spine. I was shocked for a moment, and then I heard the kindest voice whisper, “If you’ll just hold to this hand, I’ll work out everything back home, and everything in your life.”
I fell across my bed, and now the dam burst. I wept, over and over. But it was good weeping. I was consoled. I understood that life and its problems were not always in my hand to resolve. I could “just pray,” and know that there was a Friend listening, and He could work things out.

Are you holding His hand?

Not sure? Just pray. You’ll know.

Find ’em and Thank them!

Dave and I lost touch with each other after I left my first pastorate. He worked at the same engineering company I worked for. He had been a nice man, not always agreeing with my religious side of “coffee break discussions,” but never was rude like some were.
When I moved away, I lost ties to my former friends. So when my phone rang 20 years later and a husky voice on the other end asked, “Are you the Danny Carpenter that used to work in Dallas?” I was blown away. It was Dave.
It turns out Dave had converted after I moved away. Married, had a kid, and was now, 20 years later, a Sunday School teacher. And on Sunday his pastor had challenged members to remember the person or people who had impacted them for Christ, and find them to say “Thank you.” So Dave was calling me to thank me. Twenty years ago, he said, I made a lasting impression on him. It was a humbling moment.
After we hung up, I began to reflect on my own mentors. Men who had shaped my life. There were two men who made a huge impact on me. One was the principal of my 7th and 8th grade years. Harold Lichtenwald, principal of Sidney Lanier, took me under his wing and helped me. Saved me. One of the greatest men I’ve ever known.
The other was Fred Gregory, my high school drafting teacher. One of a kind. Cared about his students’ futures, not their grades. He showed me that character was more important than skill. And he helped me long after high school.
I decided to look them up. Mr. Gregory was easy. He still lived in the same house in Mesquite. I phoned him, and wrote a column about him in the local newspaper. My way of saying thanks.
Mr. Lichtenwald was a little harder to find. When I did, he was dying in a nursing home in Dallas. Parkinson’s, diabetes, and something else. But I walked in his room unannounced, and he asked, “Are you looking for someone?”
“You,” I said. “I’m a voice from your past.”
He smiled. “How far back?”
“Sidney Lanier,” I said, knowing he’d never guess. But to my surprise, he teared up and said, “Danny Carpenter.” I couldn’t believe it. He cried a while, and then, embarrassed, told me he couldn’t move his arms, and he could really use help with his running nose and eyes. It was my privilege.
I loved those two men. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they loved me, too. Mr. Lichtenwald passed away a year after I found him. Mr. Gregory just passed away a day after this past Christmas.
I am glad I found them. I’m glad I thanked them before they slipped away.
Who do you need to find? Find ’em. And thank them.
You’ll be glad you did.