CRACK!! The sound echoed through the stadium like a crack of thunder as two helmets collided. In the silence that followed one player stood up dazed while another lay prostrate on the field. His motionless body twitched as a tremor flowed through his body like an aftershock and then unmoving silence.
Luke was out for less than a minute before he began to regain consciousness, but it seemed like an eternity as I made my way out of the stands and headed to the sideline where the coaches were helping him off the field and onto the bench. When I reached him his favorite teacher, Mrs. DeMerritt or Mrs. D as her students affectionately call her, was talking to him and trying to get him to relax and lean back against the bench. She was soon joined by Melonie Sandoval, a nurse practitioner and mother to Luke’s best friend. At Mrs. D’s command Luke opened his eyes. They were moist with tears and perspiration and his gaze held a reflection of intense pain. Melonie began to question him. “Luke, do you know where you are and what happened?”
“Yes, I’m at Olton playing football and I got hit!” His responses, although not incoherent, were aggressively spit out between rough grunts and groans of pain while his breathing was shallow and very rapid. Suddenly he reeled forward in an instinctive effort to retch. He clutched at his head in pain and began to spit without regard to where his spittle landed. Mrs. D. moved around behind the bench and again attempted to steady him back against the bench.
Although she only held his shoulder pads to guide him back against the bench and had gently tried to provide some support for his head, Luke yelled out in pain, “Don’t touch my head! Get your hands off my head!”
Melonie spoke calmly, “Luke, you need to calm down and slow down your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths. Do you know who’s behind you?”
Still breathing rapidly, Luke grunted, “No! And I don’t care! My neck hurts! Don’t touch my neck!”
“Luke, Mrs. D is behind you and she’s not trying to hurt you.” Melonie continued to speak calmly, “Try to relax and slow your breathing down.”
Blowing air and spit through his lips in a vain attempt to slow his breathing, Luke again yelled in pain, “Ahhh….I don’t care who’s behind me, just get your hands off my head!”
Still on crutches due to a recent injury herself but undaunted by her own limitations, Melonie hobbled behind him and in a calm but authoritative voice said, “I’ll stabilize his head.” And then bending closer to Luke she assured him, “Luke, I’m not trying to hurt you but I’m going to hold your head.”
“Don’t touch my head!” Luke yelled again.
Ignoring his commands, Melonie steadied his head.
In the chaos of the moment someone asked if I wanted an ambulance for Luke. Suddenly I realized this was my decision….Luke was my responsibility. Fear gripped my heart. I was afraid for Luke…that same intense fear that rips through a mother’s heart when her children are in trouble. Panicky, I thought, “How can I make these decisions? I’m not really his parent.” I looked into the faces that surrounded me for reassurance as I firmly nodded and managed to mumble an unsteady “yes”. By now the paramedics had arrived and someone asked if we could get his shoulder pads off. Finding my voice and looking around for assistance I dictated, “If someone will hand me some scissors, I’ll cut his jersey off.”
“No! Don’t cut my jersey off!” Luke yelled as he feebly grabbed at the scissors. Hands quickly clasped his as my unsteady hand hastily snipped up the front of his jersey and while Mrs. D held his head, Melonie cut through the sleeves and soon the mangled jersey was off. A few snips through the laces and his pads were lifted off.
A neck brace was soon in place and Luke was gently lifted onto a back board and few minutes later I found myself in the front seat of an ambulance as Luke was being loaded into the back.
Silently I prayed, “Lord, please for Luke’s sake, don’t let his neck be broken.” But surprisingly I also found myself whispering, “Lord, please just give me the strength to handle whatever you have for us in this situation.
Sometimes life can change in a moment and other times a moment in life can change us as it reverberates through our heart and opens doors we didn’t know were closed. This was one of those moments. Sitting there in the ambulance my heart softened a little more towards my nephews as I suddenly realized how much my life and my heart had become interwoven with the lives of these two boys and I instantly understood that whatever happened to them – whatever trials difficulties, challenges, and heartaches that they might face – these were mine to share. I also realized as I tried to breathe slow and deep and calm my shaking hands how much I had grown to love them and while I would like to say that I have felt like their parent and loved them like a parent from the moment they arrived in my home, honestly I’ve floundered in this new role.
I’ve wanted to love them…and I thought I loved them, but although I have kept them a few times over the years, bought gifts for them, celebrated holidays with them, and doted on them along with my other nephews, the truth is… I really didn’t know them.
This new journey has not been easy for any of us as we’ve all had to adjust to a life that is decidedly different from what any of us imagined. I am trying to learn how to parent teens without ever making them feel as though I am trying to take the place of their mother while they are trying to figure out where they fit in our family. And grief has also been a part of this journey when my heart has been caught off guard by expressions and mannerisms that instantly remind me of their mother and they too have been startled by memories and the unexpected stages of grief.
Thankfully, Luke’s neck was not broken, and while he spent some time in ICU under observation, his injuries were not permanent – some neck strain and a bad concussion. He was soon released to spend a few weeks recovering at home.
And while I can’t say I know why this accident happened, or why bad things happen at all, or why our lives are laced with difficulties, I know God used that scary night to open my heart a little more and fill it with a genuine love for two boys who were not birthed to me. And… like the teacher whose kind heart was moved to tears by Luke’s accident … I have been amazed to find in that moment of intense anxiety and fear a depth of love and tenderness I did not know existed. In that epiphany moment that cracked open my heart with an internal force that reverberated as loud as the helmet crash, what I found in that fissure was not the emptiness that I expected to but an emptiness that had been filled by a Savior who not only saves but also sanctifies. And just as I know that in my life other difficulties and trials – whatever the cause and regardless of the outcome – have always served to open my eyes to the true condition of my heart, this accident not only revealed what I hadn’t wanted to admit – that I did not really feel like a parent to Beau and Luke – but it watered those seeds of compassion and grace that I did not know were planted there and served to bond my heart to these boys.
And so while I had hoped to join Jennifer Dukes Lee many times this month and make this a “November to Remember” by delving deeper into the word and looking back and sharing those epiphany moments that have changed my life, I find myself living out one of those life changing moments and absorbing the disruption created instead. But I have no regrets.
Raising two teenage boys is certainly not what I expected in this season of my life and the struggle to find time to pen my thoughts despite a slower work schedule has been far more difficult than I imagined, but regardless of the difficulties, I find my heart overflowing with gratitude for this place where I have been planted and this beautiful season of grace.
Today I’m joining Jennifer in her #Tell His Story linkup.