Tonight is February 13th.
Tonight it's snowing like it was a year ago, a wet, cold, relentless snow.
But tonight, February 13th, 2014, is a night for remembering what might have been, and to give thanks.
One year ago tonight, my husband suffered a life-threatening event at work and was rushed to the ER. Our oldest son, who works in the same office, called 911 and then called me, trying to be strong.
It was 5:15, and I was checking email before starting dinner, when the phone rang. Something must be wrong. Ben doesn't call; he texts, but he wouldn't be home with his wife yet. And he leaves work at 5:00. When Ben said, "Hey, Mom, are you sitting down? Don't freak out, but..." and his voice was shaking, and then said, "Dad might have been electrocuted..." well, I freaked out.
As he went on to try to explain, it wasn't electrocution, but he said Dad's hands tingled at his computer, he had a sudden pain and numbness up his left arm, his chest felt tight, he was short of breath ,he looked dazed, and wasn't processing his answers very fast when Ben was trying to figure out what happened. "The paramedics are here now, Mom. You probably oughta get to GBMC as fast as you can."
We didn't know if it was stroke, a heart attack, an aortic rupture coming, or what. I need a pastor! I need a pastor and we don't have one! I thought. (We had left the only church we'd known for 17 years, under painful circumstances.)
I kept turning circles in my basement. What to do, what to do, what to do! How do people without a pastor cope? How? How? How am I going to do this without a pastor? I was a mess.
The only person closest as a spiritual comfort in crisis, besides my own parents, was our friend Gary. I called him, crying, trembling, desperate, afraid, told him what was going on, and he said, "What can I do for you? Who do you want me to call?" I told him to call Arie, a pastor who had left that same church but who was dear to us nonetheless. Arie really cared. I knew he would come to the hospital with his wife, my good friend Marilyn. I knew Gary would make the call. He asked me if I wanted him also to come to the hospital, and I could barely squeak out a humble, "Yes...please!" Paul has always considered Gary one of his best friends, no matter how much time or life stuff comes between get-togethers.
As I drove the Baltimore beltway at night, in snow, alone, under extreme stress, I was facing the possibility of being a 47-year-old widow and I was scared to death. To become a single mother with a son on the verge of adolescence was just unthinkable.
I had to quickly arrange for my parents to come take care of him that night.
And I had an old blind dog who couldn't control her bladder anymore and was in a lot of joint pain but was still hungry and thirsty and walked briskly and responded to loving kindness. On top of the immediate stress, our daughter's room was all packed up; she had been planning to move the first of her stuff out that very night.
My heart was racing over my husband, aching for my children, guilt-ridden about the dog, homeless as far as a church, and overwhelmed at the thought of how fast my nest was emptying. And I had no control over any of of the circumstances.
I drove to the hospital as fast as I could, legally, in mesmerizing snow. A half mile from the hospital I could no longer see white or yellow lines in the road. I gripped the wheel tighter, leaned farther forward, totally tensed up. Suddenly, straight ahead, I saw I was not in the center lane, but was in a turn lane. Seconds before hitting a concrete median, I hit my brakes. Then I sat there, cars zipping by, and thanked God for his protection.
A peace washed over me and I merged backed into traffic. I thought of the Rich Mullins song with the lyrics, "Hold me, Jesus, I'm shaking like a leaf. You have been my King of Glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace."
When I arrived at the hospital, Paul was sitting up, doing much better .The kids were there. Gary was there. And a little later, Arie and Marilyn were there. I felt such comfort and gratitude when Arie said he was honored that we called. "I'll be your pastor any time, for as long as you need me, guys. I mean that." And I know he does. I know, even though we are settling into a different church, Arie would be there for us if we called.
My word for 2013 was Peace. Little did I know it would be the first of many tests of my faith, tests that ask the heart-probing spiritual question, "Do I trust God or just say I trust Him?"
Paul was diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which can mimic a heart attack or stroke as we found out. It is now under control with medicine and careful diet, but the episode changed us.
February 13, 2013, was the first of many days in 2013 that will remain in my mind like stones in the Jordan River, placed there by Joshua and the children of Israel to always remember God's faithfulness to them and their children forever. He had been a cloud by day, to protect them from the scorching sun, and a fire by night to guide and warm them. He had led them out of Egypt, out of bondage, into freedom. He was their Peace. I was beginning to get a glimpse of what that really meant.