The Dreaded Call

You know the one. A family member on the other line, her voice wrought with tension and fear. Instantly you know that the news is serious and probably not good.

We always imagine those calls coming in the middle of the night, waking you from a dead sleep. If the phone rings past 10 pm, we know something must be wrong.

But crisis phone calls are not limited to the nighttime hours.  Mine came at 1 pm in the afternoon.

“Chris, you need to get down to the hospital. Dad is very, very sick. His condition is critical and his doctor said I should call the family to get here as soon as possible.”

In three sentences and less than 10 seconds, my world turned upside down.

My dad, the strength and heart of our family, was not strong and, in fact, his heart was currently part of the problem. We were facing a life-or-death situation. His body was dehydrated. Blood pressure was too low. Body temp was too low. Blood was too thin. Organs were shutting down. Body was bleeding internally.

I started crying immediately. I started praying, too. I cried out to God begging him to heal my dad.

And then I called My People.

Friends started praying. Offers were made to pick up the kids. Details related to work and home and after school were handled.

I scurried to get out of the house plagued by a thousand trivial concerns.

·         “Would so-and-so know what to do since I didn’t get that email sent?”

·         “How will my son wear his basketball uniform tomorrow if it’s still in the laundry?”

·         “Do we have anything to eat tonight for dinner?”

Even as those questions raced through my mind I kept thinking, “Christine, focus. It doesn’t matter.” But, I think it was my brain’s way of trying to keep from being overwhelmed – a distraction from the fear threatening to take over.

My ride to the hospital was a blur. I talked on the phone with my best friend, peering at the road through the dashboard and my tears. She offered words of comfort, gave me permission to feel what I was feeling and assured me that she would handle picking up the kids and making calls and texts to others.

I wasn’t sure what I would find when I entered the hospital’s emergency room. I braced myself for the worst, fearing they would tell me it was too late and I would wonder why I’d taken the time at home to change clothes.

My mom and both my siblings were already there. My husband was, too. I was the last to arrive and tension was high. But, already we were seeing God’s handiwork.

Dad’s ER doc just happened to be the wife of my brother-in-law’s boss. My sister had met her several times before at work gatherings and she took extra time explaining to us the intricacies of Dad’s condition and care. Lord, You are good.

In the time since I’d gotten the call, already three specialists had diagnosed dad and set up a treatment plan. These specialists are never in the ER, but “just happened to be” on the floor already when they were needed. Lord, You are good.

And then, all we could do was wait. Wait to see how his body would respond to the treatment. Wait to see if any other organs would shut down or complications would arise. All the while praying for God’s healing power.

If the Dreaded Call prompts fear, the Wait produces worry. The initial shock has passed and you’re left with lots of time to think. Plenty of time to consider all the possibilities, including those that make you want to squeeze your eyes shut, put your fingers in your ears and run far, far away from the whole situation.

In the Wait we have a choice. We can entertain the “what ifs” and “worse-case scenario” thinking. Or we can ignore the scary possibilities, willing ourselves to focus on good outcomes, believing for the best.

I probably found myself somewhere in the middle.

One thing was certain: I was not ready to lose my dad. When faced with that real possibility this week, I didn’t like the look of it one bit. Memories were rolling around in my mind.

·         Dancing with him as a little girl and again at my wedding.

·         His pride at my college graduation and when I started my first job.          

·         His love for my husband and the fun we all had together cheering on the Mustangs, Cyclones, and Bears.

But, the biggest heartbreaker of all was when I imagined my kids growing up without their Papa. Who would take them to the gas station in town and buy them donuts and Gatorade at 8 am? Who would cheer at their ballgames and attend their plays? Who would write them letters or take them on adventures?

Thinking about life without my dad was unbearable. And I was filled with compassion for people like my husband Michael, who lost both his parents while in his early 20s. Or other friends who have received their own Dreaded Calls in the past year.

As the day progressed, Dad’s condition slowly improved. His kidneys were still shut down, but his body temp and blood pressure were back to normal. The internal bleeding subsided and the blood transfusion worked to regulate his blood again.

By 5 pm, a mere four hours after the Dreaded Call, my Dad was stabilized. Still in ICU and still with some hurdles to climb, but stable.

This photo makes me smile because only days earlier we thought Dad might not make it. Plus, my dad who is typically so well-groomed has the absolute best, Nick Nolte-style bed head you've ever seen!

This photo makes me smile because only days earlier we thought Dad might not make it. Plus, my dad who is typically so well-groomed has the absolute best, Nick Nolte-style bed head you've ever seen!

The fear I’d experienced earlier in the afternoon was only outmatched by my joy, thankfulness and relief. Equally strong was my 100% certainty that God had without a doubt, undeniably healed my dad. There is no other explanation for the sudden and dramatic improvements. No other possibility for how he could be darkening death’s doorstep one moment and out of the woods the next.

I was also 100% certain that the strength I felt throughout the experience was God’s hand carrying me through as a direct result of the prayers of my faithful friends. You see, with just a handful of phone calls an army was assembled. An army of marvelous comrades, fierce warriors who know the power of God. Loyal friends who did not leave me alone in my fear or heartache, but who surrounded me with their love.

Every person needs an army like that. A community of love. Their People. The ones you call when you get the Dreaded Call. Those who spring into action, holding you up when you aren’t sure you can stand on your own.

I got to see My People in action this week and it was a sight to behold. Not even the sun in the sky could outshine them. They were radiant. They were the very best kind of friends in the moment I needed them to be.

I got a glimpse of holy community. Jesus lovers doing what they do best – caring, praying, believing, loving. You looked good this week, church. You looked real good.

I would never wish the Dreaded Call on anyone. It’s a terrifying experience. But, if you had to walk through the scariest of crises, I hope you’d have a community like mine to surround you. And if you don’t have that, please know that even now as I type this, my prayer is that God would give you one. Because life is sweeter, brighter, safer and lovelier together.

You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our Savior. You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas. Psalm 65:5