When my sons Tanner and Beau were 8 and 14, their mother and I divorced, and I started a new life as a single parent. During those early years, I had gotten used to the usual bumps and scrapes that happen to kids. However … on September 17, 2005, I received a call that turned my world upside down. Twenty-four-year-old Tanner had fallen from the fourth-floor balcony of his apartment …
Rushing off to the hospital … I made several urgent calls. … Beau, in California … his mother, in North Carolina … Silent Unity … my prayer partner from ministerial school …
Earlier that day, Tanner and his roommate had helped me pack boxes for a Gulf Coast relief drive [for] … people who were made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. Tanner had said, “Dad, I really want to do more of this.” We had lunch and then went our separate ways. By that evening, a beautiful afternoon with my son had turned into a horrific crisis.
When I arrived at the hospital emergency unit, a doctor took me into a small consultation room. “Your son may survive … but if he does, he may be totally nonfunctioning.” When he told me I couldn't go in to be with Tanner, I said, “I'm an ordained minister and I can handle this. I've got to be by his side.”
My Little Boy
When Tanner was born, I was in the delivery room. As soon as the doctor delivered Tanner, she handed him to me. Tanner grabbed my thumb, and I remember thinking, “This little boy is going to help me.” Now I knew that as never before I needed to be there for him.
Finally, I was allowed in to see him. Tanner was in a coma, his pelvis was fractured, and a broken rib had damaged his spleen. Before they did a tracheotomy and placed Tanner on life support, I tried to straighten the oxygen tube going into his nose. Even though he was in a coma, I thought I might be able to do something that could make him feel more comfortable. One of the doctors who was watching said, “This isn't a movie. There's not going to be any pretty music, and there may be no happy ending.” “Well,” I affirmed, “I'm in prayer knowing that we are going to see a happy ending and that he is going to be just fine.”
Hitting the ground after a four-story fall, Tanner aspirated the contents of his stomach into his lungs, which caused severe burns … His brain was swollen to the capacity of his skull, but it was the damage to his lungs that soon threatened to take his life.
Twice the doctor prescribed a risky steroid treatment. “You have a choice here,” he said. “You can either watch him crash and burn or you can let us try to save his life with a steroid treatment. But know that he may not survive the treatment itself.”
I thought, okay, we are either going to be planning a funeral or for long-term care, and I'll do whatever I'm called to do. It was so clear from that moment on that I had to surrender, get out of the way, and listen to divine guidance.
… Tanner had at least [me, his brother and/or mother] by his side at all times. I was comforted to know the prayers of Silent Unity were going on 24 hours a day, every day. [My prayer partner] started a prayer chain …
… I believe that during the eight weeks he was in a coma, he somehow sensed that we were there, pulling for him. I said the “Prayer for Protection” for him over and over again, believing each time that he heard me:
The light of God surrounds you;
The love of God enfolds you;
The power of God protects you;
The presence of God watches over you.
Wherever you are, God is!
Tanner's recovery was a very slow process. … one side of his lip turned up … he started moving one of his little fingers. We cheered him on, hoping and praying that he was really coming back. The doctors were very cautious, saying, “Don't get too excited about any of this.”
… Prayers for him continued, and his progress steadily improved. … Tanner became more active and coherent. …
One morning when I arrived early at the hospital … I looked up and saw that he had The Worship Network on [television]—beautiful scenes, lovely music, scriptures and inspirational messages that continued 24 hours a day. He had been awake all night watching the program.
Tanner went from 250 to 140 pounds … He had to learn everything all over again: how to move his hands, arms and legs. … How to walk, talk and take care of himself.
When he came out of the hospital, Tanner stayed with me for two weeks. At first I felt as nervous as if I had a newborn in the house. I would listen for any noise he would make. Was he coughing? Turning over in the bed? He'd been taken care of by nurses and doctors for so long, I wasn't sure if I could do it. …
Beau quit his job in California, and he and Tanner moved in together … across the street from me … which was very comforting.
Finding the Good
When Tanner fell four stories to the ground, he landed on a patch of grass and dirt that was about three feet wide by five feet long. That patch of ground, surrounded by rock, brick, stone steps and metal fences, had just been watered. … If he had fallen in any other spot, more than likely, he would not have survived.
To this day, I don't know how or why Tanner fell; Tanner doesn't remember how the fall happened. What I do know is that Spirit has great plans for this young man. When I look at him, I thank God he survived so many surgeries and procedures. He mended beautifully. As I like to say: “He's alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic and prospering.” …
My sons and I have always been incredibly close, but now we're even closer. I've learned that when I pray and look for the good in every situation, I find it. I also know that what God leads me to, God leads me through. Whether it is a crisis or an opportunity for good, I'm to get out of the way and surrender all to God.