This article is the third in a series of what will be my Doctoral Dissertation to Louisiana Baptist University. It is my personal pilgrimage of where I have been, where I am at, and where I hope to go! In other words, it is my journey and my attempt to find The Way...
...And then a life-changing event rocked my world. As I was sitting at my desk one morning I heard “the cry!” As parents, we all have the innate ability to distinguish the cry of our own children. This was not “a” cry-it was “the” cry!
Our church had a preschool and my oldest son, Lucas, who was four at the time, attended. On this particular day the class was going to do an art project with macaroni. The macaroni would be boiled and then the students would use it for their art masterpieces!
Lucas’s job in preparation for the project was to pass out paper plates. The macaroni was put in an old-fashioned popcorn popper and water was poured in to be boiled. On that particular day Lucas wore his red sweatpants to school, the kind that have an elastic band around the ankles. As Lucas made his way around the room, intently focused on his job, he didn’t notice the cords to the popcorn popper and he got entangled in them.
The water inside the popper was boiling and as Lucas stumbled over the cords, all the water came down on my son. The water hit the left side of his hip and rushed down his leg. Because of the elastic band at his ankle, the boiling water was trapped momentarily and began to literally “fry” his leg … thus, “the CRY!”
While at my desk, I heard the cry and instinctively knew it was “my kid,” so I got up and left my office and made my way through the courtyard down to the preschool. I was met about halfway by the director of the preschool, who informed me that my son was hurt and that 911 had been called and help was on the way.
Honestly, I don’t remember everything that happened that morning, but I do remember telling someone to go into the church office and let my secretary know that I would be gone the rest of the day-little did I realize that I would not be back in that office for over a month.
At this time most of the events that took place that day are somewhat of a blur, but I do remember going to the local hospital in the ambulance with my son. Upon arrival, a “life flight” helicopter was scheduled to take Lucas to the UCSD Medical Center, which has one of the premier burn units in the nation.
I remember my wife Sharon going with Lucas while I went back to our household to put an overnight bag together and make sure my two other boys were cared for.
My wife and I split the time while Lucas was at UCSD-he always had at least one of us by his side. But during this traumatic time I had a crisis of faith: “Where was God?” and “WHY? WHY? WHY?!” Yet, through this episode, I did learn a lesson that I will never forget (and, by the way, this lesson is going on its 26th year; in other words, it is not over)!
The treatment for Lucas’s burns before the skin grafting required daily scrubbing of the burn area, which encompassed most of his left leg. Remember, Lucas was raised in a caring Christian community with parents who loved God and friends who had committed their lives in service to Christ. Needless to say, evening prayer time and nighttime Bible stories were vital parts of his daily diet. This is the son that was “Baby Jesus” in the manger when he was three weeks old for the church Christmas play, and in the years that followed was a shepherd and even one of the Magi!
What I will never forget is when the nurses came to take my four-year-old blond-hair and blue-eyed son for his “treatments.” When they came into the room, he would reach out for me in total desperation and start crying, “No daddy, no daddy” and then those words, “Pray for me daddy, pray for me!”
As I begged God for his mercy and to take away the pain, I could only watch helplessly time and again as my four year old was strapped down. As they began to scrub, he was transformed into a caged animal, trying his best to bite, claw or to do whatever he could to get out of his restraints and I will never forget the look, when he stared into his Daddy’s soul with the silent cry (that we both screamed), “WHY, GOD, WHY?”
Something happened to me deep within; I began to question the nature of God. Friends and members of the church made their daily visits, and I cannot tell you how often I was given the passage from Romans 8:28:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
It was not long before I began to smirk at this verse, and then I became downright belligerent. I am sure most of my friends believed that I was “losing my religion!” You see, I couldn’t come to grips with how this verse could possibly be true in our particular situation.
Then one day, Tim came to visit. I am sure that the word on the street was: “If you go and see the Stolebargers in the hospital you’d better be careful!” I was not a gracious host! But when Tim came to the door during my “watch,” he asked if he could come in.
I was in no mood to talk and I really didn’t want to pray, but Tim came in and just sat down in the room and for about an hour he didn’t say one word! When he got up to leave he came over to me and threw his arms around me and simply said, “Thanks for letting me just be here with you.” At that moment I learned the importance of Romans 12:15:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Honestly, I received more comfort from Tim and that encounter than from all the other well-wishers combined!
When word began to leak out that “Dan was not quite himself,” some of my friends asked one of the elders at Reba Place Fellowship to contact me to see if he could be supportive in any way. Virgil Vogt, a person for whom I had the utmost respect, contacted me, and with the sensitivity that only the Holy Spirit could give, he challenged me to find a “solitary place” where I could be alone with God and, as he put it, “have it out with Him.”
He encouraged me to tell God everything that was on my heart, and he insured me that the God we serve was big enough to take whatever I had to give! And so I did!
On a day that Sharon had “Lucas duty,” I went off to a solitary place in Chula Vista and began talking to God, and then the talking became shouting, and then the shouting became cussing and then uncontrollable weeping!
And after an hour or so I heard a still, small voice, which was undeniably the Lord. A question was formed and presented to my heart: “Why do you follow God? For what He does for you or for what He has already done for you?”
There it was-out there for all to see and to hear! WHY was I following God? It was then I had a glimpse once again of Calvary. It was there I realized that what God had already provided me back at Calvary was worth my wholehearted devotion to Him, regardless of whether or not He did anything else for me for the remainder of my time on earth.
I walked away with a renewed commitment to follow God-even in the bad times!
He made no promises concerning his “whys,” and to this day I still am wounded when I think of my little boy’s eyes that pierced my soul and his desperate pleas to not let the nurses take him for his scrubbing treatment!
But Tim’s silent vigil and God’s response at that solitary place was enough to get me through!
For the record, Lucas has a major skin graft, but if you looked at him today you probably wouldn’t take a second glance because of how he has healed. Lucas went on to participate in sports of all kinds and has never been physically handicapped by his injury. Thanks be to God! But at the time of this writing there are still unseen scars that are as real as any physical deformities.
After a few months I returned to First Baptist, but needless to say, the time for change was underfoot. Lucas’s injury, on top of Ken’s demise and death (as told in last month’s article), was too much to bear and I knew we had to do something!
Our church flock was in shambles, and I felt that I had no other choice than to challenge those who still had an adventurous heart to leave First Baptist and go out and plant a new church.
About 30 people took on that challenge and together we planted a new church called EastLake Community Church. It was located in a new master-planned community some 10 miles away from First Baptist. At that time Pastor Hensgen and I felt that it was the direction we should go in...
Next month, Part 4: “Taking the Church to the Football Field.”