It was December 27 and after spending a few days over Christmas with our daughter and her family, we were heading home for a few days for some non-rescheduled medical appointments. Within six days we would return to their home to fly to TX for our oldest grandson’s wedding. Not unlike many families who’re spread out across many miles, it was a busy travel season full of some exciting things.
In between those great plans life can hand you an unexpected moment in time that upends your plans. And so, it was for us on December 27 as we traveled a turnpike well known to us. It was a cloudy winter day, good travel conditions for a winter day versus so many days we have traveled in snow or icy conditions. As we stopped at a service plaza, I could not have anticipated what would happen next.
As my husband retrieved something from the back of our SUV, I walked around the front of the vehicle to get something out of the driver’s side back door. What I missed was a patch of black ice on the slightly sloped sidewalk. I suddenly felt my feet slip and propel me forward with no warning. The next moment I was face down on the sidewalk in the leftover snow and slush bleeding from my nose, mouth, lips and uncertain where else. It all seemed surreal in that moment as my husband lowered the rear hatch and was stunned to see me face down with blood running over the sidewalk.
I only knew I didn’t want to get up and wasn’t sure that I could, and people were running from multiple directions to where I lay. Strangers. Faces I did not see except a glimpse here and there. They came with questions about whether I could get up. They ran into the plaza and came back with paper towels for me to hold over my face where it was bleeding. They got ice from the plaza and someone brought over a metal chair from the outdoor plaza, and gently insisted that I had to get up. They helped me get seated on the chair as I was shivering and so cold from the shock of the fall.
One woman brought a blanket and stood behind me with it wrapped around my shoulders to try to get me warm and called for others to bring blankets. Another woman called 911. Someone else said she was an ICU nurse and stopped to check on me and later a physician who asked me to take the paper towels away to see where I was bleeding. She said she thought my nose was broken, asked me my first name, and spent time looking carefully into my eyes checking for I did not know what. In my mouth she thought I had broken off a front tooth and asked me if I had aspirated it. All the while the lady behind me with the blanket with such a kind voice kept holding me as close as she could to try to stop my shaking and called for others to stand around me to try to block the wind.
Who were they?
These strangers (Good Samaritans) on their own trips who came to care for me, reassure me, help me, advocate for me as the ambulance could not get to me in the plaza area due to a bus blocking the path which had gotten into a ditch. It can be easy to be suspect of strangers in these times, but here they were helping this bleeding, shaking, disoriented grandmother without thought for where their own journeys were to take them on December 27.
Most of their faces I did not see as I held paper towels to my face that repeatedly soaked with blood. I did not hear any of their names. I only felt them and heard them as they insisted that I could not walk to where the ambulance was when that idea was suggested nor that I could get in a pickup truck available to drive me there. They didn’t know me nor the extent of my injuries but on this day, they became forever etched in my memory.
Our pastor had been doing an excellent series in December entitled “Defining Moments with God” that focused on the many instances where God appeared in one form or another beginning in Genesis and at so many places in the Old Testament long before we get to the Christmas scene in Bethlehem. I felt like I was living that story December 27.
We have such a limited sense or view of what God is like or how He works or makes his presence known to us. We are finite trying to understand an infinite God without limits. Sometimes we wonder if He is there with us when our world turns upside down and a crisis or trauma occurs.
Was He the one who stood behind the chair trying to warm me with a blanket someone else brought, holding me, and speaking words of reassurance? What was their faith, their nationality, their viewpoints on dozens of things? I will never know. What I will know and never forget were their hearts and hands that cared for me so tenderly, even as God would.
As I was helped into my husband’s car by the EMT from the ambulance so he could drive me to the ambulance, the sounds of the voices who had first cared for me echoed in my heart. They kept me encouraged as I waited in the emergency room of the hospital that was full of so many others needing help on that day.
In the long hours in the emergency room, my mind tried to sort out what was wrong and how it could be fixed. Then there came the question of whether this meant my husband and I would miss the wedding in TX not many days ahead. The physician who came to examine me had a gentle voice and kind eyes and reminded me of the grandson soon to be married and months away from receiving his medical degree. What a surprise to learn this doctor had graduated from the same medical school in FL. He ordered tests of various kinds, CT scans and x-rays expecting to find broken bones and aware my lower lip was gashed deep and needed stitches.
The uncertainty about my upper front teeth remained and my husband called our dentist at home to let him know what was happening and got an appointment for the very next day if we were able to get there. The surprising result of all the scans and tests and x-rays was that nothing was broken. The physician was shocked. I had fallen hard on my face like a tree being felled. I was a grandmother with a diagnosis of osteopenia and no bones were broken.
Who were they? Who were the unseen messengers God sent to protect me from broken bones that should certainly have been the result of such a fall? Certainly, God was there, just like so many other defining moments of God’s presence our pastor had been sharing with us.
My face recognition on my phone didn’t recognize me. My wedding rings could not fit on my finger. Bruises and swelling of my face and mouth were great and my left hand and right wrist were bruised as well, but after seven hours in the emergency room I was walking to our car to spend an unplanned night in a hotel procured and provided by our son for the night before heading home, but that wasn’t the only unexpected appearance of strangers on December 27.
From the emergency room my husband had called our son and daughter who live hundreds of miles from one another and each other. He reached both as they were doing life. Our daughter and her family were in New York City and had just stepped out of a subway when the call reached her. Her family immediately gathered in a circle in the subway station without regard to anyone else and began to pray for me. As they did some of the homeless in the area slipped in behind them and began to pray as well. When they finished, one man named Isaac told them, “I heard you praying for your mom, and I had to pray too. She is going to be all right and get complete healing.”
Who was he? Who was Isaac, this man without a home, but faith? It was not what one might expect. One of our granddaughters who was in that family circle observed, “Who knows? Maybe he was an angel.” Why not? We think of angels with wings and white robes, but is that true or always the case?
I have been absent from this place where we connect with each other because of the events of December 27 as I have been recovering. That dental appointment led to an oral surgery appointment the next day to try to bring my front teeth that had been jammed into their bone sockets down into place and followed with another dental appointment the next day. That was just 5 days before we were to return to our daughter’s to fly with them to TX for that grandson’s wedding. I was in pain and looked like I had been beaten up, but prayers were many from many places. Food arrived from friends from church to feed my husband even though I was limited to broth and pudding. Our driveway was cleared of snow and ice, A friend retrieved my bloody coat, gloves and purse and cleaned them and the love kept coming.
Who were all these people who interrupted their own lives to care for me and my husband?
This story is not over. I see the oral surgeon again today to find out how my mouth is doing and determine if the splint he put in my mouth to hold the teeth he tried to pull back down has done what was needed. Yes, I dread the appointment because I am not excited about anyone touching my mouth or squeezing my bruised hand very tightly, but God…
And God knew how much the wedding in TX meant to us and He helped the swelling and bruises to diminish in days that no one could believe, and we were delighted to be sitting there in the front row at our grandson’s wedding, an unlikely option given all that happened.
Who were they? God with us in defining moments of our lives…don’t miss Him!