In Gordon MacDonlad’s book Building Below the Waterline he talks about getting that 3.A.M. phone call as a pastor. In thinking about that, it caused me to think of a pretty personal story about my own 3.A.M. phone call. This phone call has changed me for life in a positive way even in the midst of tragedy.
Many years ago I was leading a small group in my home and a new couple from the church came the first night of a new group. They had a 5 year old son and an 11 month old daughter. A couple days after that first meeting in our home I got word that the 11 month old was very ill and in the hospital. So when I heard that, I went to the hospital to find that the baby was being transferred to John Hopkins. I saw the mom long enough to pray a very quick prayer and told her I would meet her at Hopkins. I got to Hopkins and once they finally got the baby stabilized I got to go in the room and talk with and pray with the parents. There was, as you can imagine, a whole bunch of family members showing up at the hospital. I stayed with them late into the evening and then we found out for sure what the diagnosis was – it was spinal meningitis.
With that diagnosis and the way things were headed, it was looking bad. I made the decision with the encouragement of the parents to head home and as I did I was in pain for these parents. The next morning I went to the church and picked up another pastor and we went and spent the day with the family. We were there when someone came out and told them that Dr. Ben Carson was coming to see about putting a shunt in to relieve the pressure on the brain on the little girl. We all knew that things were looking very bad but there was a sense of hope and possibly that things could be okay over time.
We were told the that the surgery was starting and then we saw Dr. Carson not long after the surgery was to have taken place leave. It was not a good sign. I and the other pastor had just finished praying with the family when they came out and told the parents that they were to come back to a conference room that a couple of doctors wanted to talk with them. To my and the other pastor’s surprise the husband and wife asked us to go back with them to talk with the doctor. It was us, the parents,and their parents waiting for the doctors to come in and talk and from my past experience, this was not good at all. Then two young doctors came in the room with stern looks on their faces – a male and female came in. Their faces soften and with tears in their eyes and as gentle as possible they told the parents that the surgery was cut short by Dr. Carson because the baby was brain dead. The pressure that built in here brain caused her to have seizures and then a stroke – she would not live much longer.
It was one of the most painful moments for those parents and I had no idea what to say. A lesson I had learned in a tragedy of a child dying not too long before this was that when I do know what to say, I simply say nothing. I hugged them and cried with them and when the time was right prayed with them and their entire family.
The baby, although she was brain dead, was still living. The doctors had gently described to the parents that she would slowly get weaker and weaker and eventually pass away. We stayed with the parents and whole family for several hours more when the parents did one of the most unselfish things. This was when they pulled us aside, they told us that we needed to leave. They said, “you two have young families, go home, hug your kids and be with them and when we need you, we will call”. I told them to call me no matter the hour – that we would be there for them. At 3 o’clock that morning – which was about 5 hours later – I got a call asking me to come back to the hospital that the baby was not expected to last much longer. I called the other pastors and the three of us drove down to Hopkiins.
We got there and the baby was in a large bay that the hospital had moved all the other children out of. The baby was hooked up to all kind of monitors and so forth. Then in her sensitive way, the mother asked if the baby could be unhooked from everything so that she could hold her one last time. The doctors and nurses were so great and they unhooked the baby and allowed the mom to hold the baby. The whole family gathered in the room and she sat in a rocking chair and we all sang children’s songs. We sang “Jesus Loves Me” for the second time and when we finished the Doctor who was in the room with us looked at the mom with tears in his eyes and said, “she is gone”. It was painful and beautiful all at the same time. The parents then asked all three of us pastors in the room to pray with them. We did and later we left changed by all that had happened.
Sometimes shepherding a flock can be painful. Sometimes shepherding a flock you will have no words but you just need to be there with them. Sometimes the 3.A.M. phone call is just as life changing for you as it is for the one making the call. I can honestly say that I have been changed for the positive by this experience.
Have you ever got a 3A.M. phone call? Have did you respond to it?
This post is a part of the blogging on the book Building Below the Waterline by Gordon MacDonald with two of the best bloggers out there – Bill Grandi from Cycleguy’s Spin and Michael Perkins from The Handwritten . We are sharing each Wednesday our thoughts from 2 chapters, which means you will be able to see how God will l speak to us as individuals and then you if you read all three blogs you will see how God then weaves what we write all together. I pray your are encouraged by the blogs.