The Road to the Church
Preached at Sunset Canyon Baptist Church on 5/22/11
The Road to the Church
By David E. Little
Before I get started, I wanted to say a couple of things. It’s been a long five or six years for me and my family. From my deployment to Iraq and combat in 2005, a stroke and its aftermath in 2008, and a fire that destroyed our home in 2010, the walk that my family has been on hasn’t been an easy one. But from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each and every one of you for praying for me and my family. There have been times where God’s hand was in the form of your generosity – whether in clothes, food, manly labor, friends to lean on, picking up the pieces after the difficulties we’ve been through – there are so many things that our brothers and sisters in Christ have done for us. It’s proof – as if there is a need for it – that God is here – right here – and walking with us step by step. Our cup runneth over from the blessings you give us, and I thank you.
Father God, thank you for this day, where we can worship you because you have provided a place for us, in these United States, to praise you and celebrate Your presence in our lowly lives. I pray that you will be with us each day, and that you will be with Lonny and Deaane on their Sabbatical, and that you will bring us back together, both the better for it. I pray that through me, my words may become your words and that the body will be lifted up by them. I thank you for your love of me and my family, and how you have shown that so often by their generous hearts. I pray it all in the wondrous name of Jesus. Amen.
I don’t suppose you remember the morning of January 8, 2008, more than any other morning. It was just like any other morning in Central Texas. It was January, but the occasional three-day winter freeze that happens about eight or nine times between December and February was on a hiatus, so it’s 40’s-50’s in the morning and 50’s-60’s on the afternoon. I got up early enough to take Sam, my oldest son and Ashley, my oldest daughter, to school at 0745.
I had planned on going to work after I dropped off the kids at Dripping Springs Elementary School, and was looking forward to the forty minute drive into Austin where my firm is located. I had just come back from Laity Lodge, in a beautiful area south of Austin near Kerrville, and had a really enjoyable time with Christian men from all over Texas. The Lodge is in the Canyon along the Frio River, and a more beautiful country landscape has not been seen by these earthly eyes. I had just been up to the top of the Canyon, Circle Bluff, with several friends on a run – and just to stand there in absolute wonder is pretty awe inspiring - especially in contrast to the six months I spent in Iraq.
I dropped off the kids and gave them goodbye kisses, and as I started back up the Highway, my peripheral vision kind of spaced out on me - kind of like you have when you focus on something in front of you for too long. It was not a big deal, just felt kind of odd, so I decided to go home, where I took it easy for a while, spent some time with Amy, and then went to the office.
While I was at the office – I’m an attorney who did civil litigation, so there’s nothing really going on during the end of the calendar year and the first part of the New Year – I asked my nurse to look at me and see if something was wrong. There was nothing that she saw, so I left it as Cedar Fever or an oddity in an otherwise normal day, and went on about my business. Somebody told my Dad, later, that it’s just like “a Marine to confuse a stroke with Cedar Fever.”
I had to stay late at work because I pick up Ashley at the Dance Company at 7:00, and so, around 6:15 I headed home - little did I know that this would be the last time I’d be in my truck for four months, or that turning on the radio, starting the car, or just about anything with my right hand – this would be the final time for all of that. I got into my truck and headed off towards home. My drive home was filled with Christian music, and I sang along at the top of my lungs down the highway!
I picked Ashley up on time (part of my Marine habit is that I try to be on time or early to meetings), and after saying hello to parents and members of her dance team, we were on our way. Since she was seven at the time, she sat in the middle of the back seat, without a booster.
Of course I’m proud of all my kids! But my “attaboy” here is that Ashley and Sarah are a wonder to watch when they dance!
Now, for those of you who drive 290, you recall that it’s about two miles down Hwy 290 to Fitzhugh - the road on which we lived – and will live when our house gets built after the fire - so I called Amy to see if we should pick up food (chow, as we call it in the Marine Corps) or whether she’d have something at home for us. As fate (read - God) would have it, she did not have anything prepared, and so we decided to go to Taco Bell – which is in Drippin’ - so rather than turn on Fitzhugh Road, I continued down Hwy 290 to town.
We had just gotten past Fitzhugh when something happened to my right arm. It just quit doing what my brain was telling it to do (which is an interesting feeling). At the time, I was on the phone with Amy, and my voice started to slur (although I didn’t know it then), because she couldn’t understand what I was saying. The phone finally dropped to the truck floor because my brain was no longer controlling my right hand.
Then everything seemed like it was going in slow motion. I could hear Amy talking but could not make sense of it in my head. I could see Ashley through the mirror to the rear, and all I remember was to do anything I could do to keep us on the road until this episode passed, or I could find a place to pull over. (I know you’re thinking he’s had a stroke, but at the time, I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me). I know that Ashley – how, I’ll never know but she has a good head on her shoulders, her mom was on the phone talking to her to calm her down, and God was in the truck with us – somehow stayed still as I fought the demons of my body to stay on the road and save her.
I stayed on the road for maybe a mile more, and the road and everything else getting closer and closer together in my vision, and then I was out – no awareness except I still wanted to save Ashley. I think it was between Nutty Brown Road and Heritage West that I lost all awareness. Funny thing (or not so funny, depending on how you look at it) is I was still on the road, doing 65, and headed towards something. That something, thank our Father God, was this place, Sunset Canyon Baptist Church (two or three miles down the road).
Somehow, I traveled down 290 for two or three miles, pulled into the church parking lot, picked out a parking place, parked in between the two lines (perfectly, mind you), and hit the emergency brake (because my right foot was not participating with my brain, either). I’m here to tell you - that wasn’t me that did all that. I was out. It was God who did that, pure and simple. And I thank him as often as I think of it for Ashley’s life, for without him, who knows where we’d be?
At the church, there was a committee meeting, so some people came out and helped, including a trained Emergency Medical Technician. And the ambulances and other people who were racing down 290 to find me – finally did. They took me to South Austin Hospital, where eventually they discovered that I’d had a stroke.
I think about that night and God’s tangible presence in my life, and a number of miracles come to mind:
God took the wheel, guided us to the church, and had my vehicle stop;
God allowed Amy, who was eight months pregnant, to calm down, stay on the phone with Ashley, and call 911;
God helped Ashley through it, and made her talk to my wife;
God had something going on at the church that night, including having a trained EMT there;
There are more miracles, like the fact that I decided to stay on 290 rather than go down Fitzhugh Road – which is kind of curvy, and has two creeks on it, and more miracles at the hospital – but we’ll stick with these four for today.
God took the wheel;
He took control. I was not alone with Ashley in the truck. He was there. We often think that we’re in control, as I was controlling the vehicle that night, but we’re not. What we are is alone. Alone and without God.
For me, the chink in my armor was the stroke. I hope yours is less painful that mine. But, for a lot of us, it takes stripping away the props that we rely on to make it through life on our own. It seems like, for most of us, that we have to fall so low, to surrender to Christ, for God to be fully in our lives. It’s when you let your guard down, let God take control, when Miracles happen.
He guided us to the church;
God takes us places. Wherever you are God has put you there or allowed you to go there.
Jonah 1:17 “But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”
We think of Jonah, and being in the belly of that great fish, and say, boy, he must have done some awful things to be in there! And while it’s true that he did some awful things – that is, he ran from the Lord (in the other direction across the sea to Tarshish) when He called him to go to Nineveh – God sent the fish to swallow him up to SAVE him. Because the men threw him overboard to save their ship (Jonah told them to) in the middle of the sea.
God takes us places to serve Him, and to build us up (or break us down). Either way, it’s for our good or someone else’s. I don’t know why He decided to save me and Ashley. I’ll get to ask Him some day. But I’m grateful. Grateful that He reached down and took the wheel and grateful that Ashley is here to listen to my story. And I’m grateful for that Miracle in my life.
He had my vehicle stop, straight in a parking place, and put the parking brake on (though it was still in drive).
Was there an angel in the car with me on January 8, 2008. I don’t think so in visible terms. Ask Ashley, but I don’t think she saw one. But someone (God) came down and guided the car to that place in the church parking lot and parked it. And by the way, something has me parking any way but the right way now, and it didn’t used to be that way! How I could have done that with a stroke mangled body is stranger than saying God did it!
God allowed Amy, who was eight months pregnant, to calm down, stay on the phone with Ashley, and call 911;
I stand here and can’t even imagine what is going on in Amy’s mind as she listens to me slurring my words. She’s carrying our fourth child, Jacob, and she has one of her kids – little Ashley - in a car barreling down 290, and a husband that made it through Iraq and the countless nights she was up and worried about him then, only to have it all come crumbling down now! How she stayed on the phone, kept talking to Ashley to calm her down, and called 911 is amazing! Wondrous! With all the hormones rushing through her body during the eighth month of her pregnancy with Jacob, plus the added stressors of that night, the strength that is in her makes her awe-inspiring! To say nothing of the strength in the days, weeks, and months into the future!
He helped Ashley through it, and made her talk to my wife;
Children – Even before we love them, God loves them. And He creates and sustains them. There are things we can teach them, and then others that they have to learn themselves (Just as we did). We parents have a duty to raise our children in the Lord. Proverbs 22:6 says “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” But we have to let God do the real work in their lives. And some of that is painful for us to see, but necessary for them to grow in the Lord.
Ashley. Funny thing was that all I could think about that night was saving her. But it was Ashley, and Amy, who saved me.
He had something going on at the church that night, including having a trained EMT there;
God does a good bit of His work through us - the Body of Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:27 that we are all one. “Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you has a part of it.”
Jesus chose twelve disciples to be with him for three years, and eleven to carry on His ministry when He ascended to heaven. We need friends. In church, in times of crises. The Body of Christ reaches out to people – like me and my family – and carries them through. No matter who you are, you are a person who loves the Lord and loved us through the last five years. You are the body of Christ. And I know it because me and my family have felt God’s love through you.
There are other miracles that I could talk through with you. Miracles that I can see – maybe not daily, but every once in a while miracles just happen and there’s nothing you can do but give glory to God that it happened and you were there to witness it.
When I think of the stroke (or the fire) it would be easy to get down. But the Bible in Romans 8:28 says “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.” I know that God brings good even out of the darkest days of my life. And in me, or in others, good comes out of it. So just get up, dust off your pack, and press on.
And there is another verse that strengthens me. It’s in 1 Corinthians 10:13, and says in the NASB that “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and)God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
I believe that God was in this, is in this, and is with me now. That is the only way I am able to withstand it and endure it – because of my faith in Him. I know this because it’s God promise to all of us.
So for you, where does God have you, at this moment? Are you in the middle of the struggle, about to get into it, or think you are just past it? I’m convinced that God wants us to know that He works all things together for good, and would never allow something that you cannot withstand – with God at the wheel. Do you believe it? I do! Then go out and walk it!
Father God, thank you for your kingdom. For your wondrous ways that we can only get a glimpse of down here on the Earth. Thank you that you gave your only begotten son to create a bridge for us to come to you. And thank you for the miracles that we can see, every day, with spiritual eyes. Go with us, empower us, to live the life that you called us to. In Jesus name, Amen.