Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back in a Tent

This last weekend, I slept in a tent for the first time since I was shot. As you might guess, sleeping in a tent again made me think about everything that went down last summer. Many people have asked me what I learned, how I've been affected, or what's changed as a result of being shot. It's been hard to give answers because of how many different and interconnected answers there are to those questions. In this one post, I am going to attempt to answer all those questions in no particular order, so buckle in. It's a short novel.

1. Awesome People - Firstly, in everything that happened, I was so encouraged by the reaction of the body of Christ: my brothers and sisters. From the very start Ross was there. Night and day, he was there. There's a good chance I would've died if Ross wasn't on top of things that night and didn't get me to a good hospital when the 1st one didn't even have a real doctor working. In the next couple weeks, Ross was a stud (as usual). He had to deal with every bodily fluid you could imagine, plus get woken up by me repeatedly in the middle of the night. On top of all that, he was my bouncer, interpreter, doctor, closest of friends and tons of other things. Right behind Ross were tons of Christians in Ecuador. There were people from the church we had gone to the night before that would come to visit me almost every day. Eduardo came twice a day usually. There were other Christians I had never met who brought us things like flip flops, cells phones, food and money, gave us rides to places and interpreted for us. There must of been at least 50 Ecuadorians who visited me in the hospital. My parents dropped everything and made it to Ecuador a few days after I was shot. That's pretty impressive considering my dad was all the way in Africa at the time. Their presence was so encouraging and their attempts at communication in Spanish were entertaining to say the least. Also, I was so blessed to have them get me back to the U.S. and continue taking care of me. When I got back to Texas, my family was awesome (not that they weren't before and don't continue to be still). My sister, brother and aunt Sara took turns staying with me in the hospital. They picked up where Ross left off. They all got a chance to read to me as I would inevitably fall asleep several times requiring them to go back a few pages each time and reread. My mom and dad went back to work but still came to the hospital for several hours a day. Sara got to deal with me for a couple months after that back at our parents' house. She took such good care of me, walked me at the mall and drove me all over the metroplex. I also had some awesome doctors who not only worked to heal my body, but prayed for my well being. Next came the thousands and thousands of Christians who prayed, visited, hugged, sent cards, gave money and made food. Their response, both in quantity and quality, was shocking. I expected my friends, relatives and a few people from church to visit and send cards. Instead, I received dozens of visitors, 100's of cards, 1000's of dollars and 10,000's of prayers, if not more. It was amazing. I saw first hand how powerful and mobile Christ's body can be when called to action and united in purpose. It is incredible to have 1000's and 1000's of people caring about and fighting for your life, many of whom have never met you. So, thanks to each one of you. I feel like God gave me a peak into what He sees everyday from His children and into what He desires for his church to be doing daily. Huge blessing.

2. I Had It Coming - I don't mean that in a I-was-bad-so-I-should-have-been-punished kind of way. What I mean by that is that God had been hinting that some kind of persecution was waiting for me in Ecuador. In one of the blogs I wrote shortly before I left, I indirectly talked about that. Of course, I hardly expected to be shot. Who grows up in suburban America and really expects to ever be shot? I was picturing something more like people not being my friend or getting a bloody nose. I see being shot as a spiritual attack more than anything. It shouldn't surprise us that when we do follow God, we become Satan's target. As a result, I haven't had a hard time coping with the fact that God allowed me to be shot while on a trip to serve Him. I'd even say I was joyful about it at times. Those verses about rejoicing in suffering and enduring trials are real, though I know it can sometimes be extremely difficult to rejoice in the midst of suffering.

3. Not Gun-Shy - I'm surprised and thankful that being shot hasn't caused me to be fearful. Quite the opposite actually. For instance, when I was in a wreck spinning out of control last month, it just didn't phase me at all. I jokingly told a few people that when you've been shot, a car wreck just isn't that big of a deal. I just can't get my kicks pulling 180's and running into trucks anymore. In a real way, getting shot has freed me. My perspective on pain and suffering has been a bit tweaked. Related to that, I have no apprehension in going back to Ecuador. For the sake of people who care about me, I probably wouldn't stay in a tent again. I wouldn't want to cause them unneeded worry.

4. No White Picket Fence - When I saw a flash, heard a bang and the tent stopped shaking, the first thing that went through my head was, "did I really just get shot?" It wasn't panic or fear, but disbelief. I suspect this is somewhat normal even for those who live in dangerous places or fight in wars and know their life is on the line. Days, weeks and months after it happened, I would still have moments when getting shot didn't seem real. I'd look down at my scars to make sure it wasn't just a vivid dream I had woken up from. This might be normal, too, but it made me think about the paradigm I grew up in that still shapes how I view the world. I don't know whether everyone explicitly said it or it was just something implied by people around me, but my expectations for life were pretty simple. Growing up I thought I'd go to college, get married around graduation, get a normal 8 to 5 desk job, work my way up, buy a house, have a few kids, coach little league, go to church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays, be a deacon and then an elder, rarely leave Texas, except on the occasional mission trip somewhere in the contiguous 48, raise my kids to do the exact same thing, retire and die. Up until my junior year in college, I still believed that's where my life was headed. My girlfriend at the time and I even decided we should break up, because she wanted to travel all over the place and do missionary-type stuff, and I knew I'd never do that... So you're probably all laughing now. I had no clue. The life I just described is a great life. That's exactly what a lot of people were made to do. But, I've come to the realization that my life will look almost nothing like I thought it would 4 short years ago. Suffice it to say, getting shot was the final nail in that coffin. I've given up on trying to predict my life anymore. All I've got to go on is what God lets me in on.

5. Did I Think I Was Going To Die? - This has perhaps been the most asked question. The answer is "kind of." I really didn't think about it right off. I lied in the tent bleeding for 30 minutes without it crossing my mind. It wasn't until I was getting carried to the ambulance on a stretcher that I realized I might die that very night. What a weird thought to have... well, not considering the circumstances, but in general. The surge of panic only lasted for a moment and then I felt God saying something to the effect of, "I'm not done with you yet" and peace washed over me. From then on, I didn't think I would die again. I sure came pretty close though.

6. What Was God Up To? - More than anything, I felt protected by Him. That sounds pretty backwards, but it's the truth. Any of a dozen variables could have changed and I wouldn't be writing this blog right now. For starters, the way we set our tent up was strange. It was so awkward, we almost moved it. I'm convinced the banditos couldn't figure out where the door to the tent was, because it was between 2 small banana trees. Who knows what would've happened if they had got into the tent while we were still asleep? Second, where the bullet went in was like hitting a bull's eye. If it had been a 1/4 of an inch in any direction, I probably wouldn't have made it to the hospital alive. Third, if Ross didn't know what was going on, who knows what would've happened in the first, poorly-staffed hospital we didn't end up staying at? Also, after 9 or 10 days, the doctor had decided he was going to do a colostomy if my white blood cell count didn't go down to a certain level by the next day. Thankfully, it did and I didn't have one. Months later, when I was having a follow up visit with one of my doctors, she told us how impressed the surgeons were with how bad I was when they operated. Serious nasty infection. We asked her what would have happened if I'd had a colostomy in Ecuador, and she said that would have sent the infection out of control. Seeing all of that gives me confidence that God was protecting me from death each step of the way. 6b. The second part of what I think God was doing is a little harder to communicate. I guess I feel like my trip to Ecuador and getting shot was an initiation into a new stage/season in life. In other words, I feel like that was something that needed to happen so I would be prepared to do the work God has prepared for me in the future. The details of said future are fuzzy at best. If getting shot on a mission trip in a foreign country is a starting point for something, that could mean a myriad of different life directions. I could guess what those are, but that would be a whole other post. In whatever happens, I'm confident that God is straightening my paths by whatever means necessary.

7. New Insights - Another big outcome of this is my new understanding of what people who are dealing with tragedy and suffering are going through. Previously, I had no clue what it felt like and how people would react to you. It was so interesting to see how people I didn't know felt intimately involved in my life and would come hug me and ask me all kinds of questions. Conversely, some others, even among people I know well, just didn't know what to do or say, so they didn't do or say anything. I definitely have a new spot in my heart for people in hospitals and for people who are dealing with a long term illness. I had no idea before.

I'm not thinking of anything else to say right now, but I'm sure there's more. If anyone has any other/similar insights they'd like to share with me, I'd love to hear them. All in all, I feel strangely blessed to have gone through all that and thankful for all the people who have been along my side throughout the journey.

(I eagerly await the day that I get to play 2 truths and a lie with people who don't know me. No one will ever guess getting shot in Latin America is one of my truths.)