For the Jews – about 3330 years ago – God performed a miracle that showed his power and would forever define their family and mark His plan. It was Passover and Jews mark that divine intervention each year.
For the Shanks – 25 years ago – God performed a miracle that showed his power and would forever define our family. It was our accident in Colorado, and August 3 is an annual remembrance.
It was my second year as senior pastor at a large church in California. We were enjoying my summer break at our place in the Colorado Rockies; our daughters were 19 and 15. My plan: dinner in a historic mining town about 60 minutes away. Our Ford Explorer – factory-equipped with Firestone tires – was just a year old, and the graded dirt road had a late-summer washboard surface. My plan wasn’t God’s plan…
I have no memory of the accident, but Cheri and the girls cannot forget: we were going about 30 – on a flat S-curve – when the SUV went out of control. It rolled about six times before landing upright – roof flattened, windows all gone, car totaled – and the dust settled. They were still strapped-in and okay; my seat belt had released and I was ejected. They found me in the dirt about 75 feet away.
I was unconscious and not breathing; Cheri performed CPR and revived me. The girls ran to call for help at a ranch about a mile away. It was an hour before the off-duty, rural fireman arrived; another hour passed before the Flight for Life helicopter landed for my evac. Three hours after the incident, I was offloaded on the roof of St Anthony’s Hospital in Denver… and the odds weren’t good.
The massive concussion was the life-threatening issue; prayer – across the country – was huge; God was gracious toward us all. I spent eight days in Intensive Care; finally released with this dark prognosis: “We don’t know if your mental edge or memory will return.”
In intensive care, my orthopedic issues were undetected and untreated by the neurologists on my crisis team: broken femur, pelvis and ribs; two Grade-III shoulder separations that remain today. My family’s experience: four days of “will he live?” followed by weeks of “will he be Bob again?”
Traumatic brain injury does its thing; the effects can remain long after people forget about the incident that caused it. I knew who I was before the accident; who would I be after?
Three life-impacting lessons from that game-changing experience are still with me, today; let me share them with you as my family remembers God’s graciousness to us on that August evening:
Often, our plans are not His plan. We were on vacation, heading for dinner; I had just turned 40, and wasn’t yet at Halftime. Discovery: life can change course – or, end – at any time, without warning or consent. Ready or not, you may be in the midst of the final act of your personal story… or, it may be just a chapter that is wrapping up, with another taking its place. Be ready…
Pain can be a liability, or an asset. Make it an asset. My memory starts-up again, about 10 days after the accident… and every waking moment since has been marked by chronic pain – in both shoulders. Pain speaks constantly; some activities make pain scream. “Thorn in the flesh;” I get that. Pain either preoccupies me… or I relegate it to the background of my consciousness and engage something more important. I’ve learned that, through pain: focus – constantly – on something bigger…
Disconnect identity from entity. Leaders can become their enterprise… and lose themselves in their assignment. If I could not return to my position after the accident, was my calling finished? From my recovery months, a vision for the church became clear to me… which I set in motion when I regained my capacity. Back to Lesson #1: Often, our plans are not His plan. I left the church 24 months after the accident. My vision for the church was accomplished without me after I left to pursue another vision which became The Master’s Program.
Every year, the Jews relive the Passover; every year, the Shanks relive the Accident…