The lift lowered Ethan into the pool, and I gave thanks.
Thanks that Ethan can feel the cool water all around him.
Thanks that his body can do things in the water that it can't do anywhere else.
Thanks for the lift, an undeserved and treasured gift.
As Jim eased Ethan off the chair of the lift, and they turned away to the deeper part of the pool where Ethan can kick freely, a stranger swam up to me and nodded toward Ethan.
"What happened?" he asked.
I thought to myself, "Really? Did you, a perfect stranger, just swim up to me and ask me what happened to my child?"
But the story isn't ours. It is His. So I answered.
"He had an accident nine and a half years ago."
"Oh. A car accident." the stranger said.
Before I could correct him, his children called out to him from the side of the pool. They needed him and he swam to them.
I sat down in one of the many chairs that line the pool deck and I took a deep breath.
I didn't know if the stranger's question came from a heart of compassion, or a vat of rudeness and curiosity.
While gently shaking my head as if that might bring some clarity, I prayed.
"Father, I didn't mean to mislead (Although if I had, he would have deserved it.) Our story is yours. Only you could write it. I won't let shame keep me from telling it."
I walked over to the side of the pool to dangle my feet in the water. I do that at the beginning of our pool trips. As many times as we've been, getting out the door is hectic and it's nice to just sit for a few minutes and breathe. I try to take in the beauty of the blue sky, and the faces and excitement of the children around me. I smile when I hear the young military men joking with each other while trying to win a race to the other end of the pool. The coaxing of moms and dads convincing their little ones to jump into their arms, to trust them, brings back precious memories of my own.
And I love to watch Ethan as Jim pushes him down into the water and for just a few seconds he is free. On his own. Un-held. Unrestrained by his sweet, broken body.
Just about the time I was ready to join Jim and Ethan in the middle of the pool, the stranger returned.
"So. Your son was in a car accident."
I reminded myself that I wouldn't lie or hide. Even though there was a part of me that wanted to shrug my shoulders and say yes and to be done with him.
Jesus died for our shame to be taken away. For our story to end in grace and mercy. And I chose to believe that what He did was enough.
"No. It wasn't a car accident. It was an accidental drug overdose. He was living in Gainesville and he went to a party, and his roommate found him the next day lying on the couch, unconcious.
The stranger pushed himself up to the side of the pool and sat down beside me, and our story spilled out.
Chapter by chapter.
Soon this man, whom I had never seen before, a stranger just minutes before, became my friend.
He asked questions.
We talked about his job, his family, and where he was from.
He kept turning the conversation back to Ethan.
I told him about the long days, weeks, and months in the hospital. I told him about the times when the doctors told us that Ethan wasn't going to make it. When they told us that they had done all they could do. I told him about the infections Ethan had to fight and the eighty pounds he lost. I told him about the blood clot that filled his leg and the hopelessness that filled us.
I told him how the doctors encouraged us not to bring Ethan home because we couldn't take care of his medical needs, but to put him in a nursing facility. I told him how we brought him home with no idea how we were going to care for him, and how God provided all the strength and help we needed.
Jim and Ethan looked toward us. Maybe it's the being together 24/7, but we have this ability to read each other's faces. Their faces were asking me if I needed rescuing from the long conversation. I nodded that I was okay.
He continued to ask questions, and I continued with the story.
I told him about the day when the doctors finally agreed to write an order for physical therapy, and how God provided one to come to the house. I told him how on that first visit she showed us how to transfer Ethan to a wheelchair, and how she encouraged us to take him outside for sunshine and fresh air.
I told him how on that beautiful spring day, four and a half months after receiving the call that crushed our hearts and our lives, Ethan responded to a question asked by his brother.
I told him about that brother, how he stayed by Ethan's side for a year and then went to law school, how he and his broken heart had pushed through all the pain, and how he had graduated in the top of his class.
He wanted to know how we continue to care for Ethan. He said that it must be so incredibly hard. Emotionally and physically.
I told him that it has been harder than we ever could have imagined. But that each day we just put one foot in front of the other, and trust God with each step.
He told me that he thought Ethan might have been a wounded veteran, and that he had a heart for them. He started to tell me why, but his voice choked and without looking into his face I knew that there were tears in his eyes. I told him my dad was a WWII veteran, and about the Honor Flight he was able to take just months before he passed away.
I realized his initial question about what had happened to Ethan, though asked without much tact, didn't come from rudeness or curiosity, but from a heart I now know was filled with compassion.
But to tell you the truth, at that point, it really didn't matter.
He had become my friend. And friends give each other passes and forgiveness.
After about 45 minutes, his children started to fuss with one another. He got up from the side of the pool and said he better get them home. I told him that I really needed to spend some time with Ethan. That he is disappointed when I don't get in the pool and swim beside him.
We said good-bye, and went our separate ways.
Jim and Ethan had a million questions. Who was he? What were you talking about? Was it awkward?
All I could say was that it was okay.
Later that afternoon, I kept thinking about the stranger.
I asked God if I had been honest with him. Had I been bold enough in my faith? Was He pleased with my words, the way I had shared His story?
I remembered that the man told me his age, and I thought it interesting that he was exactly half way between my age and Ethan's. I asked God if that meant something.
I felt a sense of unease. Maybe the man needed something that I couldn't give him. Maybe he needed to hear something I didn't say.
And in the middle of my doubts and unease I heard a voice within me say, "Maybe you weren't there for the man. Maybe he was there for you."
And I knew it was true.
God had sent the man to me to give me an opportunity to tell our story. To recall what He had done for us. To remember how He had been our strength and our provision and portion during those incredibly hard days, when the first chapter of this story was being written and how He had been faithful everyday since.
God had given me the opportunity to recall the benefits of His love and grace and mercy.
It all made sense.
What I didn't share at the beginning of this story is that earlier that morning, our lives had been rocked with some hard news. Life doesn't stop when part of it falls apart. We are broken people, and we live in a broken world, and there are cracks and fissures all around. Sometimes they continue to grow wider and deeper. So wide and deep you don't think there is a safe place to stand or walk.
I had gone to the pool feeling like I was being swallowed-up by and lost in that deep crack.
I had prayed when the news came that day. I had asked God to help me keep my eyes on Him, and on His faithfulness, and on His love for me and my family, and now I knew He had answered my prayer.
God answered my prayer by sending me a stranger. A stranger that boldly approached me and wouldn't go away until I told him our story.
As they headed into the Promised Land without him, Moses told the people he had led and loved for forty years to pause and remember. To remember what God had done for them. He told them no less than 14 times, as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, to remember the faithfulness of God.
He told them, because he knew life was going to be hard, that there would be enemies that would try to destroy them and that their survival would depend on their devotion and dependence upon God. Moses told them to remember, because he knew that the cracks and fissures of a broken world were waiting to discourage them and to rob them of their faith.
I left the pool that day ready to once again walk, with strength and confidence, another day in my Promised Land.
The cracks and fissures will always be there. Ready to swallow me whole. But God has walked before me and prepared me a safe path.
Oh yes, it is true.
Our faith in God grows when we remember His faithfulness.
When we recall all of the benefits of our Father, who loves us fiercely and recklessly through His Son Jesus Christ.
Let my soul bless His Holy name,
as I forget not all of His benefits.