16 Pentecost Proper 18: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, September 9, 2018
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
The doctors said that at best if he survived, he would remain in a vegetative state. The family was devastated. Chance was only 18 years old. He had just graduated from high school and was supposed to be getting ready to go to college. He had a beautiful girlfriend, lots of friends, a loving family, and a future filled with dreams. He should not have been laying in a bed in the ICU in a coma.
Two weeks earlier, Chance was helping his stepfather clean the pool. It was a hot, June day in Texas. Chance was feeling dehydrated and guzzled down a Monster Energy drink. Within minutes, his behavior became erratic; he appeared to being having a seizure, and possibly a stroke.
In fact, Chance was having a heat stroke and was rushed to the hospital where he slipped into a coma. Over the next 24 hours his family stood by helplessly as his blood clotted and bled out at the same time, his kidneys and liver stopped functioning, and his body temperature steadily fell as his brain was unable to regulate it. He stabilized enough to begin dialysis and have a trach replace his oxygen tube—but his internal organs continued to shut down one by one. The outlook was not good.
On the ambulance ride to the hospital, somehow the first responders got Chance’s name wrong. So the hospital identified him as “Delta male” and had ordered blood and tests under that name and thus had to leave him under that name even after he was moved into his own room in the ICU.
His mother wanted the doctors, nurses, and other attendants to know his name, to know that he was a person with hopes and aspirations and not just a patient. She wanted only positive comments and energy in his room—she did not want the doctors coming in and saying anything negative that Chance might hear. And she wanted a verse of scripture that was encouraging and hopeful and that everyone would see as they came in to Chance’s room. So they made a sign, two actually—one for on the door and one in the room. And then she told everyone to stop framing their prayers for healing as intercessional prayer and start praising God for the healing he would bestow on Chance. Her sister started sending out “Praise Updates” on Facebook and the Caring Bridge Network.
His mother was hopeful. His family was hopeful. His friends were hopeful. Even total strangers were hopeful and offering praise to God for the healing of Chance. But Chance wasn’t getting any better.
In the first few days there were a few good signs—he seemed to respond to pain, the bleeding had stopped, he squeezed his girlfriend’s hand, he even opened his eyes and started blinking. But that was all the improvement he seemed to make and the doctors believed his brain to be too damaged to recover any further. They did not think he would ever be able to regulate his body temperature and noted that his organs were continuing to shut down. How wrong they were.
Chance’s mom, Angela, was not going to allow anyone to give up on her son. She began reaching out to others to see if there was a better hospital in the area that specialized in neurological care. She quickly found a hospital in Dallas, UT Southwestern and made arrangements for his transfer. The doctors were concerned he would not survive the move, but he did. They began to run test after test on him and discovered that the parts of his brain that were thought to have been irreparably damaged were beginning to heal. They offered the family some cautious hope. His kidneys and liver began to function again—not fully, but it was a start. His body started regulating its temperature. He began responding to family and friends when they entered his room—turning his head and making eye contact. His lung function began to improve.
He still couldn’t swallow but he started smiling. Then one day his grandfather walked into the room and Chance was sitting up on the side of the bed. A month after he had transferred hospitals, his girlfriend was allowed to wheel him outside for the first time. He still couldn’t talk or eat on his own—but he was improving quickly with physical therapy and occupational therapy everyday. He could move his arms all around and wrinkled his nose when he didn’t like something. He started working on writing his name and could get the “C” and the “h” on paper. He was soon out of the ICU and in a regular room.
The doctors told the family he would make a relatively full recovery but they were concerned that he would not be able to form new memories. He would remember them and events before the fateful day, but he would have a hard time with his short-term memory going forward. They didn’t think he would lose all of his short-term memory, but they weren’t sure as they normally saw the damage to be a lot more or a lot less. The family was ecstatic. Chance had been given a second chance. His healing was nothing short of a miracle. He spent the next seven weeks in the hospital—his liver and lungs improved, his kidney function reached 35% and the doctors think that with time it will get even better, he passed his swallowing test and told his mom the first thing he wanted to eat when he got out of the hospital was a pepperoni pizza.
He started walking with a walker and then without one. He still has some trouble with balance and motor skill functions but now that he is home he goes to physical and occupational therapy five days a week, six hours a day. Three months earlier, Chance had been given no chance other than that of a vegetable. Instead of making him comfortable to finish out his days, his family and friends and even complete strangers like you and me began praying for him and praising God for his recovery. Chance is my cousin, and you have known him these last three months as a name on our prayer list—Chance Pickett. God is good, all the time.
I tell this story not just to brag on God, but to remind us that miracles happen and when they do—when healing happens in any number of the ways that it does happen—our response is to give God the glory; to shout it out from the roof tops, “ephphatha”! Be open! Be open to the glory of God. Be open like the deaf man in Decapolis and release your tongue so that you too sing praises, proclaiming as Isaiah did, “Be strong and do not fear…He will come and save you.” The Syrophoenician woman did not doubt, instead she proclaimed her belief in Jesus recognizing the power and possibility when one is standing in the presence of the Kingdom. She didn’t mind humiliating herself, lessening herself to the status of a dog, to proclaim the greatness of God and experience his mercy and healing presence in her life and the life of her daughter.
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy…”. Isaiah is proclaiming the day when the Messiah will come, the day when the Kingdom of God is made incarnate in the world. Isaiah knows that even when all seems lost and the great judgment has come, renewal will follow. Proclaim the glory of God, proclaim that his mercies will live forever, proclaim the Good News that we are saved and not just in the life to come—but now, in this world where the Kingdom of God has already come near, where it blurs the line between the heavenly and the earthly realms in Decapolis and Tyre and Dallas, Texas.
That sign my cousin was so insistent hang in Chance’s room did have a verse of scripture on it. It was Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Proclaim the glory of God in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, at all the times you can because God is good, all the time. Amen.