Every single night of my life I remember April 1, 1989. April Fools Day; the day I should have exited the earth; yet defied all the laws of gravity and medicine.
I was cold. Not unusual for me then and not unusual for me now. This was a different kind of cold though; it was a wet cold, with some warmth on one side of my body. Everybody kept asking me my name, and that was annoying me. They kept asking me stupid questions, like who the president was and what year it was. They kept telling me to “stay with them” as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I was so cold, and it was wet on the ground where I lay; and I could hear cars flying by, somewhere near me. The only part of my body that was not shivering was my left side, I had a strange feeling of warmth and stabbing pain on that side of my body. They had my head, well my whole body really, strapped to a back board and they kept waking me up; and asking the same questions over and over and over. I was annoyed; how many times did I have to tell them my name and why did it matter anyway? And why was I so cold and why couldn’t I move?
Suddenly, I became aware that I was in the back of an ambulance and the sirens I heard scared me; what happened? As I drifted in and out of consciousness I am sure I asked the same question over and over; probably as many times as they asked me if I knew my name. There was a quiet rush to get me into the trauma room and after a series of X-rays on my neck they unstrapped me from the back board. They explained to me that I had lost a lot of blood and that they had to get that under control. I was 17, barely. On the way to the Operating Room they stopped in front of the nurses station and handed me a phone. It was Gayle Dunning. Even though I was under the care of the children’s home, everybody, rightly so, thought it was right and appropriate for them to call the my foster parents and tell them what happened. I remember Gayle’s comforting voice telling me that I was going to be ok and that they were staying in touch with doctors and the home. The nurse took the phone from me and told me we needed to go to the operating room so that they could stop the bleeding.
Stop what bleeding? What happened? Suddenly, I was drifting off to sleep again; only to wake up to more nurses asking me that same question. I asked them what happened, and they told me I was involved in a car accident; one where I had been ejected from the vehicle 150 feet and landed on a guard rail. There was no question in my mind what side I landed on; my left side hurt as it felt like somebody had pierced me with a sword. I also could not move my left leg as the impact of the landing broke my hip. As the surgical drugs wore off, I began to remember more, and suddenly panicked and began asking about everybody else in the van, where they all ok?
As I fired off questions to the nurses machines began to sound alarms as my heart rate jumped and my blood pressure plummeted. Suddenly, there was more darkness, more sleep, more confusion; and lots of doctors and nurses standing over me when I became conscious again. They explained to me that everybody else was fine; most walked away without a scratch, including the driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel. One had a knee injury and another a concussion, but I, by far, was the most injured. We were in Woodbridge, VA; just 25 miles south of our final destination of Washington DC; our senior trip. They told me that I would be in the hospital there for several days. I could not walk, I could not move my left side and there were tubes everywhere on that side of my body. It hurt to breathe; and Gayle wasn’t there; Mom McGowan was rushing there from North Carolina; and I cried, not because I was in pain, but because I wanted a mom. It was scary; it was lonely; and I was very aware of how lucky I was to be alive.
I asked if I could speak to my mom. Breaking all Florida laws, they called her and let me speak to her. Since abandoning me at 15, the state had a mandated no contact order until my 18th birthday. Apparently, the hospital didn’t care; because as Gayle frequently called me and Mom McGowan rushed to me, the hospital staff realized I was not going to be ok until somebody could calm me down. Calling my mom was their last ditch effort to make that happen. I had not spoken to her since she left me. Her voice was shaky as was mine. I was heavily medicated for pain; and I only had some lucid moments; but the one I had with her that day on the phone is one that I will remember forever.
At the time of the accident, I had been at the children’s home for almost 2 years. It had become home to me; and I was well on my way to becoming a productive member of society. Kids at the home were there for various reasons. Some were there for behavioral issues, others, like me, simply did not have anybody to take care of them. The Dunning’s did what they could, but it was never meant to be a permanent solution. They knew it and so did I. While I did not have the behavioral issues some of the kids had at the home, I had needs that could only be met in an atmosphere where significant amounts of time could be invested in me. The Dunning’s had 3 children of their own and were in leadership of a thriving church. They knew they couldn’t possibly provide what I needed; and I will always be grateful to them for placing me in the home. The home (specifically Mom McGowan) did have the time and resources to pour into me; which was just love and constantly building me up–teaching me who I was–a precious daughter of the most high God. They helped me work through the 14 years of abuse and neglect that occurred before I entered the home. Mom McGowan quickly become a maternal figure in my life; and she saw something in me and whatever that was she fostered. As it would turn out, I was one of the last group of kids that Mom and Dad McGowan had direct contact with as they retired not long after I graduated from high school. So for that whole day in the hospital while she and Dad rushed to VA from North Carolina, I constantly asked to speak to Gayle and Mom McGowan. I still don’t know why I asked to speak to my biological mom; but I did and that conversation was a game changer.
The accident happened not long after spring tour. Touring the country singing in churches was an experience to be had for sure. It was difficult to not be in a constant state of revival with God; kind of like that feeling that you have when you come home from youth camp. We often got off tour fired up for things of God, and many of us giving things over to Him that we could never understand; thereby refusing to become bitter; but better because of the things that had happened to us. That particular tour was a time when some weirdo was predicting that the rapture would happen that year. Only some of you will understand this; but in those hell, fire and brimstone preaching days, we all got “saved” 2,321 times. After I understood what it actually meant to be “saved”, I began to have a heavy heart for my mom. I did not want her to spend eternity apart from me, and I wanted her to know the peace of knowing Jesus. All throughout that tour, every time we would sing one particular song (“Whatever It Takes”) I would pray and tell God that whatever it took to please help my mom get saved.
I didn’t know how or if He would answer that prayer, but on April 1, 1989, I believe He took me up on that prayer. As I held the phone to my ear my hand was shaking as much as my voice. I told her what I prayed; and what she said next is what gets me through tough days even now. “Would you put somebody on the phone that can help me know what I need to do to be saved?”. I remember literally dropping the phone. By that time, Mom McGowan made it to the hospital and she picked up the phone and led my mom to the Lord. A day I will never forget. There were not enough drugs in the western hemisphere to make me forget that day.
These days, I have to lay on my right side as my left still hurts when I lay on it. There are scars from the guard rail that remind me of that April Fools Day. It was that day that I learned that I was a fool to believe that God needed me to do anything; but yet He chose to answer my prayer and bring my mom to Him. I would love to say that life with her was perfect and redemptive after that day; it wasn’t. We had to go back to our no contact order; and my next communication with her would be months before we had to take her off of life support.
When her last day on this planet came, I remembered that April Fools Day where satan lost and Jesus won. I can’t wait to spend eternity with her; where nothing that happened on this earth will matter. A broken hip, some gashes, cuts and bruises was a small price to pay to be able to spend eternity, in perfection, with my mom; the one I always just wanted to love me. That day, she learned of Perfect Love; and I am so grateful.