I was among those who received an email message asking me to pray for the outstanding Christian author Philip Yancey. He was in a serious auto accident on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007, in New Mexico. Driving home to Denver after speaking in Los Alamos, his Ford Explorer rolled several times when he entered a curve with too much speed. He was able to walk away, but had intense pain in his neck. When an ambulance arrived, he was strapped down with his head immobilized. After a long drive to Alamosa where no radiologist was on duty, images were modemed to Australia where it was Monday, a normal work day. Bad news eventually came back. He had broken his C-3 vertebra. No, he had pulverized it, but not in the spinal cord column, thankfully. The real question was whether a bone fragment had nicked or penetrated an artery which could be life-threatening. So, another MRI with iodine dye solution and another long wait while strapped to the body board for 7 hours total.
Here’s how he described that wait. “I had plenty of time to think. Evidently I had narrowly missed becoming paraplegic or quadriplegic–my break was about one-half inch from the spinal cord. However, if my artery was leaking, an artery that feeds the brain, or if it threw a clot, well, a fate worse than paralysis awaited me. I stayed calm throughout…And as I lay there, contemplating what I had just been teaching in Los Alamos about prayer, and facing the imminent possibility of death for the first time, I felt very peaceful…I looked back on my life and felt no regrets…as I thought of what may await me, I felt a feeling of great trust. No one raised in the kind of church environment I grew up in totally leaves behind the acrid smell of fire and brimstone, but I felt an overwhelming sense of trust in God. I have come to know a God of compassion and mercy and love.”
The New Testament reminds us, “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
A letter I mailed to one of our younger CTLA members was returned to me about the same time. On the outside was scribbled one word, “Deceased.” I have to assume the words of James were amazingly accurate for that Christian brother. Did he have a warning that death was near? Did he have the time for reflection that Philip Yancey had, in which he found trust and peace? I hope so, but that is never promised. What we are promised is the choice to live here and now in the presence of Jesus Christ, thankful for His saving grace and devoted to giving Him honor in all we do. But, like the people killed in accidents, earthquakes and tornadoes, we do not know what will happen tomorrow.
By the way, Philip Yancey got good news at the end of his long wait. With no arterial leakage, he was given a rigid neck brace for ten weeks and the hope that the vertebra would heal back appropriately on its own. Praise God!
Article copyright (c) 2009 by Charles G. Mickey. All rights reserved.