Friday, January 25, 2008

Our Son's Difficult Journey To Find God's Purpose in Life

Kevin’s First Accident

It was about 12:30 AM in Uijongbu, ROK when the first call came in. Kevin, our youngest child and a Freshman at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi had been involved in an automobile accident. Initially we could only obtain very limited information, and had little understanding of the seriousness of the injuries. Subsequent calls to the doctors in the emergency room at Baptist Hospital in Columbus, Mississippi provided us with a fairly clear picture of the situation.

I had thought that perhaps I would remain in Korea and send my wife, Diane, back to help out with his recovery. However, when I spoke with the people in the Emergency Room to inquire about the extent of the injuries, I heard the physician tell the person I was speaking with that if we wanted to see him alive, we’d better get there soon. We had few financial resources, but we soon received a call from my sister telling me that E-tickets were waiting for us at Kimpo International Airport in Seoul.

The news of the accident and the realization of his precarious physical condition hit us hard. Within about two hours, however, both Diane and I had turned the situation over to God. Diane walked into my study and said that she felt like what ever happened, it would be alright. We recalled that we had given our children to God and that they were His to do with as He saw best. We praised Him for the eighteen wonderful years, we had enjoyed having Kevin with us, and asked God to allow him to remain with us, but we both told God that if He saw fit to take our son from us at this time, we’d praise Him for that also.

Brian Olling from the International Christian School, which is affiliated with the Network of International Christian Schools, drove us to the airport and provided much appreciated support. The entire staff of ICS was extremely helpful over the course of the months which followed the accident.

God seemed to give both Diane and me a sense of peace about the matter and we knew that He was in charge. There was no sense that he would be alive, or dead, when we’d call for updates at each stop along our journey to Memphis. We really didn’t know what God was going to do, but we began to feel that God would allow him to stay with us.

Our oldest child, Mike, Jr.; met us in Memphis and filled us in on everything he knew at that point. Kevin, who was in a pre-vet program, had been working all night preparing an arena for a Block & Bridle Club event at a town about twenty miles from Starkville. He had left early that morning to drive back to MSU where he had a job milking. Along the way he went to sleep and crossed over the narrow road and hit a large buried culvert. Apparently his pickup flexed just as it hit the culvert and completely collapsed then flipped over across a drive back into the ditch.

Eye witnesses thought he was dead and even the emergency response people thought the same thing. One man eventually noticed some movement of his hand and as they investigated further discovered that he was indeed breathing and instead of waiting for a coroner they were able to load him into the ambulance.

Our first visit to see him in ICU was shocking. He had such massive trauma to the head and chest that the doctors warned us that he would probably suffer from severe brain damage if he lived. A minor matter at that time was the fact that several other bones were broken, the most serious of which was his left heel which was completely crushed.

Churches in the Starkville & Columbus area opened up their hearts and doors to us. A motor home was set up on the parking lot because Diane simply did not want to leave the hospital while there was any doubt about him making it. Another family from another church made their home available for our use, and still another family provided us with transportation; but our personal family and friends were a tremendous source of encouragement and help.

After three days, it appeared that Kevin would survive, but questions lingered concerning any permanent brain damage. At that point they began to check out what else wasn’t working correctly. At the end of ten days, I returned to Korea while Diane remained to nurse Kevin back to health. He was moved to her Mother’s home in Clarke County, Mississippi and he began to respond rapidly to the loving attention.

Diane returned to Korea and Kevin went back to school at MSU, but he now had to contend with a severe staff infection which seemed to flare up often. He eventually had to withdraw from school returned to Korea in order for his Mother to help him rehabilitate his foot, which by that time was his greatest difficulty. After a doctor at Yongsan Army Base in Seoul tried to convince him to allow them to amputate his foot and fit him with a prosthesis, Diane returned to the States with him to seek more astute medical advice.

In the Summer of 1997 we felt God’s call to leave Korea and return permanently to the States. Kevin continued to struggle with his leg and the doctors suggested one final possibility to avoid amputation.

An appointment was made with a therapist in Birmingham, Alabama who had enjoyed considerable success helping patients walk relatively pain free. After she fitted Kevin with prosthetics for his shoes he walked for the first time in two years without the aid of crutches or in severe pain.

Kevin’s Second Accident

After a time Kevin began to work in the construction trade as an electrician. He traveled extensively and often lived away from home for weeks at a time. During this time he seemed to lose track of God’s plan for his life and fell in with the ways of the rough crowd with which he worked.

One night in November of 1999, we received a call that he had rolled his pickup several times and was in critical condition in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He was transported by air ambulance to the University of Louisville Trauma Center in Louisville, Kentucky. His heart stopped once on the trip to the trauma center and again on the operating table, and the doctors offered us very little hope that he would survive.

This accident was actually worse than the first. Several internal organs had been damaged and nearly every bone had been broken. Without a seat belt, he had rolled around in the cab of his truck banging against the dash, the steering wheel, and shifter numerous times as the truck tumbled and tumbled.

Several weeks in the hospital and several months of therapy followed the accident, but again God was gracious to allow him another opportunity. By this time everyone who knew him though that surely God had something special in store for his life.

Unable to work any longer in the construction trade, he began to study computers and gained his Microsoft networking certification. He failed to pursue additional training when the school he was attending suddenly closed leaving him with a substantial student loan debt and no school. He also seemed to be having difficulty maintaining his focus in times of concentration.

Kevin Plays Softball

In 2001 less than two years after his accident he pitched for his church slow pitch team. I cannot put into words the emotions I experienced as I saw him stand on the mound and pitch. God’s mercy and grace just seemed to overwhelm me and tears unashamedly poured down my face because I knew the pain he endured with each pitch. I knew that the next day would be very difficult for him, but I knew that the young man who had been such a terrific High School athlete was willing to push himself so that he could enjoy the life God had given him.

Still Another Accident

In 2004 Kevin was working with a man in our church and while pressure washing a building in a rural area north of Covington, Louisiana; a ladder toppled over, throwing him to the ground and breaking his elbow. After pins and therapy, he can no longer straighten his left arm. Prior to that accident he had been learning to play the bass guitar, however, he still has not regained enough mobility in the arm to continue that dream.

While Kevin is still not nearly what God will eventually have him become, he is making progress toward that end. He still struggles in life, as the rest of us do, but now he has a purpose. Now he has a focus. We’re grateful that God has allowed us to share in the travails of his life, because we’ve seen God’s hand at work.

Kevin is currently Worship and Youth Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church where I’m the Senior Pastor. He has dedicated himself to God and is allowing God to build within him a Life Message which both the Youth and Adults of this age need to hear. Kevin is definitely not a quitter. If you’re in Slidell, Louisiana on a Tuesday or Thursday Night during the Spring, you’ll probably see Kevin out there on the diamond playing softball. You can’t miss him. He’s the tall lanky young man playing first base. You can tell it is him when he falls to the ground to make a catch of an off target throw because he can’t stretch out his arm, and when he hits the ball, you’ll see him waddle more than run to first base; where he’ll be relieved for a designated runner.

Oh yes, one other thing; you’ll see him smile a lot.

1 comment:

Darren said...

Mike,

I suffer from incredible pain in my knees. I've had three surgeries, and at the ripe old age of 40 I have just been told that I'll need another surgery on my left knee and then when that heals sufficiently - my right knee will need total replacement. I have great sympathy for you son, and I take great encouragement when I hear of other saints of God persevering while suffering from "the thorn", whether it is your son, or C.H. Spurgeon who suffered tremendous pain, or a couple of other faithful pastors that I am good friends with here in Missouri.

It is very encouraging to see people persevere faithfully while carrying a burden that just won't go away.

Peace to you -

Paul "Darren" Smith