Steve almost died.
By almost, I mean he had a major heart attack and went into cardiogenic shock. His heart stopped beating and he flat-lined. So, technically he did die. But, between God and the skill of a cardiovascular surgeon, he returned to the land of the living.
Three days later, he lay in a hospital bed, on the road to recovery, and I was at a baseball field.
“What on earth am I doing here?” I thought.
It was January 14, 2006. The sun was bright and warm – one of those picture perfect Southern California winter days. It was also Little League sign-ups and that’s why we were there. Our son Sam talked about nothing else for weeks. This was his first year playing baseball and he couldn’t wait to get started. I stood still and looked up at a brilliant blue sky. The smell of freshly mown grass mingled with the enticing aroma of popcorn. The chatter of voices and the laughter of children filled the air.
I could have asked my dad to bring him, but I was desperately trying to pretend everything was normal and maintain some semblance of control. As far as Sam knew, dad didn’t feel well, had a problem with his heart, and was in the hospital for a few days. He and his sister Rachel hadn’t yet been told about Steve’s brush with death, so when Saturday morning rolled around, he was excited and chomping at the bit to go.
As soon as we arrived, doubts and second thoughts bombarded me. I clutched Sam’s registration forms in my hands and stood still, watching everyone rush by as my mind reeled with these thoughts.
What if Steve never recovers?
What if he has another heart attack and dies…while I’m here?
What if I’m left to do this day and all the other days on my own?
All the emotion and worry of the previous three days spilled out of me, right then and there. My composure and confidence disappeared and I started sobbing. Sam looked at me with concern in his eyes and tried to reassure me. “It’s all right, mom.”
It wasn’t all right. I wasn’t all right. Steve wasn’t all right. I didn’t know if any of us would ever be all right again.
I stood there blubbering and gasping for breath, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Do you need help? Is everything ok?” I turned to see the face of a stranger and shook my head no as a fresh wave of tears spilled out in a flood.
He stood there quietly, with one hand resting softly on my shoulder and the other hand reaching out to Sam. I struggled to regain my composure. “I have no idea what I’m doing. Steve should be doing this. He would know what to do. He’s not here. He’s in the hospital. He should be here. I shouldn’t be here. I should be at the hospital.” My words spilled out between gasps for air.
“It’s okay,” he said softly. “I can help. Everything’s going to be fine.”
As he introduced himself to Sam and asked him his age, he gently reached over and took the crumpled registration forms from my hands.
I breathed deeply and brought my panic under control while he guided us over to the correct field. He took the time to introduce me to the coach and connected Sam with the other boys on his team. Sam ran off with his newfound friends. The stranger turned back to me. “Karen, can I pray with you?”
His words provoked another round of tears and I stammered out the whole story. I told him about Steve’s heart attack – the 911 call – open heart surgery – my worries about our future.
He nodded his head as he listened. I’m sure he had somewhere else to be, but he made no attempt to leave and just stood there nodding while I blubbered and rambled.
I finally ran out of words.
He took my hands, bowed his head and prayed.
Right there, in the middle of a baseball field, on a beautiful January day, with kids yelling and the sun shining and my boy happily playing the game he loved, and my dear husband lying in a hospital bed, he prayed for me, a perfect stranger.
He prayed for our family, for Steve, for his healing. A supernatural peace settled over me, as he petitioned God on our behalf.
He finished his prayer, squeezed my hands, smiled and walked away. I knew right then that when I needed it most, God’s hand touched mine, in the skin of a stranger and no matter what the future held, He wouldn’t let go.