Wake-up call from God helped chart new course
You know the old timeless quote from Abraham Lincoln that goes, “Four score and seven years ago…” Well, not quite that long has passed since my departure from God’s country here in Haywood County, to move to Fayetteville, but it sure felt like it.
So, why? Why come back to Haywood County? It’s a question I have been asked a lot since my arrival last week. I am going to share with you a personal journey I went on the past few years, and maybe at the end of it, you’ll see exactly why it feels right to be back home.
Three years and change passed by, and there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think about the mountains of North Carolina. The great people here and the true sense of community that I longed for were never far from my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the change and challenge that moving to Fayetteville provided. I immersed myself in my work as the general manager of Fayetteville Publishing Company; socializing and meeting the appropriate contacts; and leading a staff of nearly 300. It was a challenge I enjoyed, and one I felt I was looking for. During my time with The Observer, I quickly made friends, earned the respect of my colleagues and felt as though I was at the top of my game — both the game of life and golf. But, something kept calling me back to this area. A place I can truly call home.
I stayed in touch with a lot of people from here while I was gone, either via email or some other form. I also kept track of things by reading The Mountaineer that was sent to me via the mail. It was like a part of me had never really left.
Other changes were occurring, too. My family, including wife Michelle, daughters Brandi, London, Kiana and son Easton, had always been a close-knit family living in close-knit communities. Fayetteville was a different experience. The bigger city, with all it had to offer, created splinter opportunities for everyone. Brandi was at college and Michelle was spending more time in the car than at home chauffeuring London, Kiana and Easton to various events.
In the beginning, no one really noticed the changes that were occurring. You see, when you get caught up in the hustle of a bigger city, it just seems normal to be busy. So, when I would be at work, or at the golf course, my family never really entered my mind. My focus was on the task at hand. And, it was the same for them. We just seemed to all be going in different directions. It seemed odd at first, but it quickly became the norm.
We were living in the fast lane, and for the most part, loving every minute of it. Then came the morning of Feb. 17, 2011. The morning I had a near-death experience that turned our lives upside down.
I have always thought I was a good Christian. I attended church regularly, spent time caring for others in the communities I was involved in, and thought I was doing what God wanted me to do. However, I believe what happened to me was a direct wake-up call from God.
I’m sure there were many signs He gave me along the way that I probably wasn’t going in a direction He had planned for me. But, I was too busy to see them. Everything seemed right.
But the accident I had and the resulting impact it has had on my life tell me otherwise.
The accident occurred as I was loading some lumber into a utility trailer to take back to the local lumber dealer in Fayetteville. We were building an addition on our home, and the lumber they had delivered was the wrong stuff. I was going to be charged a re-stocking fee to have them take the lumber back, so I decided I would just take three or four trips to save the money. A friend and I finished loading the trailer with the last pieces of the lumber. We unhooked the trailer from his truck, but the front of the trailer lifted in the air, so I thought we could solidify it by placing some bricks under the rear frame, a good idea at the time…or, so I thought.
As my friend stood on the hitch to get the trailer to level out, I quickly got the bricks under the frame in the rear. After letting it down, I still thought it was too high in the front, so I asked him to step on the front one more time so I could put in some more support.
Then it happened. As the trailer leveled, the weight of the lumber was too much for the gate in the rear of the trailer, and the next thing I knew, I was laying face down in my driveway with 2,000 pounds of lumber on top of me.
Now, I probably don’t need to tell you how many things began running through my mind, but one thing was utmost in my mind…I was not ready to die. I was ready to do anything I needed to do to survive, but I did not want my life to end.
Thanks to some help, my friend and a neighbor were able to unload enough of the lumber to lift the gate and I crawled out from underneath the pile of lumber. The EMT’s were already on site, so the medical process began immediately.
I was quickly transported to the local hospital, where a newly formed trauma team, which quickly began diagnosing where to start, met me. It was a new service the hospital had started six months earlier, to avoid having to helicopter trauma victims to Chapel Hill or Duke. I was told, after things had calmed down, that I would have not made the helicopter ride. I had broken 12 bones in the right side of my body, and to top it off, was bleeding internally from the injuries. They quickly began working to stabilize me, and after fixing my punctured bladder and getting the internal bleeding to subside, I was placed in the Intensive Care Unit for five days.
It was there that God began to clearly give me signs that something had to change.
Most folks with a near-death experience speak of the brightest light they can possibly imagine and seeing deceased family members welcoming them into a land that is the most beautiful vision they have ever seen. I was not one of those people. In fact, I almost think I “went the other direction.”
I remembered being in a hot sweaty room where no one was kind; conditions were miserable; and it never changed. The image was always the same. Constant unpleasantness. Needless to say, it rattled me a bit, shifted my priorities, and has drastically altered my life.
But, that’s the great thing about God. He never does anything without a purpose. He doesn’t do anything just to do it. If we listen and really focus on what He is saying to us, He promises us joy and happiness. He never claims it is going to be easy. Nor does He say there won’t be sorrow, heartache and misery along the way. But, He does say that if we remain strong and faithful….be true followers, then goodness shall prevail.
After I came out of ICU, and my mind (and less potent drugs) were helping me think more clearly, it was obvious to me that something had to change.
I began having personal conversations with Jesus every day. Sometimes I would thank him for saving my life so I could continue enjoying my family, and other times I would ask him “why?” Why did this happen to me? Things were going so good. Why the set back? I had been diligent in my religious duties. I went to church, prayed most nights with my children, and genuinely felt like I was living the way he wanted me to live.
But, there is more to it than going through the motions. I realized that I had become selfish. That everything I was doing for was for me and, sometimes for my family. I wanted to do what all men want to do - make a better life for his family. And, to top things off, I was taking all the credit for the success I was enjoying.
Now, believe me, this didn’t come to me while I was in the hospital lying in a bed for 28 days. Nor, did it come to me when I was lying in my bed at home unable to move without Michelle’s help. Nor, did it start to sink in when I spent two months in a wheelchair, not only at home, but at work as well.
No, it didn’t sink in until one day when I was having a conversation with my family about leaving the newspaper. I just didn’t fit in anymore. I had changed and not even known it. It was almost like I was living someone else’s life. So I prayed. And we all prayed. And, we decided that we were going to become a family that truly put our faith first. That’s the moment I realized that I was no longer (nor was I ever) in control of what my life was about. It was God who was, and is, in control. And, I finally got it. All the success, energy and lifestyle we were living wasn’t because of my talent, it was a gift from God.
So, I took a job at the local Chamber of Commerce, and set out on a journey to rediscover my faith. Led by my 20 year-old-daughter, Brandi, I discovered some biblical literature, (one that I hadn’t picked up for a while was the easiest to find…it was called the bible) which helped me figure out some answers to my questions. I have spent many hours reading and praying since that day the lumber came down, and I thank God for the opportunity to do so on a regular basis.
I still don’t know all the answers to why, any more than thousands of others who have lost a loved one too early; or have suffered some type of set back in their life - whether it be physical or other. But, I do know one thing for sure. There is only one place to find those answers, and it begins with faith.
And so as I return to a place that my family and I consider home, I am looking forward to connecting with old friends; to meeting and making new ones; and to contributing to the community through the newspaper and with my personal time.
And, I am never going to forget whom my life belongs to, and work everyday to accomplish what He has in store for me.
God bless, and I’ll be seeing you soon.