By Kay Etheredge
In a split second on New Year’s Eve, our lives were changed. I remember once reading a favorite writer say that when we get stopped at a light or get stuck in traffic we grumble, but we may have no idea that God is providing us with a delay for His own protection over us.
Jim and I went for our daily walk on New Year’s Eve afternoon and were five minutes from home when we were hit by a car as we walked across Montclair Road. I need to say that this is written from my own point of view only because Jim has no memory of the accident or subsequent hospital stay. We had walked from our house to our church in Mountain Brook and were on our way home when we were struck. Jim pushed the button on the pole next to the street and we saw our light change from green to red, and we stepped out to cross the street. We were almost midway across when Jim said in an urgent voice, “Oh my gosh!” As soon as he said that there was impact. Jim was hit first, and I was a couple of steps behind him. I am so grateful that God kept me from seeing Jim actually struck. I had no idea what had happened, but as I got up off the road I saw the car, its’ windshield shattered and bowed inside the car, and I realized we had been hit. I turned to tell Jim what had happened and saw him curled up in the road. I knew he was hurt badly and I assumed because I was walking around, I was not. I went to him and talked to him. His eyes were open but he didn’t respond to me. As I took his hand I heard him moaning. I begged him to fight, and I cried out to God in a prayer of sheer panic, “Please don’t take my husband from me”! Oddly, I noticed how the gray in his hair seemed so prominent in the afternoon sun. His BBM baseball cap lay in the road, and I picked it up and held it next to me in the ambulance.
There were kind passersby who stopped to assist. Someone retrieved my phone which I had been holding in my hand, and on impact it had been knocked from my hand across the street. (We never take a phone with us as we walk, but I had grabbed mine that day as I walked out the door). Another person came and told me she was a UAB nurse. I begged her to help Jim. A man pulled his truck diagonally to block Jim from oncoming traffic. The same man gently placed a jacket over my husband’s body. Someone helped me to my feet and took me to a grassy area. Another stranger, an older man, simply hugged me. I remember seeing that I had gotten blood on his shirt and I apologized. Rescue personnel got there in 2-3 minutes the police report said, but it felt like forever. Just before I was put into the ambulance, a lady I had just met handed me my cell phone and told me she loved me. In all the chaos around me, it was a touching and beautiful moment.
We were both taken to UAB Emergency. As I was loaded into an ambulance I began to realize something was wrong with me. I became very dizzy and nauseous. I wanted to pray for Jim but couldn’t bring to mind any scripture, as hard as I tried. Oddly, earlier that week I had been humming the song, “He Will Hold Me Fast”, and I began repeating over and over, aloud, “Hold him fast, Lord. Hold him fast”.
I became very paranoid and felt like information was being kept from me. As I asked every nurse, doctor, anyone I could see, “Please tell me about my husband”, I was told, “We just need to concentrate on you now”. Brian Keen came into the room at some point, took my hand, and prayed over me. He told me he had just seen Jim, and that Jim knew him…had called him by name. As it sunk in that Jim was alive, I began to shake uncontrollably.
Our oldest daughter, Emily, came in moments later. There was a tone in her voice that I had never heard; I cried when I saw the vulnerability in her eyes. She held my hand and stayed in contact with our son, Grant, who was with Jim. At one point they swapped, and as Grant walked in the room, his look startled me as well. His fear was palpable.
I remember being moved and being told I was being taken for scans. I was wheeled in a wheelchair late that night to see Jim. I held his bruised and swollen hand and asked if he knew who I was. He said my name and I cried. He asked what happened to us. I told him we were hit by a car and he cried. His pupils were dilated and he was covered in road rash and he spoke with a distinct lisp and said his teeth hurt. There would be scary moments to come, but in that moment I felt like he was going to be okay.
I was discharged and sent home late that night wearing a hospital gown. Our daughter, Jane and her husband Tyler had just arrived from their drive from Georgia. I saw the look on Jane’s face as I came through the door. The look on her face was also one I won’t forget. Sometimes she jokes and calls me “honey”. As I came in the door, she came toward me and said softly, “Oh, honey”. My discharge papers said I shouldn’t sleep alone so Jane slept with me. I slept on Jim’s side of the bed and she on mine. Sometime in the night I told her I needed to touch someone…I rested my hand on her arm in the dark.
As Jim and I recuperated, we have wrestled with the sovereignty of God. If we had been a second earlier or later, would we still have been hit? An old friend said he had meant to call me that day and wished he had. “Maybe it would have changed the trajectory of your day”. We just know that when we left home that day, God knew we would have a detour, even if we had no idea.
We are so grateful for the prayers of others. There was a prayer service held at our church the next day. There were people gathered in the waiting room at UAB praying for us. (on a holiday) People stopped by our house to pray. Many brought food. Because we both had concussions we couldn’t drive for a month. We relied heavily on others to shop for us and to take us to appointments. One day we realized we had very little coffee in the house. We began a grocery list and wrote coffee on it. Later that same day, someone stopped by our house holding flowers and a Publix bag. Inside the bag was coffee. He had no idea we needed it, but just felt led to bring us a bag of coffee. Things like this became the norm.
We watched church services online. We tried to sing along but could only cry. Our emotions have been all over the place; primarily we are grateful. God has lovingly and gently shepherded us through these past weeks. We believe our perspective on life will never be the same.
We don’t know the reason why and may never know. God owes us no explanation, but we believe that He will use what has happened for His own glory. We pray to respond in godly ways.
Our daughter Jane does calligraphy and has lettered several prayer journals for me. The last one she did, I began on Dec. 29, 2022, even though she had lettered it in early December. On the front of the journal I asked her to write, “Further Up, Further In”, a C.S. Lewis quote from the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia series. An online synapsis of the quote says, “It is a call to keep one’s eyes ever on the goal that awaits us; union with God”.
We had the rest of our weekend planned; my grocery list was on top of my Bible. Publix was closing early for the holiday and I planned to shop, to clean our bathroom floor, and cook. God’s plans are not our own…His plan was to take us further up, further in, or at least to take us deeper into that journey. And in our panicked prayers and song lyric prayers and prayers that we can barely utter in the darkest of nights, He hears, He moves close, and He holds our days and our hands and He is sovereign over every single second.