Yesterday son # 3 celebrated his 18th birthday. An incredible milestone in any young man’s life, but for our family it was another beautiful reminder of the grace and mercy of God. You see, he drowned in a pool when he was 3 and shouldn’t be here today.
It was a Sunday evening and we were at a friend’s house having dinner. We had dinner out on the patio by the pool, and after dinner the boys all went for a swim. Josiah had enough of the pool and we had changed him into some warm clothes and he was lying in a hammock some distance from the pool. I went in to help fix a computer issue, and my wife was clearing dishes while our two older sons (elementary age at the time) were in the shallow end playing with our friend’s teenage son.
In the few minutes that the dishes were being brought in, Josiah saw a ball in the deep end that he wanted. He climbed out of the hammock and went reaching for that ball, and fell in. The boys in the shallow end were splashing around and didn’t see or hear him fall in. Tracy came back out carrying our youngest, just 8 months old at the time. Josiah wasn’t in the hammock. She asked the older boys where he was, they didn’t know. She started calling his name and looking for him, and that’s when she noticed what looked like a towel at the bottom of the pool. She told the teen boy to dive down and check that out. Seconds later he surfaced with Josiah’s lifeless body.
That’s when I heard the shouts for my name. I came running out to see Tracy and our friend laying him out on the ground next to the pool, the husband dialing 911 next to them. Josiah was this terrible shade of blue, and there was no life in his eyes. Even now picturing it to just write this is difficult for me remembering how he looked in that moment. Tracy was giving him breaths in-between cries out to God, our friend kneeling next to her in constant prayer and speaking life back into his body. At some point I took over the CPR as Tracy stepped back. I could hear the water in his lungs as I would breathe into him and that air would come back out. After a few minutes of this, and just as Josiah took his first breath and life came back into him, paramedics came rushing through the patio gate to take over.
Those next few minutes were a blur as what seemed an army of medical and police personnel moved around the area. Tracy had handed the baby to our friend’s daughter, so he was fine, but our two oldest boys were taking all of this in. Soon the paramedics were rolling him out on a stretcher to the ambulance. From there they would take him to a local school yard where a helicopter was waiting to fly him the 30 or so miles to an emergency trauma center – and none of us were allowed on the helicopter with him. After talking with the police for a few minutes and making arrangements for our two oldest, we jumped in our friend’s car for that long drive to the hospital.
I was the youth pastor on staff of a church we’d just started with Jim and Mike, two other pastor friends of ours. One of us called them as we headed down, and they got to the hospital about the same time that we did. It worried me that we were taken to a separate room than the normal waiting room to wait for news of Josiah’s condition. Later I’d find out this is where they took families they were expecting to give bad news to. I remember the hospital chaplain coming in to pray with us all, and the look on his face to find out that there were so many pastors there already.
After a while they let Tracy go in to see him, bringing Jim with her for support. I later went in with Mike, and couldn’t believe the site. Tubes, machines, needles – everything you’d expect to see. I’d worked in a hospital while going to Bible college so I was used to these things, but nothing prepares you for seeing your own child attached to them. We were told that Josiah came around when they’d landed on the roof, and that he’d pretty much screamed the whole trip down in the elevator. They’d placed him in a medically induced coma for the time with hopes that it would slow any damage the lack of access to oxygen had caused.
Josiah was eventually moved from the ER to the intensive care unit (ICU) of the children’s trauma center across the street, and the next few days were touch and go. We couldn’t stay in the ICU with him, so we pretty much camped out in the waiting room as we didn’t want to leave. We had heard that word had spread of what happened, and that 7 different churches in the area had stopped their Sunday evening services to pray for Josiah. News had also gone out to an international prayer chain through a ministry my parents were a part of called The End Time Handmaidens, and we began to get encouragement from people around the world. One specific email was from a man we didn’t know who was a missionary in Saudi Arabia, and God had given him a specific word that Joey would not die and that addressed what his life would hold.
It was on the third day – Tracy’s birthday – that new life was breathed back into Josiah’s body, just as those first breaths were breathed back into him by the pool. We’d been told not to have much hope, that even if he did survive that the lack of oxygen to his brain and the chemicals from the pool water would do a lot of damage. We were told that he’d probably need constant care because of these things.
But God had other plans for Josiah. Those plans actually started with us choosing his name. You see, I’m really big on how important it is to choose a name for its meaning – not just because it sounds good or is popular at the time. The story of young king Josiah in the Old Testament had always been a favorite of mine, and we had settled on that name – but still hadn’t figured out what it meant. It was the day after the doctor told Tracy that this was the first pregnancy she’d had where she did NOT have gestational diabetes (unusual), that we discovered that Josiah means “Jehovah heals”.
God’s plans for my son Josiah were the same for his Son – that something wonderful would happen on the third day! Josiah’s condition had been gradually getting worse, but when they started to check everything in the early hours of that third day, everything began to drastically improve. His doctor admitted it could only be a miracle, and rather than even keeping him for observance in a step-down unit… they released him to go home! I’ll never forget the conversation with the older woman at the desk that you had to stop at when leaving the ICU. She wanted to know where we were taking him. When we told her we were taking him home, she began to rustle through papers on her desk saying, “You can’t do that. Children don’t go straight home from intensive care.” We handed her the doctor’s orders, and she just shook her head amazed and let us pass.
Rolling Josiah (and his stuffed animals and flowers) out the hospital doors in a little red wagon felt to me like what Jonah must have felt seeing the light when the great fish opened it’s mouth to spit him up on the beach. It was the beginning of a new day, and a whole new lease on life for our son – still in all reality unaware of what had taken place in the last few days.
So here I sit 15 years later on the day after his 18th birthday, thinking about how very blessed we were that April morning when God gave him back to us. Josiah has grown the way every boy should – with life and vigor and joy. There was no damage to his brain or his lungs… he’s played school sports and has become an accomplished guitar and cello player. This is his senior year, and like every other young person at this stage in life, he is wondering what the next step will be. He’s talked of that elusive “one last road trip” with some of his friends over Christmas break. He talks about going to Julliard in NY or trying to make it with his guitar in Nashville after graduation. He talks… and that is the amazing thing. Instead of my going to talk to a gravestone yesterday like so many parents who’ve experienced the same horror we did, I get to hear him talk about all of these things. Better yet, I get to experience these things with him.
Sometime in the next year or so, Josiah plans on joining me for that Cattle Drive I’ve been talking about for a few years now. And I can only imagine that as we are on that trail together there will be a moment when I look at him riding a horse and herding cattle and think yet once again, “God thank you for giving Josiah new life on that third day!”
Happy Birthday, Josiah. I love you more than you can know.