Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
April 23, 2017
The April day we will always remember
Dark clouds filled the sky. Light rain was falling. My wife and I were uneasy; we had heard the forecast of bad weather. But staying home was not an option. Dean’s water had broken. She was enduring sharp and rapid
labor pains. We had to get to the hospital. Our first child was about to discover America!
Though the stormy weather grew worse, we made it to the hospital in time. Dean was quickly in the hands of caring nurses. As was the custom in those days I was directed to the waiting room. Fathers were not allowed to witness the delivery of their child. I waited impatiently for several hours, unaware that a violent tornado had wreaked destruction across a wide path in the Auburn – Opelika area. By the time David Walter was born, the tornado had done its worst and moved on.
While Dean was birthing David the storm brought down nearby power lines, forcing the hospital to switch to emergency power. Torrents of rain rattled the hospital windows. Water poured into the hospital through the air-conditioning ducts.
Dr. Ben Thomas, our physician, had to drive through heavy rain to get to the small hospital that would become the thriving East Alabama Medical Center. Had he not arrived when he did, we would have been without his service. Shortly after his arrival, debris from the storm made driving in the area quite hazardous.
April 18 has come and gone once again. It is not a holiday, just another day on the calendar. But for Dean and me it remains a very special day, the day our first son was born 64 years ago in 1953.
So this past Tuesday we drove to the cemetery, stood by David’s grave and offered a prayer. We thanked God for the joy of having David with us for three brief years. We thanked God for what he taught us through David’s suffering and for healing our grief-stricken hearts.
In 1953 we were living in a small rented house at 818 Lakeview Drive in Auburn. The rent was $75 a month. I was in my third year at API, the land-grant college now known as Auburn University.
When I returned to the house, elated by the safe delivery of our firstborn, I found that the tornado had paid us a visit. The roof had been ripped off above the front door and rain had poured in, soaking some of our stuff. But our damage was incidental compared to the destruction of several homes nearby.
David was beautiful and healthy. His blond hair and blue eyes made him even more special. We were thrilled to have started our family. Though we had little money, we enjoyed life. The future was bright. We had the world by the tail. The next year I finished at Auburn and we moved to Nashville where I enrolled in seminary at Vanderbilt University.
Ten months later another storm descended upon us as swiftly as the tornado had come. Tests brought bad news about David. His voice breaking as he fought back tears, Dr. T. Forte Bridges said, “Your son has leukemia.”
As we sat there in shock, the doctor explained that there was no known cure. The best he could do would be to keep David comfortable until he died. “Perhaps,” he said, “a cure will be discovered soon.”
I asked how long David had to live. His answer sent a chill up and down my spine. “My best guess is somewhere between two months and two years,” he said. It was the worst moment of my life – hearing that death sentence for our precious little boy.
The diagnosis shattered our world on that day in late September. David suffered. We struggled with the burden. We prayed. We cried. We stifled our anger, wrestled with our fear. We pled with God to heal David but to no avail.
Finally, David’s suffering ended on a day in May the next year. His death wounded us but it did not destroy us. Though tested sorely by the loss of our only child, our marriage lasted and became stronger. God met us in the hallways of hell and showed us the way out. We refused to become bitter and let God make us better. Somehow, without really knowing what we were doing, we let God use our pain to help us overcome our grief.
Sadness, in the years that followed, would gradually give way to the overwhelming joy that is God’s gift to those who keep holding his hand through tough times. So each year, as April 18 rolls around, we pause to give thanks that we are still together, still able to remember David’s beautiful smile, and still thankful for the joy that was ours on the day our first child was born, a day we will always remember. + + +