“Hospital.” Depending on why you’re there, the word itself can mean very different things. If you are the mother of a newborn, it’s the place where life begins. If you are the husband of a woman battling multiple sclerosis, it’s the place of fight and, hopefully, improvement. If you are the granddaughter of a ninety-year-old grandparent at the end of life on earth, it can be a place of letting go. If you are the parent of a young child receiving treatment for pediatric cancer, it is the place of waiting. Our journey with Josiah in the hospital meant all of those things to our family and friends: the fight, the hope for healing, the place of waiting, and, ultimately, the grief of letting go. What we did not know about Vanderbilt Hospital during those three, arduous days was that it would also become something else to us, something that operates at its best in times of great stress and pain: the church.
Vanderbilt Medical Center said they had never seen anything like it in all their years of operation. Hundreds of people immediately began showing up at the hospital as soon as the news of Josiah’s accident began to circulate. And more were on the way by the time the first morning rolled around. Most times, the chapel was so full that you literally had to crawl over people to move. People were everywhere—on the floor, in the chairs, and on the steps of the small altar.
What we remember more than anything else during those first days were the heartfelt and precious prayers of the people of God. They were all giving voice to the things we were feeling. It was a mix of faith and grief, quiet and petition, hope and sorrow. During those first foggy hours, people we suspect would normally be a bit afraid to talk in a large group grabbed their Bibles and bravely spoke out loud the scriptures God had given them. We can remember Sarah in the front corner, being held together by a group of women. They stroked her hair, covered her with blankets, cried with her, and never left her side. The same thing happened for each of our children. Many of our precious family flew in and walked alongside us through the valley that was Vanderbilt Hospital.
After the first day, the number of supporters grew so large that the hospital graciously gave us a group of meeting rooms on the third floor. These rooms became a makeshift church building, cafeteria, and sleeping quarters. At one point, during the first late night, the prayer spilled outside into the courtyard as little groups prayed and worshiped all over. People who were not even connected to Josiah or Grace Chapel were drawn to the outpouring. This gave our folks the opportunity to pray for strangers walking through their own journey of pain and grief, and impromptu prayer meetings sprung up all over the world. Our church, one that has for years experienced the great goodness of God, plunged headlong into the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings and was made better for it. People’s best colors tend to emerge in the fire.
And few shined more beautifully than the staff of Grace Chapel. If they weren’t at the hospital, praying with or for us, or praying over Josiah in the ICU, they were selflessly doing the work of the ministry. They kept everything going, even in the middle of their own grief, which was no small thing.
And even when we couldn’t bear the agony of it, they stayed right beside our nineteen-year-old son as he went through the organ donation process. Our son was never alone. And if your loved one knew Jesus—even if that decision was made at the last minute—he or she was never alone. Jesus was there. He was there at the scene of the accident. He was there in the halls of the hospital. He was there in the prayers and songs of His people. Wherever His church is—in an ICU unit or together on a Sunday morning—He is there (Matthew 18:20) . . . and we are never alone.