Sometimes Porter would meet me in my dreams. One of those imaginings is forever etched in my mind. In the dream, I found myself curiously exploring stored treasures in my grandmother’s garage, just like I did when I was a girl. The sky was a brilliant blue and the grass was greener than ever before. The smell of Granny’s spring flowers blooming gave a fresh fragrance to the staleness of the basement. As I strolled through the garage, admiring its contents, my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone dribbling a basketball. I looked up and there he was. “Porter,” I whispered to myself. He was so beautiful that he glowed. I had forgotten what a magnificent creature he was. The last time I saw him he was blackened and disfigured by the fire. Now his perfect muscular body stood before me whole again, just like I remembered before the accident.
Slowly, He bounced the ball as he walked down the sidewalk toward me. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him for fear that if I blinked he might disappear. Porter didn’t say a word. He gently took me by the hand and led me under a huge Oak tree where he sat down on the basketball. I would have followed him anywhere at that point. In his soft soothing voice that I’d waited so long to hear again, he consoled me.
“I want you to know that I’m okay, and you’re going to be okay, too.” I longed for that moment to last forever, but I awoke.
For some time after that, bedtime became a ritual. I would lay my head down on my pillow, closed my eyes, and whispered with hope, “See you in my dreams, Porter.” For a night, I found comfort in knowing that he just might meet me there.
I was nineteen when I met Porter. He was such a looker that my friends had only one word to describe him — “Mercy!” He worked loading boxes of frozen foods onto eighteen-wheelers, so his body was chiseled and fit. He had a cute little dimple in the middle of his chin and a picture perfect smile. His eyes were like deep pools of rich chocolate that his brown, wavy hair framed and nestled on his collar. Most important, was his way of seeing the best in me and others always putting his self last before the needs of his family, friends, and co-workers. This sincere and kind attribute attracted many along with their gained their respect. Porter was the perfect package both inside and out.
At first glance, “mercy” was the best word to describe him, but after one date I was deeply in love. I knew this person, who didn’t even kiss on the first date, was the one for me. Once I made up my mind that he was my man, I just had to make up his mind that I was the right choice for him and then we got married. It felt as if the whole world had been created just for us. Nothing could penetrate our circle of love. I had found my prince charming and I planned to live happily ever after.
We were poor as church mice which meant there wasn’t much money for entertainment. We spent our spare time snuggled together on the couch in our small duplex while we ate potato chips and fantasized about the future. Sometimes we talked into the wee hours of the night sharing secrets like best friends and naming our unborn children. On Saturdays we took long drives on Porter’s motorcycle. I was content and happy with my arms wrapped securely around his waist and my hair blowing in the wind. It didn’t matter that we had nowhere in particular to go. It only mattered that we were together.
After a year and a half of marriage, God blessed us with a beautiful baby boy. My life was a fairytale. First, I became a wife and now I was a mother. I was living my childhood dream just as I had planned… until the night Porter didn’t come home.
Dinner was getting cold. I was pacing the floor with the baby on my hip wondering where he could be, when my father knocked at the door. Immediately, I could tell something was wrong. “What is it, Dad,” I asked cautiously?
“Porter has been in an accident,” he said with regret.
I didn’t stop to consider that Porter could be seriously hurt. That was simply out of the question. Instead, I quickly phoned a friend to keep the baby and concentrated on packing the diaper bag with everything our son might need. I only prepared a few bottles since I assumed Porter would be discharged when I arrived and we would all be home together again later that evening.
Once our son was settled at the babysitter’s house and Dad and I were on were on way to the hospital, there was nothing else to occupy my mind. I couldn’t help but think about the accident. “How bad is it?” I asked dad, searching for clues in his face.
“I really don’t know. I think…well…what I mean is I’m not clear about what happened. The neighbors said there was… uh…some sort of explosion. We’ll know more when we get there,” he replied, stumbling over every word.
It seemed like we had been driving for a long time without making progress.
With every mile my heart grew more anxious. I began to imagine every bad thing I could think of and then pray that it wasn’t so. I couldn’t stop wondering what went wrong that caused his accident.
Earlier that morning, Porter had gone to my brother-in-law’s house to help him waterproof his basement. The day before, my brother-in-law had dug a seven-foot ditch around the foundation of the house with a backhoe so that Porter could apply the waterproofing substance to the outside wall. Realizing the substance was highly flammable, Porter felt confident that working outdoors would allow the fumes to escape preventing any danger. Unfortunately, as they worked the fumes mounted in the ditch. With only five feet left to finish, the outside heating and air conditioning unit clicked on igniting the fumes and the ditch exploded. The blast of fire left Porter and our brother-in-law badly burned over the majority of their bodies.
They were lucky, though. A fire truck was only three houses away.. Apparently, the firemen had been called to a nearby home to save an elderly man who choked on his dinner. By the time the firemen arrived, the food had dislodged and all was well. As the two firemen were returning to their truck, they were surprised to see a house in flames only a short distance away. One of the firemen described what he saw to a newspaper reporter. ‘I looked up and saw a house on fire and two men stripped naked spraying themselves with a garden hose. When my partner and I got to the men, we knew it was bad. Both of them were in shock and badly burned. We immediately placed the two burned men on gurneys, loaded them into the truck, and rushed them to Vanderbilt Burn Center.’
When my dad and I arrived at the Burn Center, my mom and sister were already there. The nurse escorted all of us to a small room where the doctor tried to prepare us for what we were about to see. His explanation was quick and to the point. My brother-in-law had been burned over 40% of his body, yet they expected full recovery. On the other hand, my husband had been burned over 80% of his body both inside and out. They gave him a fifty-fifty chance to survive.
Until Death Do We Part
It was a long walk with the doctor as he led my sister and me to see our husbands. I felt numb inside. The activity in the hospital appeared to move in slow motion while the echo of our footsteps rang in my ears. I think I held my breath all the way. When we got to their room, I froze just inside the door. I couldn’t tell who was who. Their skin was completely black. Their heads were twice the normal size and Porter’s flesh was falling from his arms. They were unrecognizable. Suddenly, the room grew dim and my body went limp. Someone from behind caught me and held me up. I could hear my sister crying beside me, but I couldn’t turn to her. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the two horrid bodies in front of us. “Please, God. Don’t let it be them,” I prayed to myself. At that same moment my brother-in-law spoke. “Hey, at least were alive,” he joked.
We managed to walk over to them. Porter arms were wrapped in towels. Curiously, I reached over to lift them and take a peek, but the doctor immediately stopped me. “Those are to prevent infection,” the doctor explained as he tightly tucked the cloth back around Porter’s arms. “We need to keep them covered. There’s not much skin left. His hands and arms got the worst of it,” he continued.
Stunned, I stepped back. “Hey, it’s going to be alright,” Porter said trying to reassure me. He was right. They were alive. “Surely, it can only get better from here, right God?” I prayed silently. It was then that I felt strength come over me that carried me on from that moment.
Over the next eight days, the waiting room was crowded with people. They were mostly quiet not knowing what to say. Their presence spoke volumes to me. It spoke comfort, compassion, and love, especially on the day of Porter’s surgery.
To prevent blood poisoning, the doctor preformed a procedure called skin grafting. The wait was long. It was so long that my mother became suspicious of the elapsed time. She encouraged us to eat the sandwiches our church family had brought. It was the last time that I remember eating for a long while.
Later, the doctor, still in his surgical clothes, walked slowly into the waiting room with his head hung low and his shoulders slouched. No one spoke a word. He slowly bent down in front of my chair and began confirming my worst fears. “In the middle of surgery Porter went into cardiac arrest,” he explained as gently as he could. “His burned body was unable to withstand the trauma of surgery and it shut down.” Again, the waiting room was hushed and still. The doctor continued. “The good news is Porter could wake up within the next twenty-four hours.”
I could feel my chest tighten. It was hard to breathe as if the doctor was choking me with his every word. Before he could speak again, I stood up and took off running. I ran until I found myself on the roof of one of the hospital buildings. I suppose I had to get as close to God as possible. Who else could help me now?
While people shuffled along the sidewalk below, I began to wail in deep sorrow as I begged God to save Porter. Pacing back and forth, I struggled with the thought that it might be better for Porter to be in the presence of the Lord rather than live. “I should let him go,” I thought. “At least in heaven he will be fully restored and won’t have any more pain. If he lives, I know for sure he won’t keep his arms.” I reasoned to myself. “No!” Call it selfish. I didn’t care. I was desperate. It didn’t matter to me that Porter would never be able to hold me again or throw ball with his son. I just wanted Porter to live, but God had other plans.
As the clock ticked down, there was no response. The doctor tested for brain waves and found none. Soon his organs began to shut down too. As I sat there beside him, I knew he had already left me. Days before his surgery, as he lay in excruciating pain that not even high doses of Morphine could ease, Porter tried to tell me his time was short. He knew that he was going away, but I refused to listen. Each day my sweet husband attempted to comfort and prepare me saying, “I don’t want to leave you and our son, but I know my time has come.” It had come. I knew that now, but I couldn’t let go of him. I just couldn’t. As I struggled with my thoughts, a nurse entered the room and began to fiddle with his life support machine.
“Can I ask you something?” I inquired of her.
“Sure, honey, what is it?” the nurse replied.
“If you were to turn off my husband’s machine, he wouldn’t breathe on his own ever again…would he?” I questioned.
The nursed paused for a moment and then turning to me she confirmed softly, “No, honey, he wouldn’t.” Once again, I felt a strength that enabled me to do what I couldn’t do alone.
I got up from my chair beside my husband’s bed and walked into the crowded waiting room. “He’s gone,” I announced. My own words passed my conscience and went straight to my heart where they exploded in agony. Soft sniffling sounds began to move throughout the waiting room. Without saying a word or showing emotion, Porter’s mother got up and walked slowly into her son’s room. I followed her. Stopping just outside of his door, I watched. She laid across her son’s body, burst into tears, and gently began to caress his feet. It was the only part of Porter’s body untouched by the fire. I turned and left them alone. Sometime thereafter, his life-giving machine was turned off by the doctor, and Porter past from this life to the next.
Rescued From Despair
When the funeral was over and the people were gone, I found myself alone, a new mother, and a widow at the age of twenty-one. How would I get through this crisis? My dream had become a living nightmare from which I couldn’t escape. Life was lonely without him. I felt deserted by my God, the God I had loved and served since I was a little girl. Why would He betray me? Why didn’t Porter fight to live? It wasn’t fair! This was not what I had planned.
One desperate night, I hit bottom. Grief stricken, suicidal thoughts plagued my mind. Pacing the floor of my duplex, I found myself torn between living for my son and dying for my husband. Abruptly, my grief turned to anger until I did what any woman would do whose family had been destroyed. In my mind’s eye, I burst through the door to the thrown room of grace, shook my fist in the face of God and boldly questioned. “WHY —why did you do this to me? You could have saved him! You’re God! Why did you give me that baby and take his father? Oh, God, I need to know why!”
Just as a mother runs to her screaming child who is in pain, God the Father ran to me, His child. I didn’t see Him with my eyes or touch Him with my hands, but I felt His presence consume me as if God poured Himself over my entire body. I couldn’t cry another tear. God’s presence was so calming and comforting that I knew for the first time beyond a shadow of doubt that I was going to be okay. I didn’t know how, but I knew God was fully aware and involved in my circumstances. I could no longer deny it. As I sat in the presence of my heavenly Father, I was compelled to read Psalm 139. It was as if God was speaking directly to my heart.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast (7-10).
Even in the pit of death, God had come to say, “You are not alone. I am here.”
You Are Not Alone
It’s funny. The newspapers called me a survivor. On most days I didn’t feel like a survivor, but I had survived. I had lived through my worst fear. But that didn’t mean I would never fear losing another loved one. I do. Like Porter, his dad also died young so I fear that death at a young age is my son’s destiny too. That’s not all. Every time someone fails to call me when they are running late, I begin to worry that the worst has happened. Is it right for me to be concerned? Are my fears legitimate? Probably so, but the good news is I don’t have to live afraid and neither do you.
Our present day fears are fueled by our past experiences. Nevertheless, God doesn’t want us to go through the rest of our lives justifying our fears. Nor does He want us to live behind some protective wall that shields us from what might happen. God wants to teach us that it’s safe to trust Him. Even if we don’t have all the answers our past will never make sense until we invite God into our present. Then we will see He has been there all along.
My first step in learning to trust God again came when I chose to believe that I am never ever alone. God is always near me. Looking back, I realize the strength I felt in the midst of my suffering was God’s presence carrying me through the valley of death safely to the other side. Time and again when I felt lost and alone, God met me in my pain and carried me to new levels of grace. With each encounter, my future grew brighter and I was able to pick up the pieces of my shattered dream, and with God’s help, rebuilt my life.
The Lord is, indeed, attentive to our whereabouts and the circumstances we face on earth. He also knows how many days each of us will dwell here. This was an important truth for me concerning Porter’s death. “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps.139:16).
God didn’t take my husband from me. Porter’s death wasn’t a personal attack or payment for some sin I had committed. Nor had my heavenly Father left me to spin helplessly out of control. No. God, in His sovereignty, simply knew the number of Porter’s years. I feel privileged to have been a part of his days and comforted in knowing that I’m not alone for the rest of mine.
It’s easy to see God’s hand at work in the lives of those who live between the pages of His word. Yet, through the course of our lives, especially during fearful times, God can seem so far away that we question, “Where are you, Lord?” No matter what our emotions or circumstances may say, the truth is there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence. Though it might not feel like it or look like it, God is always near.
You may never have experienced God’s presence in the powerful, comforting way that I did when my husband died, but that doesn’t mean He is not with you. You and I are His masterpieces, “wonderfully and fearfully made” by the hands of a loving and faithful God. He is the God of all things great and small. He is the one who tells the sun when to rise and when to set. He is the God that causes the ocean waves to obey their boundaries. This is the God that gave life to you and me. Why would He do that and then leave us alone? He wouldn’t. Just as a loving mother would never leave her child, God the Father will never leave us. He can’t be torn away, led away, coaxed away, seduced away, or dragged away.
You and I come to know and experience this truth by faith. It is my prayer that as we journey together though the pages of this book that all of your fears will be replaced with unshakable faith in the One who is faithful and trustworthy in all things. As His child, may you truly learn to live carefree in the care of your heavenly Father.