There are few moments in my life I would label as sacred. I do not take that word lightly. This post is about one of those moments; it likely is at the top of my very short list of them. I have spoken of it in a few select settings, and have struggled through the emotion it evokes in me each time. For the next few minutes, I invite you onto this holy ground in my soul. I hope it encourages your heart in some way.
I have been blessed with a great relationship with my daughter, Savannah. She has been a “daddy’s girl” from day one. For the first several months of her life, she spent almost every evening cradled in the bend of my left arm. We took strolls overlooking our 8 acres of field in Dickson, TN, did the dishes (I washed and dried them with my right arm while holding Savannah in my left) and napped in my recliner in front of the TV.
As Savannah grew, daddy/daughter outings were a constant in every place we lived. Trips to the mall in Paducah, KY , breakfast at Krispy Kreme in Greensboro, NC, flying kites at Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach, VA, taking the MR2 out for a drive at sunset in White Bluff, TN, and movie nights in Allen, TX, Savannah and I have always found things to do together. I love being a daddy to my girl, and I would give my life for her in a heartbeat, without hesitation.
When Savannah was a freshman in high school, she went on her first mission trip to Uganda. It changed her life. I was involved in her second mission trip to Uganda the following year. It was obvious that her heart was made for this kind of service! Savannah decided to wrap up her high school education two years early so she could devote herself to international missions.
A year later, just one month after her 18th birthday, Savannah left home to participate in a 6 month mission experience with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). As her peers were concluding their senior year of high school, my girl was hiking through the mountains of Morocco sharing with people the message of Jesus.
By the fall, Savannah had committed to serve on staff with YWAM to help train other young people interested in missions. In January of 2015, having just turned 19 years of age, Savannah was assigned to co-lead a mission team to Nepal. She and her team arrived in Nepal in early April.
Just before 2 AM on Saturday morning, April 25, I received a phone call that I let go to voicemail. I listened to it a minute later. It was Savannah. She was calling to tell us about an earthquake in Nepal and let us know that she was safe. (Read The Christian Chronicle article about Savannah’s team in Nepal here.) The hours that followed that phone call were traumatic for Savannah’s team to say the least. Nearly 9,000 people had been killed, and survivors were confronted with situations that no one should have to experience, and certainly not at 19. But they survived, and were able to serve the people of Nepal in the days that followed.
After a couple of weeks, Savannah’s team moved on to a nearby country for the second phase of their mission outreach. Within a short time, Savannah began to experience some health issues. Despite repeated trips to the hospital, her condition worsened. She was diagnosed with pancreatitis, but blood work and symptoms suggested other possibilities.
Holly and I consulted with health care professionals in the United States. We were presented with a range of possible conditions Savannah could be facing. The more severe end of that range included multiple organ shutdown and a warning that reversing the situation was time sensitive. The decision was made to move forward with a medical evacuation and get Savannah to the United States for treatment.
I don’t want to paint an inaccurate picture, overstate the severity of the situation or be overly dramatic. The reality is no one knew exactly what was causing Savannah’s health to decline, or how quickly it might continue. My girl had just lived through a massive earthquake and we had no idea to what she may have been exposed. But there was evidence that her body was shutting down, and her physical appearance in our last video call left me deeply concerned.
Savannah boarded a plane in Nepal and began her trip home. That morning (Dallas time) I was at home alone. I remember folding a load of laundry in my bedroom when the emotional weight of the situation came crashing over me like an enormous wave.
I have asked many things of God through the years. There have been times I’ve asked repeatedly. I can recall only a few times that I would say I pleaded to God. But never before had I pleaded to God through tears that felt like they came from the deepest recesses of my soul. I begged God to heal my daughter. I have no idea how many times I repeated that phrase “God please heal Savannah,” but it was a lot.
At some point in my crying out to God experience, I noticed the song playing in my head. (I have a playlist going in my head 24/7. Sometimes during the night it gets so loud that it wakes me up.) In that moment it was a hymn I’d led many times at church as a teen and young adult. The hymn was “Follow Me,” and it was the 3rd verse looping in my head.
O, Jesus if I die upon a foreign field some day,
‘Twould be no more than love demands, no less could I repay.
“No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die,”
These are the words He gently spoke to me.
“If just a cup of water I place within your hand,
Then just a cup of water is all that I demand.”
But if by death to living they can Thy glory see,
I’ll take my cross and follow close to Thee.
As I focused on those words, they became a life jacket of mental/spiritual awareness in my overwhelming flood of emotion. As a parent, my primary goal had been for my children to love God and pursue His purpose for them. Savannah was up to her eyeballs in that adventure, and her passion for it was inspiring! At 17, Savannah had spent a month on her own at a mission point in Uganda. One night she had called us huddled in the bedroom of her apartment. Holly and I could hear the background noise of a riot and gunfire through the speaker. My daughter absolutely loved Jesus, and was no stranger to the risks of following Him.
From the time Savannah first discovered her passion for missions, people asked me how I was able to handle it as her father. My response was always the same. “She doesn’t belong to me, she belongs to God. And He is infinitely more capable of keeping her safe than I am.”
In my fear around Savannah’s physical health, I had lost sight of that fundamental truth. She does not belong to me. Ultimately she is not on this earth for my comfort, she is on this earth to bring glory to God. For me, the ramifications of that truth had never hit home harder.
My prayer changed, a bit. “God, you know how much I absolutely love my girl. Please heal whatever is wrong with her. But if there is a different outcome that will bring you glory, then I submit to what you choose to do.” There were more tears, but when I left the bedroom at the end of my conversation with God, I felt a peace that I can only attribute to God’s Spirit within me. I let go.
The next morning Holly and I went to met Savannah at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. I did not know if Savannah would be walking off the plane, or being wheeled off. Our plan was to take her straight to the emergency room. When she came through the doors, I was shocked. Savannah looked as healthy as ever. She appeared to be in such good condition that we agreed to her request to swing by Chick-fil-A (her favorite place to eat) on the way to the ER.
The long story made short – the slew of tests revealed no trace of any health problems. Over the next many months, Savannah did experience random moments of abrupt increased heart rate (likely a PTSD symptom). But none of the issues that had been detected in the numerous hospital visits during the previous weeks could be found at the ER that day. And I thank God.
I don’t have answers to the deep, and legitimate, questions that some may ask. It is reasonable to wonder why God would heal one person and not another. I have friends who have buried a child or grandchild. I have friends who have pleaded with God to heal their child, some year after year, but have yet to see it happen. I don’t profess to have the answer. I only know what I witnessed, and I thank God for the healing that Savannah experienced.
To say I’m proud of my girl would not begin to adequately describe my feelings. She is a warrior princess in God’s Kingdom and loves Jesus. It has been an honor to watch her grow into the amazing woman that she is today. From the time Savannah was old enough to understand my words, I would tuck her in at night and tell her how thankful I was that God let me be her daddy. I still am.
I’m very aware that every hug and daddy/daughter outing we’ve had since May of 2015 has been icing on the cake! I am forever thankful for God’s grace, and for the power of His Spirit that allows me be at peace. And I’m grateful to have discovered that it’s possible to let go…and still have.