It was Friday, Oct. 10, 1969. What happens in the fall of every year, no matter what they say about concussions? Yep, football season! I believe if someone ever ruled playing football illegal because of the dangers, most of the country would revolt.
So where did I find myself as a ninth grader that October evening? Of course, I was at a Hillcrest High School football game in Simpsonville, S.C. — not so much because I loved football, but because I played the clarinet in the marching band. I don’t remember who we played or who won the game, but I do remember sitting on the curb under a buzzing parking lot light, patiently waiting for my mom to pick me up after the game. I suppose some adult stayed with me as the time grew later, but I have no recollection of who it was.
Finally, an adult from our church arrived, told me my mom had been in an accident, and took me straight to the Greenville General Hospital emergency room. As we slowly pulled up to the hospital, I vaguely remember seeing law enforcement officers dragging a man into the ER door. Later, I was told they took him there to show him what alcohol and driving 110 mph down Laurens Road had done to a family — my family.
On their way to pick me up at the game, my mom and two younger sisters had pulled out of our driveway on Laurens Road when the inebriated driver plowed into the rear end of Mom’s little Volkswagen Beetle. He had been clocked in Mauldin going 110 mph; the officer did not try to stop him but radioed another officer down the road. However, the driver never made it down the road. No one knows for sure, but reports have Mom’s car going airborne and flipping numerous times — throwing two of them out (no one wore seat belts in those days, and I’m not sure there were even any in the car). Someone driving down the road found my youngest sister, 6 years old, crying and walking in a daze down the middle of the road, blood gushing down her face. Emergency workers, newly trained and with a brand new ambulance, arrived to find Mom under the car and my other sister still in the car. (In those days, gas stations sent station wagons to accidents to pick up victims, but it was a new day in Mauldin, which very well could have saved my mom’s life.)
When I entered the hospital, I saw hospital personnel sewing up my sister’s head wound and boring holes into my mom’s skull. They inserted tongs in order to place traction on Mom’s spine for realignment and stabilization, as the C2 and C3 vertebrae in her neck had been crushed. Yet she never lost consciousness, and she never experienced a nanosecond of paralysis. The doctors called it a miracle. On Monday, they planned to take her to surgery to fuse the bones back together, which would have left her unable to turn her head for the rest of her life, but they decided at the last minute to do one more X-ray. Another miracle: Those crushed bones were going back into place, and no surgery was necessary.
For weeks and weeks, my quiet, sweet little mama lay in a CircOlectric bed in what seemed like a deep, dark dungeon in the old Greenville hospital. But, at long last, they put a body cast on her from her waist to the top of her head, exposing her face, ears, and a little hair. Mom came home. A hospital bed and my grandmother moved in with us. Life took on a sense of surreal normality with shifting roles and many helping hands, but it moved on. In case I don’t say it later, God was faithful; God was good. His people were His hands and feet.
After what seemed like forever, the doctors removed Mom’s cast.
Have any of you had a cast removed in your older age? I have. At the age of 50, I fell and broke a bone in my foot. When my doctor-husband allowed me to completely remove my boot —at least it wasn’t a cast — the pain was so excruciating I just knew it was still broken, and I insisted on wearing the boot another week. You see, my unused muscles screamed mercilessly with pain and weakness, and it still happened one week later!
After they cut off Mom’s cast (imagine a saw at your head), Dad somehow got her back home. He probably had other people to help. Unlike the immobilization of my foot for only six weeks (well, seven), her neck had been immobilized for months, so she could not even hold her head up. And the pain … oh, she hurt. Mom was like a newborn baby whose head had to be supported.
Years later, Dad told me what it was like to bathe Mama in the tub for the first time. After being in a CircOlectric bed and then in a body cast for so long, she longed for a tub bath. We aren’t talking about a garden tub — just a regular old bathroom tub — but she wanted to feel what it was like to have water wash over her body and to have her hair completely washed for the first time in months.
That tiny bathroom was hardly big enough to hold the three of them, but with the help of his mother-in-law, my strong, muscular dad tenderly lifted my tiny mom and placed her in the tub. While Dad held Mom’s head — really, her whole body — Grandma Brown began to gingerly wash Mama’s body. It must have been wonderful.
I have been just like Mama. Nope, I’ve never broken my neck and most of my ribs, but I have been broken and in pain — by my sin, by the sin of others, by disappointments, by life’s circumstances. Yet my heavenly Father tenderly and compassionately lifts my head up above the waters, above the fray of life. He supports and comforts me in my greatest sorrows, and He continues to remind me of His faithfulness — an enduring faithfulness even when I am weak, when I wallow in my pain. Oh, how I love 1 Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.” He washed me clean a long time ago and gave me His righteousness, and He has remained faithful in the good and the bad. Praise God!
I want to be like my mom in that she trusted her husband (my dad). In her humanness, I’m sure she struggled and cried out, but ultimately she laid her head back completely and rested in his loving arms. Our Father wants us to set aside our struggles, our cries, our weakness, our pain, and lay our heads back and rest in His arms — today and every day. He wants us to run and hide in the cleft of the Rock and in the shadow of His wings.
How do we do that? By abiding in Christ, running to His Word in the quietest part of the day, repeating beloved verses in the most stressful minutes and hours, calling on His name over and over in the toughest moments, and claiming His promises through it all — not the health, wealth and happiness promises of prosperity preachers, but the promises of “I will never leave you,” “I, even I, am He Who comforts you,” “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” “for momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” and on and on and on.
He can be trusted. He will hold you and never drop you.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
So how’s my mom? She is 93 years old and still dancing!
— Carlotta Jackson and her husband, Robert, live in Spartanburg. She is the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor, a former Journeyman in Gaza, Israel, and a mother of nine.