Suzanne Suddarth – Before & After
Short Stories By Jesus Series
Our fall worship series was entitled Short Stories By Jesus, in which we were looking at Jesus’ parables, especially some of the most problematic ones. We enlisted the congregation to write Before & After stories. Each Sunday one member shared a story in which there was a before and an after, and after which, many things in his or her life changed dramatically. Here is one of those stories.
Suzanne Suddarth – Before & After
I have prayed throughout my life, especially during difficult times. I prayed for strength and courage when I went through Marine Corps boot camp. I prayed for confidence and the ability to forgive when I endured a messy divorce. I prayed for a miracle when my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. At one point, I even prayed for an entire year every single night the very same prayer; I specifically asked God for a partner, and the only three requirements were that he was kind-hearted, loved pets and was self-sufficient. Yes, I was very precise, as I believe that prayers must be this clear. I knew the day that I met Sterling my prayers had been answered.
Ironically, for someone who has prayed her entire life for everything from a cure for cancer to finding a husband, on my darkest day yet, I did not initially reach out to God in prayer; instead, God reached out to me. On January 30, 2014, the day started out like any ordinary weekday morning with my husband, Sterling, getting ready for work as he belted out songs to our two dogs and cat. I clearly remember watching him as he laced-up his steel-toed boots, and reminded me that it was a work day, and that I should get out of bed. I grunted and wiggled around like a kid not wanting to go to school. Sterling consistently woke-up happy; that’s what a person does when they love their job. However, this particular morning he was even more lighthearted than usual as it was his last day at a fire station downtown; the next shift-day Sterling and his crew would be transferred to a station located closer to our home in a residential area. As he smiled and kissed me goodbye, I remember thinking how bright and warm his blue eyes seemed on that cold January morning. I thought to myself how cute he looks, but I did not verbalize that compliment as my foggy head was focused on my morning cup of coffee, and leaving the comfort of my warm bed. As I kissed him goodbye, I said, “Have a good day” and “be careful.” This was my morning mantra since he became a firefighter.
When I returned to work after my lunch that afternoon, I had a voicemail message from a fire chief who asked me to call him. I thought why was a chief with the fire department calling me? I quickly calmed my own fears as I realized that I often received calls from familiar folks who wanted to attend my non-credit programs at Guilford College. This particular week, I was registering individuals for Retirement 101. Obviously, the chief was calling to enroll in the class. When I called him back, he answered right away and asked, “Suzanne, where are you located on the Guilford College campus?” I knew in an instant, by the urgency in his voice, that something was terribly wrong with Sterling. My immediate reaction was to scream into the phone, “Just tell me he’s okay! Just tell me he’s okay!” But the chief would only ask for my location. As I paced at the back door of my office building, waiting on the chief’s arrival I kept repeating to my coworkers, “This must be bad because they would not pick up a firefighter’s wife unless it’s bad; this must be bad.” Nevertheless, as I spoke these words, I was not praying or even thinking about God, who I have turned to time-and-time again throughout my life; my mind was racing, my thoughts and words were incoherent.
As I was escorted into the hospital’s emergency room and whisked past a sea of firefighter’s, their family members, EMS workers, doctors and nurses, I was focused on two objectives: to find Sterling and his crew. Knowing Sterling like I do, if one of his crew was injured or even worse, he would not be able to accept it. The absence of Sterling, his crew, and their spouses had my stomach in knots. My legs were weak and felt like they would collapses under the weight of my heavy leather boots that I wore that day for warmth. I was directed into a side room (which is never a good sign in a hospital) where I was informed that Sterling was injured in a fire and structural collapse, and that he was in critical condition. I carefully listened and then replied, “I don’t understand, Sterling and I love each other more than most couples love each other.” Even then, I realized that this statement made no sense at all, but in my desperation, I felt if I said those words out loud nothing could possibly happen to Sterling.
When I finally was brought to my husband his condition was even worse than I could have imagined. The doctors and nurses working on him made the atmosphere seem even more chaotic. I was asked a series of questions like, “What medicines does your husband take?” “How tall is he and what does he weigh?” I was so dazed I could not answer a single one. Nonetheless, in this bewildered state, when the nurse walked me over to Sterling and I looked into his eyes, I became completely calm, showed him a brave face, and in the most confident voice I could muster, I said, “I promise you’re going to be okay. I promise! I promise!” Unable to speak as he was aided with a breathing tube, Sterling slowly gave me a thumbs-up, and as our eyes met, we spoke volumes without words, as loving couples often do. During this shared moment in the chaos of the hectic emergency room, I felt God’s calming presence and an answer to a prayer that was not yet prayed. This was my moment of grace in which God gave me exactly what I needed the very second I needed it the most. He gave me courage, strength, the ability to calmly speak to my husband, and somehow the knowledge and conviction that Sterling was going to recover. I cannot explain why I felt composed, as my best friend and soul mate was in such pain, and his prognosis was not yet clear; it had to be God’s peaceful presence.
After Sterling came out of ICU, and was transferred to the burn center he shared with me that he remembered me telling him in the emergency room that he was going to be okay, and the promise that I made to him. Neither of us can explain how in this painful and mostly incoherent state Sterling could remember anything, but he remembered the promise that I made to him, and a promise is a promise, after all.