HONEY I’M HERE
“Honey I’m here.”
Debbie Smith received the phone call that no one wants to get.
Her husband, Mark, had been in an auto crash. The other driver, going 60 miles per hour, had abruptly veered into Mark’s lane, ramming the driver-side front-end of his Taurus.
When Debbie arrived at the scene, a crack zigzagged across her heart. “I didn’t know how anyone could survive such a bad crash,” she thought. As they carried Mark’s stretcher to the ambulance, Debbie ran to his side and cried, “Honey, I’m here!”
The accident occurred in 1996. Those three comforting words have been Debbie’s refrain ever since.
The impact tore off three inches of bone at Mark’s left elbow and fractured his forearm in multiple places. The surgery to stem Mark’s bleeding and to save his arm took eight hours. The surgeon implanted metal plates, screws, and bone-growth stimulators under the skin, but Mark’s left arm would never again be as useful as his right arm.
Six days later, a surgeon toiled over Mark’s pulverized hip, installing thirteen screws to reconnect pieces of bone. His words were grim. “There’s a possibility Mark will never walk again, or if he does, it will be with great difficulty.”
Mark faced horrific pain, sleeplessness, excruciating rehab and uncertainty about future mobility. His new position as an academic administrator at Indiana Wesleyan University, as well as his calling from God to eventually serve as a Christian college president, appeared in jeopardy.
Yet It wasn’t just Mark who needed God’s intervention. Like never before, Debbie also needed the Lord’s help.
Mark needed his wife’s presence and emotional support during his three-week hospitalization. Yet caring for their 11-month-old son meant she couldn’t be with Mark around the clock.
Her burden for Mark escalated when he called her at 2:00 a.m., weeping. He needed to share his discouragement with her, to hear his beloved’s voice. Hearing Mark cry aloud in pain posed another challenge. “Once they came to get him for an X-ray,” Debbie recalls. “His pain spiked so much when they moved him that he screamed. When someone you love hurts that much, it makes you hurt, too.”
RELEASED TO GO HOME – HONEY I’M HERE
When doctors released him to go home, Mark was still bedridden. Since no hospital staff were around to assist, he needed a more intensive caregiving role from Debbie. When this realization dawned, Debbie cried, “Oh God, I’m on my own. I need Your help!”
“Mark required lots of TLC,” Debbie states. Once, she came whisker-close to dialing 911.
“Mark, tired of getting wipe-off baths, was determined to bathe in the tub. Getting him in the tub was hard enough, but getting him out of the bathtub was almost impossible. I could just imagine what the 911 operator would say when I told her my husband was stuck in the tub! But we kept trying, me straining to lift him up and Mark helping by using his right arm and leg to brace himself. It took a while and Mark winced in pain, but we did it!”
In addition to his physical care, Debbie took over duties that had been Mark’s domain, such as paying bills. A friend said, “Debbie, I don’t see how you do it all!”
Yet she didn’t do it alone. What means of sustaining grace did God provide?
Clinging to God’s Word shifted Debbie’s focus away from adversity onto the Lord. “Psalm 121 became a favorite passage,” she recalls. “I consulted it many times during those first few weeks.”
She often camped out in verses 1-2: “I will lift my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 91:15 also buttressed her faith. Referring to a person who trusts Him, God said, “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”
The Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty proved invaluable in Debbie’s handling of a setback caused by another person’s carelessness. She says, “My theme became ‘God allowed this to happen and now we’ll have to trust Him to take care of us.’ I said this to Mark many times while he recuperated. We didn’t know why the wreck happened, but we were comforted by Who governed what had happened.”
God’s sovereignty instilled a needed perspective when she wanted to ask, “Why did this happen?” or to stew over thoughts such as, “All this is so unfair!” God gave her the capacity to put one foot in front of the other and to keep asking herself, “What needs to be done next?”
HYMNS AND HEARTFELT PRAYER
Exhausted and emotionally numb, sometimes Debbie couldn’t concentrate enough to read God’s Word. Even then, the Holy Spirit found a way to soothe her soul with God’s truth. “I often listened to Christian music as I did chores. Many songs consisted of Bible passages put to music. After Mark came home from the hospital, we’d watch Bill Gaither’s Homecoming videos. The lyrics of time-tested hymns mirrored precious truths that offered hope.”
“Things were so stressful that I poured my heart out to the Lord time and again,” Debbie reminisces. “I remember thinking that He was probably growing weary of me. Then I’d tell myself that God never gets tired of my pleading, because His Word so often invites us to come to Him with our needs.”
CONFESSION, PETITION AND LAMENT
Debbie’s prayers included confession as well as petition. “At times I felt bitterness creeping in since all we were going through wasn’t Mark’s fault. Anger and frustration would well up inside me. Then God’s Spirit would convict me and I’d cry out for forgiveness, seeking His power to release my resentment.”
Those desperate pleas cracked the crust of bitterness forming over Debbie’s heart, enabling her to feel what she cognitively believed, that God is wise and good.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
From the time Mark’s first surgery began on the afternoon of the crash until surgeons finished at 2:00 a.m., there was always at least one person alongside Debbie. Without being asked, Christian friends provided childcare and took on household chores so Debbie could spend days with Mark.
The phone also became a conduit through which others’ love flowed. “When I’d get home each evening from the hospital,” Debbie reflects, “a highlight of my day was listening to voice messages. Scores of folks assured me of their prayers and concern.”
NOTES AND CARDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
In the months following the accident, the Smiths received over 400 encouraging cards or notes. Though no one solicited funds, many cards included money. Over $10,000 came in to help pay medical bills.
“I’m the type of person who wants to handle things myself,” Debbie acknowledges. “But after the accident, I didn’t have a choice but to rely on others. So many people were interceding for us that I literally, physically, felt the effect of those prayers.”
ONGOING CARE – HONEY, I’M HERE
Though Mark’s recovery far exceeded physicians’ initial expectations, bodily pain still wracks his body, typically worsening late in the day. When his pain escalates, Debbie holds his hand and prays with him. She rubs pain-relieving cream on him each evening and massages his legs and shoulders. She brings him an ice pack or heating pad as needed.
On his worst days, she looks for fresh ways to distract him from the pain, such as taking him on car rides through different neighborhoods. She doesn’t plan social engagements without consulting him, since she never knows how much he will be hurting when he arrives home.
Mark’s continued difficulty sleeping often leaves Debbie sleep-deprived, too. Yet she thanks the Lord that He spared Mark and keeps asking Him for a servant heart that doesn’t tolerate complaining.
HONEY, I’M HERE
No matter what pressures or demands he faces as a high-profile leader, Mark knows he can still count on those supportive words he first heard in 1996: “Honey, I’m here!”
Dr. Terry Powell
Author and Professor
Terry is Faculty Emeritus and an adjunct professor in Church Ministries at Columbia International University. He and his wife Dolly have been married for 50 years and share two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson. Terry writes about faith and depression at Penetrating the Darkness. His latest book, Oh God, I’m Dying! How God Redeems Pain for Our Good and His Glory tells of God's sustaining grace in the life of co-author, Dr. Mark Smith, who is an effective Christian university president despite suffering daily pain from a near-fatal accident.
Oh God, I’m Dying!: How God Redeems Pain for Our Good and His Glory
Terry Powell and Mark Smith
Mark Smith’s story vividly illustrates the debilitating pain stemming from a near-fatal auto crash, and the initial despondency that ensued. Each chapter brims with slice-of-life anecdotes that show his experiences and God's sustaining grace. Discover how Mark’s faith in Christ was tested, and ultimately deepened. This book is for anyone who experiences chronic physical pain or illness, how God redeems pain for the good of His people, and for His own glory.
Debbie Smith was born and raised in Pennsylvania where she attended Hobe Sound Bible College and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She is married to Mark, the love of her life. They are blessed with two sons, Doug (married to Kierston) and Micah. Debbie is a homemaker and caregiver to her 93-year-old mother.