by Howard and Jeanne Tomlinson|
A Traumatic Week for Howie and the Nation
Trials can appear without warning. But once your faith has been tested and refined, you can be ready to face danger again with courage. And the testimony of your faithfulness will encourage others, and might even make the world take notice.
I was cooking a meal for our churchs annual Christian Passover celebration on April 17, 1999, when I got a phone call from Guy at Howies office: Jeanne, Howie fell a little while ago at work. Hes lying down, but feeling OK now and talking. Weve contacted the paramedics who will be checking him out. Dont worry; hell be all right. Well call you as soon as the paramedics decide what to do. I asked to talk to Howie. My heart was pounding as he told me he had another seizure and collapsed in his cubicle. I prayed with him and told him I would be with him as soon as possible. I called his folks and told them what had happened. We were frightened, not knowing what to expect.
A while later I got another call from the railroad. Guy told me that Howie was being transported to Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens and I needed to meet him there. I called his dad and he drove me to that hospital in the city. Howie looked all right, but I could tell that he was frightened also. After he was in the hospital for a couple of hours, the doctors filled out paperwork for him to be released. He got up to go to the restroom and had another seizure on the way. Fortunately, a medic was close by, who caught him and helped get him back on the bed. Howie then had a CT scan, and when he was finally released a couple of hours later, the doctor in charge told us to make an appointment with his own neurologist as soon as possible. As we went home, Howie was disappointed because of what had happened and that we had missed our churchs Passover celebration.
Over the weekend we were both down. We couldnt reach Dr. Engstrand, Howies neurologist, so we made an appointment for him to have an MRI on Monday. By Tuesday, he was feeling better and wanted to go back to work, so I took him to the station and went to my babysitting job. Later that morning, I received a call from his office again. The secretary told me that Howie looked weak and lethargic and they were sending him to the railroads medical facility. I was to meet him there. My heart was pounding again as I called his dad and told him the latest. I also called Carol, the mother of Shannon who I babysat. She said to take her to a friends house. I finally got through to Dr. Engstrand. She told me she just found out that the MRI showed that Howies tumor had come back again. She called the neurosurgeon Dr. David Chalif who said that Howie needed surgery again and was to go to the hospital right away for pre-op.
Howies dad picked me up and we hurried to meet him at the railroads medical facility. We prayed on the way and I cried, knowing what Howie would soon be facing.
When we arrived at the medical facility, Howie was smiling and in good spirits. One look at me, however, told him that something was very wrong. I broke down as I told him the news about his latest MRI. He was very brave and calm as we went with his dad to North Shore Hospital for more tests.
While Howie was undergoing pre-op testing in the hospital emergency room, his dad and I sat in the waiting room. There was a newscast on the TV about a school shooting that day. As the news unfolded, we realized that this was worse than previous school shootings. The school was Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado, where numerous students and teachers were shot by two young gunman earlier on this fateful day, April 20, 1999.
Howie and I saw Dr. Chalif the next day, and he arranged for Howie to have brain surgery that Friday. He told us that there was a greater risk this time for paralysis on the left side. I contacted everyone we knew, including our email prayer loop, and mounted a massive prayer campaign for Howie and for the students, teachers, and parents at Columbine High.
On Friday, April 23rd, Howie had his fifth brain surgery. As he was being wheeled into the operating room, he was very calm and quoted Scripture while I cried. I was in the waiting room praying through the Psalms when his folks, brother, and our friend Carleen, who came to be an encourager, arrived. After approximately three hours of waiting, Dr. Chalif came in and told us that he had successfully removed a small tumor regrowth under the scalp and that Howie was alert and able to move his left side. I let out a shout of joy and hugged the doctor. Howies folks and I were able to visit him in the recovery room. As soon as we walked in, Howie lifted his left arm and quoted Scripture to show us that he still had his memory intact! We were thrilled to see another answer to prayer. Even though our trials were far from over, we knew our Good Shepherd would always be with us.
After Howie was moved to a regular room, we watched on TV the memorial services for several of the victims of the Columbine massacre. Some of these victims evidenced a strong faith in God in the face of death. One of the girls, Cassie Bernall, impressed us deeply with her willingness to say Yes to her gunman when he asked her if she believed in God right before he pulled the trigger. We were also moved while watching the memorial to the gym teacher who gave his life to protect his students. And we felt compassion for the families of the victims as well as for those who were severely injured.
There are several parallels I can draw between what happened to Howie that week and the Columbine massacre. Each tragedy came suddenly and without warning, testing the faith and showing forth the character of those who suffered. The lives of the survivors and family members of the victims were forever changed. And the testimony of faith in the face of incredible hardship and death impacted many for Christ and strengthened the faith of countless numbers of believers. In that third week in April 99, several heroes and martyrs were revealed to the world.
For Those Who Hurt
Do you want your life to have an impact on others? Be faithful to the Lord and content even in the face of tragedy. Focus on things above, not on things of the world. And be ready at all times to confess your faith in Christ, even if it means dying for His sake.
The Lord said, Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). Our world needs more heroes who will be examples of living—and dying—by faith.
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