As you may be aware, the last two weeks have been a whirlwind in the Blackaby family. It began on Thursday September 19th. My mother was getting her nails done in preparation for a trip to Maui where my father and son Mike and I were scheduled to speak. Mom was almost finished her appointment and called my father at home to pick her up. He never arrived. She finally caught a ride home. Dad was nowhere to be found. She assumed he had gone to get her and arrived late. He’d be home soon she thought. He wasn’t.
At 7 p.m., my mother called me and my brother Mel to alert us that dad was missing. His cell phone was sitting on the dining room table. He was unreachable. My mother contacted the police who filed a missing person report. The officer explained that a teenaged, frequent run away had flown the coup once again and was considered a higher priority than our 78-year-old father who had appeared to be doing fine the last time someone spoke with him.
A vigil commenced. We waited at the house, vainly hoping every time we saw headlights shimmering in the window that it was dad, finally making his way home. It never was. At 1:30 a.m. we collapsed into beds to try and get some rest. No one slept. The next morning, there still was not a trace. My father had simply disappeared. To make matters worse, dad is a type 2 diabetic and he did not have his insulin with him. His blood sugar would be skyrocketing. As far as we knew, he was somewhere in the huge city of Atlanta, driving along its freeways at night, with elevated blood sugar levels, unable to navigate his way home.
That morning we received out first lead. We noticed that one of his credit cards had been used. Disturbingly, his card had been charged $40 at a Shell gas station, in Houston, Texas. Our hearts dropped. Dad clearly could not have driven to Houston that night. If his card had been used in that city, it was by a thief, a mugger, or a murderer.
Eventually the credit card reps determined that, though the credit card charge had been directed through Houston, the gas station where it had been used was less than six miles from our parents’ house. Dad was still in the area, or at least his credit card was.
What happened over the course of that day was amazing. We decided it was time to alert the public. Utilizing social media such as Twitter and Facebook as well as the Blackaby Ministries International website (www.blackaby.org), we alerted people from around the world of my father’s disappearance. News outlets began to report the story. We heard from people in places as diverse as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Nigeria who told us they were praying for my father. Thousands of people began following the story on Twitter and various web sites that regularly reported updates.
A police command center was established at my parent’s home. A helicopter searched overhead. Credits cards were tracked. Hundreds of people from First Baptist Church Jonesboro volunteered to drive throughout Atlanta searching for him. One woman in Pittsburg heard of my father’s disappearance and immediately drove to the airport. She then flew to Atlanta, rented a car, and joined the hunt.
Ultimately we were able to determine my father’s location by tracking his credit card purchases. It appeared he was heading south toward Florida. Each time he stopped for gas or food, the police closed in. He was eventually found while driving on a highway, some 150 miles from home. Police had him taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
Doctors discovered that he had suffered a heart attack while driving to pick up my mother. It’s incredible that he had not been in an accident or died from the attack. Becoming disoriented, he had been unable to navigate his way to his house. Knowing he was near, he had driven throughout the night vainly trying to find roads that were familiar to him. The longer he drove, the higher his blood sugar level rose, adding to his fuzzy thinking. In the hospital, doctors also discovered that his heart was in terrible condition, requiring immediate quadruple bypass surgery. One artery was not working. It appeared he had suffered a previous heart attack, perhaps five years earlier that had gone undetected. Other arteries were between 70% and 100% blocked. Dad would have to undergo bypass surgery before he could be released from the hospital.
This event is still raw and not yet fully processed. Yet I have a few observations thus far:
First, we often are unaware of the dire condition of our heart, both physically and spiritually. Jeremiah 17:9 claims that the heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” We ought never to take for granted the health of our heart.
Second, I learned the power of social media. While it has no shortage of critics, when used for good, social media can quickly mobilize an army of God’s people for noble purposes. It was incredibly encouraging to see an army of God’s people mobilizing to intercede for a worthy cause. It made you wonder what other worthy efforts it could be used for.
Third, we were reminded that God prepares us for what He knows is coming. On Thursday evening as the family waited at my parents’ home for any trace of our father, no one could sleep. Late that night my wife Lisa came upon one of my father’s worn out Bibles (My father is hard on Bibles!). She opened it to where the ribbon was marking a page. She noticed a passage had been highlighted:
“For this says the Lord God, ‘Indeed, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the paces where they were scattered on a dark and cloudy day” (Ezekiel 34:11-12).
Beside that beautiful passage was a poem that my father had placed on that page. It was called “The Future” and was written by Cora Baker Hall. This is what it said:
There’s an unknown path before me
And yet I fear it not;
I know through all the years gone by,
Whate’er has been my lot,
That a kind and Heavenly Father
Planned out the way for me
And I know that in the future,
Watched over, I shall be.
Yes, I know God’s care and kindness
Will ever with me stay
To assist me on life’s journey,
And brighten up my way
So then Welcome! Unknown future,
Bring me whate’er you will —
With God’s loving hand to guide me,
I shall be cared for still!
We were struck not only by the beauty of the passage and the poem, but also by the reality that long before that terrible day arrived, God had already promised our father that He would not be indifferent to his plight. Rather, He would search for him and bring him back safely into the fold. And, whoever gave my father that poem was reminding him that regardless of what his future held, he could be confident that God would go with him. It reminded me that I ought never to take what God tells me today for granted because He may well be preparing me for what He knows is coming tomorrow.
We also learned that God is fully in control even when we cannot see what He is doing. In the last few hours of the ordeal, our father, for some unknown reason, began driving south toward Florida. We believe he thought he was still in his own country, but he ultimately drove 150 miles from home. When the doctors examined him, they declared he was unfit to be returned to Atlanta even by ambulance. He was admitted to the nearest hospital that was capable of doing bypass surgery.
At first this seemed inexplicable to us. Why would God allow our father to undergo a major operation in a hospital three hours from his home? But then we received a visit. It was the hospital administrator responsible for recruiting doctors for that hospital. She told us her life had been radically changed when she studied Experiencing God. She also informed us that just the month before she had recruited an outstanding heart doctor who would be operating on my father. This man was the only surgeon in that area that used a lengthier procedure designed to minimize damage while performing bypass surgery. The woman said our father could not be in better hands. It was as if God had known the exact doctor who could do the best job on our father and then guided him to that region of the state for his divinely appointed rendezvous.
We also learned that Romans 8:28 is true: God causes all things to work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Doctors told us that our father had been at great risk of a fatal heart attack. His arteries were severely blocked. Had he not gone through this experience, we might never have detected the serious condition of his heart and taken action in time. The worst day of his life just might have saved his life. We learned many other lessons from this experience. It was one of those events you have to mine, and process for months, in order to discover the numerous divine truths lodged near the surface. We were blessed by the church members of First Baptist Church Jonesboro. They zealously rallied to the aid of their church family member. It made us realize that before you undergo a major crisis in your life, you want to make sure you are safely ensconced in a church family that loves you.
Finally, we were reminded that God has a purpose for every life. My father has no doubt that God spared him for a reason. God’s not finished with him yet! That has given him a renewed determination to enjoy the anointing of God upon his life as he serves God faithfully for whatever days he has remaining.
I am sure there will be many more lessons our family will learn in the coming days, but these are foremost for me at the moment. I hope they have encouraged you.