We never know, do we?
We never know when we’ll step into those unprecedented moments that forever divide life into two categories.
Before and after.
One moment holds carefree, blessed normality… but with the ringing of a telephone or the knock on the door or a note on the table, everything changes.
Leaving us never the same as we were only a moment before. After all, we cannot endure trauma and come out the other side unscathed.
But I am a firm believer that hidden in the agony of trauma, there is redemptive beauty to be found. After all, it is a well-documented fact that the God we serve has been known to bring beauty from ashes. He restores that which is lost and brings healing to that which has been shattered.
The day started off with no hint as to what lay ahead. Caden Owsley and Atticus Klopfenstein were heading home to Indiana after a dream hunting trip out west. As they neared the Colorado/Nebraska border, the unthinkable happened.
Though they don’t remember the event itself, a witness reported that their truck left the road and began to roll. Caden was ejected first. Police estimated that he was thrown approximately 300 feet - the length of a football field.
Paramedics were on the scene in very short order and both Caden and Atticus were flown by helicopter back to Denver to receive medical attention. In the meantime, police officers began sifting through the rubble trying to decipher what had happened, who these two guys were… and who they needed to call.
It was late evening before the phone rang in Indiana. A call that every parent dreads. Words that alter your plans, rob you of sleep and send cold fear coursing through your veins.
The laundry list of injuries to both boys brought more questions than answers to their families back home. As Caden and Atticus lay fighting for their lives in Denver, their parents rushed to book flights, pack bags and begging God to give them time to reach their sons.
What does a parent say in moments like this? When we long for control but surrender is demanded? How do you remain strong in the moments where panic and fear and memories and what-ifs swirl fast around you with no easy solution to right the wrong?
And why must the night hours last so long with no choice but to live them?
For Atticus’ parents, Jon and Erica, words were few as their minds reeled with the news they had just received about their firstborn son. His injuries were extensive - a traumatic brain injury, multiple fractures to his cervical and thoracic spine, a broken sternum, broken ribs, lacerations and many bruised organs.
They sat quietly on the plane wondering what he would look like. Would he ever be the same again? Would he even survive?
Caden’s parent’s, Russ and Shay, also sat in shock at the news remembering the words from his doctor. “Caden has a fractured C7 that is putting stress on his cervical spine and it’s causing him to be paralyzed,” he said. The words felt like a punch in the gut. But the doctor wasn’t finished. “He also has bruised lungs, his spleen is bleeding, his kidney is lacerated, he has a bruised pancreas, open book pelvic fracture, rib fracture… and he has yet to wake up.”
The amount of damage to both Caden and Atticus was mind boggling leaving everyone wondering what lay ahead for both young men.
That first night was a blur of questions, fear, plans to be made and a trip to take. As the sun peeked over the horizon that morning, both sets of parents were on an early flight out of Chicago willing to hours to pass quickly.
They arrived in Denver that afternoon. For both parents, that first sight felt of their sons lying so still… the tubes and the wires and the machines. It was all so much to take in. Still so many unknowns.
Surgery was scheduled for Atticus’ spine but then cancelled the morning of the surgery when it was discovered that he had multiple blood clots in his lungs. This surgery, which was needed to stabilize his thoracic fractures was cancelled three more times – each one bringing yet another wave of disappointment.
Of great concern was the uncertainty as to the extent of the brain injury Atticus had sustained. The best doctors could offer Jon and Erica was that they would simply have to “wait and see”. And so the questions that had taken up residence in their minds with the ringing of the telephone that Thursday night would have to remain longer than they had anticipated. Yet in the waiting, they would come to rely heavily on the promises of God in the coming hours and days.
He was their hope. He was their peace.
As Jon and Erica waited at Atticus’ bedside, down the hall Russell and Shay were coming to terms with Caden’s injuries as well.
The injury to his spine was a big one.
As they waited for answers, Caden would wake occasionally, confused by his surroundings, the lack of feeling in his legs and a burning question on his mind – “where are my guns?”
That question alone brought tears of joy. The road ahead was long, uncertain and one they’d never travelled before. But against all odds, Caden would be traveling it with them – and that was enough. “I’d take this situation any day, Caden,” Shay once told him, “because these difficulties we’re facing now means that I get to have you here with me. And I would take this any day over having to bury my son.”
That first week in Colorado was filled with a multitude of God moments. In the midst of all the fear and confusion, God continually made His presence known to both families. Looking back now, the list stretches back before the accident even happened.
And what began as an irritation between Russell and Shay would come full circle and prove to be the hand of God a year earlier.
In 2019, Russ was also planning a hunting trip to Colorado but something wasn’t setting right in Shay’s spirit. She couldn’t explain it, but she felt like something bad was going to happen in Colorado. Worried at what that something might be, she decided to hold the house payment in order to have cash available if the need should arise.
The trip went according to plan so the payment was made and life went on. Then came August 2020 when the Owsley’s had the opportunity to purchase an acre of land behind their house. But that missed payment from the year before caused financing to fall through.
They would have to wait.
They were disappointed, but there was nothing more they could do but hold off until the end of the year when they would once again be eligible for a loan. Now, with the crystal clear hindsight of 2020 vision, they could see that God had indeed spoken to Shay. Something bad did happen in Colorado – just not when she thought it would.
That prompting from the Lord put a hold on their finances and kept them from having a higher mortgage payment at a time when they would be needing the extra cash more than ever.
It proved once again that all things do work together for good – it’s just not always easy to see in the moment.
Back in Atticus’ room, the Klopfensteins were still waiting for his surgery, along with the questions of what, if any, lasting affects he would encounter from his brain injury. The list of possible outcomes was long. Many unsettling.
The right side of his brain stem had bruising on it, plus doctors had found approximately a dozen small bleeds on the brain due to axons in the brain being completely sheared off. With these injuries, the outcome could range from mild deficits in his motor skills, memory and intellectual abilities to extreme life altering deficits and even coma leading to death.
Answers would be slow in coming, but the Klopfensteins have a personal relationship with the Great Physician so they, along with many of you, brought Atticus before God over and over as they waited for answers.
On September 24th, the long-awaited surgery on his spine finally happened. And like the Owsley’s, the Klopfensteins could now see the reason God had them endure all those cancellations in the previous weeks. Though the waiting was difficult and disappointing in the moment, the waiting had also give Atticus’ body time to heal and strengthen itself for the surgery. Even to the point that he could sign his own release forms.
One day, Jon and Russell sat together, discussing the many ways they had seen God step into their situation. The two fathers couldn’t help but stand in awe at the many ways, both big and small, that God had intervened on behalf of their sons.
They took into account where the accident had happened. The road was in a remote location with very little traffic. Yet, one person was there to witness the accident and call for help.
In spite of the desolate area, first responders arrived on the scene in short order. Their quick response and early detection as to the seriousness of the boys’ injuries was life saving.
Though they were close to the Colorado/Nebraska border the location of the accident had EMT’s electing to air lift both Caden and Atticus to Swedish Hospital in Denver – which happens to be the only level one trauma unit in Colorado.
Erica testifies that the staff was undeniably handpicked by God. Their knowledge, expertise and words of truth and encouragement kept them moving forward through all the trauma and uncertainty.
God also stepped in when the parents first arrived in Colorado, uncertain as to how long they would be staying. Yet God lead Atticus’ sister, Emory (still back home in Indiana) to connect with the owner of an AirBnB near the hospital who not only gave them a discounted price for the use of the home, but also made a special shopping trip for various supplies before they arrived.
God stepped in through the community coming together to complete the farm work while Jon was away.
Photo Credit: Keith James
(Keith took these photos of local farmers raking hay for the Klopfensteins while they were in Colorado. This was during the western fires which made the sunset colors more brilliant.)
He stepped in through the provision of a world class therapy facility which was located next door to Swedish Hospital. It’s worth noting that Craig Hospital specializes in two things – spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. God had Caden and Atticus right where they needed to be.
Because of the medical professionals and the hand of God guiding each and every situation, both boys are making miraculous recoveries. They have shattered all expectations of time. Even the level of recovery that they have made is remarkable.
For example, Atticus was released in early October while Caden was to remain in Colorado until February. But good news came in November that Caden would be able to go home to visit over Thanksgiving. As they made arrangements for the trip home, doctors hoped Caden’s new wheelchair would arrive before the trip but the possibility of that seemed unlikely.
The following day, Caden was met at the door of his therapy session by staff talking about the Thanksgiving miracle - his chair had arrived. And it would prove to be perfect timing because suddenly COVID was shutting down the state and Caden’s outpatient therapy was transferred from Colorado to Indiana.
He was coming home to stay – and they are both here with us today!
As of today, Atticus’ broken sternum and ribs are fully healed.
And the brain injury? The one with the mild to extreme life altering possibilities?
He has none!
There is no explanation other than the fact that God, against all odds, stepped in.
A test this week did reveal that he has only had minimal to moderate healing in his vertebrae thus far but we trust that God is more than capable to step into that situation yet as well.
As for Caden, he surprised his doctors and nurses with how quickly he has progressed through rehab. Doctors at Craig were determined to help Caden become self-sufficient. They lead him through the process of learning to do everything from getting dressed to transferring his body from a wheelchair to a vehicle to driving and even shooting his beloved guns.
Like Atticus, a majority of Caden’s injuries have completely healed.
Yes, the paralysis is still there, but things are happening. The first was a slight sensation Caden felt on his legs while still in the hospital. Then there was the feeling of a temperature change and the weight of a blanket. Since arriving at home, those changes have seemed to stall, so when praying for Atticus’ vertebrae, let us pray for continued healing for Cadon as well.
In spite of his situation, Caden has a reputation with his doctors and nurses. One nurse recently contacted Russell with this message. “It was refreshing to have a patient who radiates gratitude.” She said, “He could be bitter and have a totally different attitude with everything he has been through, yet he still has a good attitude. Just want you to know that you have raised an amazing son.”
Our church family has been given a gift in knowing these two men of God and their families. They encourage and inspire us.
This experience has taught us to pray bigger prayers even as we encounter His peace in the middle of the unknown.
Their story, along with the Brumbaughs, the Gagnes, Jack and Mary Ellen Smith and Wayne and Dawn Carter are all testimonies of the ways that God has stepped into the lives of our church family this past year. Through them, we are reminded that God sees us in our place of desperation and comes to our rescue. Through them we can see that He doesn’t always step in and remove the trouble we are facing, but rather He leads us through it even as He strengthens us each step of the way.
Many of us are living out stories of our own right this minute. Will you join me as we invite the Savior of the World to come and fill our hearts with peace this Advent season. And let us thank God, who against all the odds of 2020, has stepped into our own lives in so many wonderful ways.
Photo Credit: Keith James