Mr. Tuggle slept like a rock anyway.
Fifteen-year-old Dean and his two buddies, Ted Hart and Hank Tuggle were eye-balling Hank’s dad’s truck for a little 2 a.m. spin. Hank snuck the keys out of his dad’s jacket while he slept and they all jumped inside the truck, eager for a hoop-hollerin’ romp around the empty streets of Sacramento—but it was low on gas. The next-door neighbor’s fine-looking ride seemed to just be the kind of car you’d keep perpetually filled up.
Siphoning the gas out of it was messy business. Gas spilled everywhere. Dean’s pants were practically soaked. Hank made him go inside the house to change into another pair of pants so he wouldn’t stink up his dad’s truck.
A shirtless Dean opened the garage door, entered and walked toward the house. Little did he know that he was engulfed in a cloud of gas fumes. When the water heater pilot light got a whiff of it, Dean went up like a torch.
The fire was immediately large and intense. Dean couldn’t get his pants undone to get them off so he ran to the grass and rolled around in a frantic tumble of screams. It didn’t work. Hearing the screams, the deep sleeping Mr. Tuggle awoke and ran down to Dean and doused him with water, but not before 85% of Dean’s body was a smoldering and grotesque red and black.
Shockingly, he stayed awake and coherent throughout the entire ordeal. But that was about to change. The medical staff who received him at the hospital dipped his body in a medicinal fluid that burned so badly it took a battalion of nurses to keep him in the tub. Then began the process of scrubbing his wounds. It is the last part of the day he remembers.
The next phase of Dean’s life included multiple surgeries and grafts where skin from his back was used to patch up his legs. The physical therapy was long and painful. A year later, the worst was over. He had oddly-shaped toes and hands, plus legs that looked a bit like melted wax. But other than that, Dean felt pretty alright.
So he picked up with life where he left off. He went back to school, played sports and the drums in multiple bands. He went to college and pursued a degree.
He had received Christ as a young man, which is why a girl named Sylvia caught his eye. Sylvia was everything he wanted. She was lovely and committed to Christ and adored children. When they got married, Dean felt richly blessed by God. Life was good and the burn had become a distant memory.
After a year of trying to have children, Dean took a trip to the doctor to find out if there was a problem. There was. Was it the fire that caused it?
Years later, they adopted two beautiful children. With a growing family, Dean took a job as a truck driver. And that’s when it began to happen.
Dean took a job as a truck driver. And that’s when it began to happen.A slight pain from the top of Dean’s right foot appeared while he was driving. That night, while lying in bed, the pain was so bad he couldn’t sleep. The days were generally without pain, but at night the knives would come out again and stab into the top of his foot. Nights were agony for both Dean and Sylvia who was helpless to care for him.
Doctors informed Dean that the extreme heat from the fire 20 years prior had most likely created nerve damage. Why the latent response? No one knew. Still they identified the nerve that seemed to be causing the pain and Dean, desperate to get out of his misery, agreed to the removal of it. But the identified nerve wasn’t the problem. So they identified another nerve, then removed that one. It too was not the problem. Two operations down and Dean was still in agony.
But they were just getting started. Three more operations were needed to remove three more nerves and each of them failed to stop the pain. Then a spinal chord simulator was inserted, whose function it was to inform his brain that the pain that was hurting him—didn’t really hurt him after all. Dean’s brain didn’t fall for it.
Meanwhile Dean was sitting in his home with his foot propped up on the back of the couch when he began to realize that he rarely did anything else anymore. The more active he was during the day, the more agonizing the nights. Therefore, he couldn’t walk on it. He had stopped playing with his kids the way he used to. He couldn’t help around the house. He no longer drove. He no longer worked. For most hours of the day, while the kids went to school and Sylvia went to work, he sat in his chair and felt his value as a person begin to dwindle. He clung to his faith for sanity and survival.
Two years had gone by and his own self-perception was quickly atrophying right alongside his leg. He screamed out to God, “I’m no longer a man! Is this what you want?” He looked at his kids that he didn’t feel like a dad to. He looked at his wife coming home from work that he didn’t feel like a husband to. The guilt was more than he could bear. Over and over, he would read the story of Job to try to find the silver lining around his cloud of agony.
He screamed out to God, “I’m no longer a man! Is this what you want?”Then he had an idea. What if all of the nerves that spread out over the top of the foot were snipped behind the knee? He would be essentially shutting off all the power to everything from his knee on down. The doctor was deliberate about informing Dean of all of the risks and possible repercussions. “I don’t care,” said Dean. “It can’t be worse than what I have now.”
Dean and Sylvia had called out the troops to cover the surgery in prayer. They had been on their knees tirelessly as well. On the morning of the operation, they felt good about it. Afterward the surgeon reported that the operation went well. They had every reason to feel hopeful.
Arriving home that night, Dean laid down gingerly in his bed. “Oh please, oh please, oh please,” he begged God. Sylvia laid next to him and watched Dean’s face in the silence. The seconds and minutes ticked by.
Then a grimace.
It wasn’t much of one. But it was only the beginning. The pain, at first a trickle, ultimately came flooding over the top of Dean’s foot as if a dam had broken. Tears streamed down both their faces as they realized once again, their best efforts, their most fervent prayers had failed.
The house was very near silent, save for the clock on the wall whose second hand seemed a little louder that usual. The mid-morning sun was heating up the room through the windows. The TV had lost its appeal. The kids were at school and Sylvia was at work. She probably wouldn’t call until lunch. What to do, what to do…
He reached again for his Bible that rested nearby. With pain in his foot and pain on his mind and pain dominating his life, Dean opened the scriptures—and the scriptures opened up to him. It was as if the words began to emboss themselves. Christ, the suffering God, the “man of sorrows,” stepped forward from the page. It was a Christ that Dean had been blind to his whole life.
It was as if the words began to emboss themselves.
There, as an itinerant preacher, the pain of sleeping with His head upon the stones.
There, as He dined with His friends, the pain of what was to come.
There, among the desperate, clutching throng who wanted His healing touch, the pain of too many hands.
There, among the religious men of the day who turned the Word of God into an absurd set of rules meant to elevate their own value, the pain of the God being used as a wedge.
There, among the Jews at the Temple, who turned the holiness of God into commercial gain, the pain of watching His Father being treated with all the worth of a souvenir.
There, in the Garden of Gethsemene, the pain of His Father staying silent as He pleaded for deliverance.
There, in the hands of the Romans, the pain of His body being turned inside out.
There, while dying on the cross, the unfathomable pain of a Son feeling His Father turn away.
Dean looked at his foot. His pain felt less like a burden and more like an opportunity. It was just a foot, but it was also a window. The new view of Jesus fed his soul like nothing had before. In time, a transformation occurred: all the pain that God had allowed for Dean seemed to make more sense than not having the pain. “In life, you can have pain, or you can not. Why should I not? Just because I am a Christian? Perhaps, that is all the more reason.”
God has given Dean the smallest of glimpses into Christ’s suffering. It has put him on the precipice of a glorious new life, one where he is constantly reminded of the glory of a God who would become mortal to save mankind by dying on a cross.
He still wishes for full use of his foot again one day. But between then and now there may be some time. And there will be joy in the pain.
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