(Just an aside to my post. I was in second grade at Riverside elementary the year that I got burned and my second grade teacher was Mrs. Ironhawk. She was awesome and so were all of the kids in that class. A belated thank you for your friendship and support. To Mrs. Ironhawk who must be with Jesus by now, thank you. And to all of the other teachers who will read this post, You just never know how much a kind word or gesture might do so thank you for all you do to encourage, teach and love on the kids that come into your classroom. Especially for the ones who feel damaged and feel like misfits. (Mrs, Dunlevy of first grade, you were awesome too).)
(December 1st is the anniversary of the day in 1968 that I was burned. I shared my story at church last year. I would like to share it here. It is long but I hope that you will read it to the end).
While we were in Italy we sang worship in Italian. We sang the song Cuore Puro, written by our friends. Part of the refrain is Purificami, which in English means purify me. It got me thinking about a purifying process that I went through as a child.
Some of you may know this already, I have burn scars on my face. I will to tell you the story of how it happened. I hope to use my accident and the experience to show you something that God showed me about how he longs to purify us.
The day I was burned, it was a cold and snowy Sunday, December 1st 1968. I was 8 years old at the time and my older brother Mick was 12. My dad decided to go down to his work place, Lindell’s Auto Salvage and work on his car. He was restoring a 59 El Camino. I wouldn’t normally have gone with Mick and dad to work on his car. In my later years I’ve tried to figure out what my motivation would’ve been to go. I didn’t like grease, or getting dirty, I didn’t like loud noises, I didn’t like extended periods of cold, I didn’t like being separated from our T.V. My best guess is that it was the Sunday after thanksgiving and by then all of the goodies from the feast had been eaten up. I knew there was a vending machine in the lobby of dad’s work that sold hot chocolate with marshmallows. It cost a dime. As luck would have it, I had a dime. So that’s how I ended up at Lindell’s that night. Brought there by my sweet tooth. Sadly, I never did get the hot chocolate.
The events that led up to the accident were, not having a better way to describe it, the perfect storm. Everything had to be exactly the way it was or it wouldn’t have happened. Change any one element and the evening would’ve ended with the family watching “wonderful world of Disney” and eating a big bowl of popcorn.
That is not what happened.
It was cold that day. Cold enough to need a space heater in the garage where my dad kept his car. The space heater was empty enough to require a refill of white gas. The white gas was in a drum outside that was upright and had a hand pump on it. And it was cold enough to keep any white gas (kerosene) that might get splashed onto someone during a bucket filling from evaporating. I was the perfect size to hold the bucket under the spout during the splashiest part of the fill. And then too small to hold it for the entire time or to carry the bucket back into the garage so my dad wouldn’t think twice about whether or not my coat was flammable. My dad was at the perfect spot in his renovation of his El Camino that he could be distracted long enough for my brother to swipe 2 Dixie cups of paint thinner, one enamel and one lacquer. My brother was at the perfect age to be curious and informed of at least the flammable qualities of those two liquids but also the perfect age to not know or to not care about the dangers of using them out of context to their purpose. I was at the perfect age to think my brother knew everything. And be inquisitive enough to follow him outside so he could show me how the two different liquids, which looked the same in the cups, because of their chemical properties produced very different colored flames once they were ignited. Even at this point, the stage being set for tragedy if I hadn’t been afraid of my dad catching us, if I hadn’t told Mick to stomp out the cups of flaming liquid because I thought I heard dad coming, if we would’ve just watch them burn out, what if. But it was the perfect storm. I was afraid of my dad catching us, I did tell him to stomp them out. The first one died out instantly. And then? I was at the perfect distance and in the perfect location so that when he squished the second cup, instead of it extinguishing, it squirted a perfect flame directly toward me. The flame found the awaiting vapors of white gas that were on my coat and suddenly, I think it sounded like “FOOM”, I was engulfed in flame.
Through some quick thinking Mick saved my life. I don’t know how I would’ve handled it if the tables had been turned. He was standing within inches of his little brother being burned alive. He told me to lay down and roll around. I did lay down but I guess I didn’t understand the roll around part. I was on the ground but still in flames. Mick went to plan B and took off his coat and smothered the flames.
My dad must’ve heard some commotion because he came outside and saw me and asked Mick what happened. All he could say was “oh my God, oh my God” over and over. My dad ended up slapping him and it kind of snapped him out of it and he was able explain most of what happened.
It was the perfect storm. Everything had to be exactly the way it was or it wouldn’t have happened. Change any one element and the evening would’ve ended with the family watching “wonderful world of Disney” and eating a big bowl of popcorn. But that’s not what happened and my family and I would be changed forever.
The trip to the hospital seemed to take forever. There were a lot of unexplainable delays. We were at the wrecking yard where my dad worked, Lindell’s. He tried to get his car to start. It wouldn’t. He tried several others cars. None of them would start. After a few minutes of frustration he called my mom. Meanwhile I remember just standing in the gravel parking lot. Mom drove down the hill from our house which was about a mile away and picked me up. There were 2 hospitals in Pendleton at the time, St Anthony’s which was about 3 minutes away or there was the community hospital, 10-15 minutes away. My dad chose to send us to the community hospital. Mom put me in the car and started driving. She kept asking me questions. I guess trying to keep me conscious. We had driven about 2 miles when her car started to stall. We were almost to the intersection where the two hi-ways out of town meet when her car stopped completely. It was out of gas. Traffic started to back up behind us and a state trooper stopped to see if he could help. I don’t remember if he looked in and figured it out or if mom had to explain it but we were taken to his squad car and he drove us to the hospital. On the way we passed St Anthony’s. The officer asked if she was sure about going to the community hospital and she said yes and we sped past St. Anthony’s. There are parts of the drive I don’t remember but I was alert and awake when we arrived. I didn’t feel a lot of pain. Mostly it was a ring of intense stinging, like a string of bee stings around the perimeter of my face, and a lot of pressure. I guess my head started to swell up. It took a long time for the doctor to arrive. I think that I stayed conscious. I remember asking for an analgesic. (I think that I had watched too many doctor’s shows). I remember that I got a laugh but I was serious. They wouldn’t give me anything until the doctor was there to prescribe it.
When he did finally get there he looked over my condition. I don’t recall what he said but I did get something for pain. The next thing he did was to start pulling off the dead skin. I had second and third degree burns on my face and hand. I watched them slide the skin off my hand like it was a loose rubber glove. They just threw it away. In My eight year old kid brain I was thinking “aren’t I going to need that later?”
That’s about all I can remember of the emergency room. I woke up the next day and I couldn’t see, my eyes were swollen shut. It would take a week for the swelling to go down far enough for me to open my eyes. The room smelled like chemicals and burnt hair. The hair on the back of my head was melted and brittle and kept breaking off. My pillow was crunchy with it. I was in the hospital for twenty-one days. I received daily treatments which will I talk more about later and I received skin grafts from my thigh and my neck.
I was released and got home right before Christmas.
We have a picture of me soon after my homecoming. It might even be Christmas morning. It’s a black and white Polaroid. I look pretty rough. Not all of the burns had healed over yet but the scars hadn’t formed either. I had been in bed for so long that my leg muscles has atrophied. I wasn’t able to walk right away. My siblings carried me for a while but my parents thought I was milking it so they stopped all that. Left on my own I quickly got my legs back under me and was walking before school started back up after Christmas break.
Post hospital stay the tip of my right ear got infected. They tried to fight the infection and eventually beat it but not before it destroyed the cartilage that kept my ear upright so my right ear folded over on itself.
My hand had been bandaged with my fingers curled. While the burns healed webs of scars formed on the palm side of each digit. The doctors worried that I wouldn’t regain full use of my hand but by that summer, just regular boyhood play was therapy enough to overcome the scars and I have full use of my hand and fingers.
Ok, that is the background story of how I got burned but this message is more about the recovery process than the trauma of the accident. The thing that started this trip down memory lane was that word Purificami (purify me). We sang the song a lot. That word, Purificami stuck out and started this chain of thoughts and memories.
Purificami, being cleansed, cleansed of our filth. Not just dirt but filth, filth that if we leave it on we die, the damaged part of us that sticks to us, like the skin of my hand that they slid off like a glove.
So far I haven’t told you about the worst part of being burned, the worst part of being burned is recovery, and then the worst part of recovery is being cleaned. The cleaning process went something like this: every morning 4 of the staff would come in and hold me down, one on my right arm, one on my left arm, one each on my legs while 2 others would remove the bandages and “clean” the wound. They had to keep the dead skin from rotting on my face and causing infection so it had to be scrubbed off. There are Elements of this experience that we can apply to all of our Christian lives. It was the most pain that I have ever endured. I would beg and plead to skip a day but they were doing their job, helping me recover, saving my life by purifying me. If we skipped a day, it could have killed me.
In spiritual recovery from the damage brought on by a broken world, like in my incident, first there is the emergency room experience where we are brought from death to life, salvation. After we are saved there is still much to do, there is the ongoing work, the daily cleansing that helps us recover from our wounds, purification or Sanctification.
When we come to Jesus We’ve all been hurt or damaged in some way. We’ve been burned by the world. In order to heal us Jesus, the great physician will need to gently, yet persistently cleanse us, washing away our putrid flesh, the sin and its effects on us and then slowly he will heal us.
The bible shows us how this works. We are washed by the word.
Couched in a word to husbands of how we should treat our wives, in Ephesians 5:25-27 Paul talks about how Jesus treats his bride the church “husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make holy, cleansing by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless.”
We are washed by exposure to the Holy Spirit by reading and applying the word of God. David says in Psalm 51:2 “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from sin” and later in the same Psalm he says “purge me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow”. In Hebrew vernacular he was saying, scrub me God, Brillo pad me God.
Purification. It hurts. Without it I would have slowly died. With it I stand before you today. Gods cleansing of our spiritual wounds can hurt too. Spiritually With it we are transformed from death to life. Molded and shaped to be more like Jesus.
Let’s take this a little further.
I want to say that there is a difference between reading the bible and eating the bible. Ezekiel 3:1-3 God told the prophet to “eat the scroll”. I’ve had so many mornings of bible reading, just me scanning over the words on the page but they just stay there. They register in my brain as being English and they all make sense but honestly and sadly, they don’t make a difference.
In my hospital story only the scrubbing that touched me was effective. The closer it got to me the more it changed me. God’s word will change my life only in the relationship with how close I let it come to me.
My Recovery process was actually two-fold. There was the therapy every morning of being cleansed from the outside. Then there was the ongoing work of antibiotics cleaning me from the inside. There is the time that we expose ourselves to the word through study and fellowship, but that’s like a doctor’s office visit. Do we want Gods cleansing to happen once a year, once a month, once a week, once a day or do we want the ongoing work, like an IV drip or a time release antibiotic? If so we need to keep it with us and let it touch us. One more time back to my hospital analogy, yes I was scrubbed but I was also hooked up to IV that fed me and pumped medicine into me. God’s word can be that same thing in us spiritually. Be a steady drip into my heart.
I want to add one more verse with II Thessalonians 2:13-15 “But we ought always to thank God for you brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this though our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then brothers stand firm and hold to the teachings passed on to you whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
God wants to finish the work that be began in us. He wants to purify us. It might hurt but one way we can participate in this is to lean into his gentle cleaning of our wounds, to keep those tools he needs available in our hearts, to have them working constantly in our lives like a spiritual I.V..
PURIFICAMI, Purify me Lord Jesus.
The burns left scars.
On this night 54 years ago I stepped out of the side door of a body shop in Pendleton Oregon and ended up with life altering burns on my face and hand. If nothing else, I am proof God can use horrible events and situations and turn them into blessings. My burn scars are what brought Mary Loeffelbein and I together and SHE has been the biggest (except for my salvation) blessing of my life. So today I celebrate the anniversary of the night my life changed course for the better. I can’t say that I rejoice in the scars but I do rejoice in how God has used them to make me who I am and to take me to this place in my life.