Two weeks ago last night, just before midnight, we were about to head to bed after a full and satisfying Lord's Day. Then my cell phone rang. Seeing it was my daughter, Emory, made me a bit uneasy as I answered, knowing she would not normally call so late at night. Hearing her voice confirmed my concern. Her husband, Tommy, a newly minted police officer in Indianapolis, had been shot through the throat while seeking to apprehend a man.
Often the police are referred to as the "thin blue line." The "line" refers to the way police protect society from criminals. "Blue" refers to the typical color of their uniforms. And the word "thin" is a reminder of how susceptible the police are to acts of violence that can lead to injury or death.
Since that evening, the focus of both Tommy and Emory's families, and so many around them, have been on supporting Tommy and Emory through the ups and downs of this tragedy. The shot that pierced the thin blue line also pierced Tommy's larynx, taking away his ability to swallow, breathe without a tracheostomy, and speak. The early days in the hospital were difficult, as there was much uncertainty whether Tommy would regain these functions. Yet we rejoiced over God's providence as we learned details. Here are just a few examples:
Emergency vehicles were dispatched prior to the shooting because of the hit and run that occurred in this incident, meaning paramedics were able to attend to Tommy almost immediately. Otherwise, he could have suffered brain trauma due to lack of oxygen.
The bullet missed his spinal cord. As proof of his freedom from spinal injury and testimony to his physical fitness, Tommy climbed two sets of hospital stairs and started doing squats just a few days after being shot.
As the bullet went through his larynx, Tommy has gone through two surgeries and an emergency procedure thus far. Each time, the Lord has provided the right team of expert surgeons and staff to attend to him. Following his second surgery, the prognosis went from a slim chance to cautiously optimistic that Tommy will speak again one day.
On Friday of last week, Tommy left the hospital with the medical staff and police department giving him quite a send-off. As he arose from the wheelchair to walk out to the police car escort, Tommy paused and signed with Emory giving the interpretation: "Tommy is weak, but God is my strength."
Having spent most of my time in Indianapolis these past two weeks, I was privileged to be one of the few people who was able to visit Tommy in the ICU before he went home. As I sat by his bedside, Tommy communicated through a pen and notebook. He did not want to talk so much about his wounds and healing process, but his relationship with Christ. Tommy was like a bubbling fountain as his joyous heart and tearing eyes spilled over with gratitude and love for all the Lord was doing in him and through him. Indeed, during his stay in the hospital, nurses, doctors, police officials, city councilmen, and even the mayor entered into the room seeking to encourage Tommy, but they left having been encouraged to know Christ and having Tommy pray written prayers for them (as this article explains). I was humbled as I witnessed the Lord reviving and visiting an already godly young man and his wife.
As a sample, one of the first evenings I was alone with Tommy and Emory, I had a profound conversation with them that I still cannot believe we had given all the other things they were facing. But they earnestly wanted to discuss how easy it is to move from the love of one another into idolatry. As many who know Tommy and Emory often comment on their great delight in one another, they acknowledged that a spouse can easily give in their heart affections a place that only belongs to God. They wanted, especially at this time, to make sure they would honor and love the Lord above one another. I heard them saying they wanted to practice the words of Luke 14:26, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." Our Lord speaks hyperbolically here to emphasize that our love for Him must have first place over all other loves.
Just as the police's thin blue line can be disrupted as Tommy's casualty proved, so what we chose to call the "thin red line" between love and idolatry can be crossed when we give to another person the love that belongs uniquely to God. As C.S. Lewis helpfully clarifies in The Four Loves,
But the question whether we are loving God or the earthly Beloved “more” is not, so far as concerns our Christian duty, a question about the comparative intensity of two feelings. The real question is, which (when the alternative comes) do you serve, choose, or put first? To which claim does your will in the last resort yield?
So there in the ICU room, with lines running into Tommy's body, the beeping of monitors surrounding us, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead facing them, I had the incredible privilege of discussing with my dear daughter and dear son prioritizing Christ above all things. We were reminded that when in sin we do cross that thin red line in our affections, we know His blood still covers and restores us (1 John 2:1-2).
A bullet may have pierced Tommy's larynx and taken his voice away for a time. But I write this article as a witness that he is testifying more loudly than ever to the Christ whose gospel sword pierces much deeper, bringing healing with it even as it wounds.
If you would like updates on Tommy's condition, you can visit this site.