I spent some time on the phone with my friend Angie today. Less than two weeks ago, she lost her 25-year-old son Bryant to a tragic, unexpected incident involving inhalant abuse.
Loss and tragedy have profoundly imprinted Angie’s life. Nearly ten years ago, Bryant lost both legs after a high-speed car chase that abruptly ended with the SUV jammed between two trees and flames climbing his legs. Police officers were unable to open the doors to get inside the vehicle, but Bryant finally pushed himself through the sunroof.
His life was miraculously saved. But the burns were severe. A double amputation was the only workable solution for doctors who treated 16-year-old Bryant.
The long journey of physical and emotional healing had just begun for Bryant and the family as a whole when they were blindsided with another shattering blow. Bryant and Angie’s three younger sons were suddenly faced with the unexpected death of their father.
The heartfelt prayers of loved ones and countless friends in the closely knit community supernaturally lifted the compounding weight of loss and shock, enabling Angie to plow ahead as a single mother.
Many were also puzzled and amazed by Bryant’s ability to function in a realm completely outside expectations – including those of medical professionals. He later attributed the seemingly unnatural ease with which he responded and adjusted to dreadful realities in his life to the cradling effects of prayer.
As time passed, Bryant moved from a wheelchair to prosthetics that enabled him to walk again. His progress was remarkable, and he was hired by the prosthetics company to teach others to adjust to their devices.
On the outside, he appeared to be flourishing. But, Bryant had become addicted to the pain medications that were a necessary component of his medical care. When the time came to wean him off the narcotic, he was forced to face a tremendous amount of regret and grief over his own choices and the loss of his father. He struggled in silence, afraid to let others see his pain.
Before he knew what was happening, he was drinking and using drugs, slipping into a deep pit of hopelessness. One day he drank and took enough pills to put his life in jeopardy. Again, he nearly died.
But hope was restored when Bryant was accepted into Transformation Home, a residential discipleship program. He was revitalized in biblical truth, prayer, and love.
Although Bryant had received Christ as Savior, he realized he had never surrendered to Him as Lord of his life. Once he did, his life radically changed. After completing the program, he stayed on to help others, eventually becoming a staff member.
Bryant knew a special call was on his life to be there for men who struggle with addiction. Everyone else knew it too. He lit up a room with this contagious smile and joyful, mischievous personality. People of all ages were drawn to him.
He had a beautiful girlfriend, and he shared his story with large crowds of students in public schools, churches, and conferences. And he had a desire to tell everyone about Christ.
I remember Angie and Bryant sitting together on the set of a local TV program just a couple of months ago sharing their story. Bryant was doing his usual jesting, grinning and picking fun at his mom’s “attempts at humor” in her newly released novel, Hell’s Bend, loosely based on his story. It was (and is) an extraordinary love and affection shared between the mother-son-duo. They had become partners in purpose.
After everything they had been through, the sun was now shining. Life was good.
Fast-forward to July 8, Angie sat in a grocery store parking lot waiting for a text. She was about to purchase food for a mother she had never met – a woman who had recently lost her son in an ill-fated encounter with the law. While she sat in her car waiting for a local pastor to text the woman’s address, her phone rang instead.
“Angie, Bryant has been found in his apartment unresponsive,” the voice said. “You need to get over here right away.”
Much to her dismay, Bryant had moved out of Transformation Home and resigned his position as staff just three weeks earlier. Angie had not been to his apartment yet. She tried frantically to grasp the directions over the phone while driving and praying.
When she arrived, emergency vehicles and police were everywhere. She waited as they worked on Bryant in the bathroom.
She expected a stretcher to appear with her beloved Bryant being wheeled toward the open doors of the ambulance. She would jump in and her prayers would cover him as they roared down the road to the ER, sirens blaring.
Instead, a police officer was suddenly rolling out that dreaded yellow tape.
Bryant was gone.
Darkened words plowed into her soul like a screaming freight train: “You are such a joke, Angie. … You lost again. … There is no God!”
When Angie’s pastor and family friend arrived at the scene, Angie was standing on the porch screaming out in agony. As he rushed to comfort her, he realized she was screaming out these words:
“You are a good, good Father!
I choose to trust you!
I choose to sing your praises!”
Two days later, in the midst of sorting out funeral arrangements, Angie and two friends went to the home of that woman who had lost her son.
“We ended up taking food brought to us because of our tragedy,” she explained. “It was like God supplied it for me, so I could just go.”
Although the two women had never met, they felt each other’s pain. They embraced each other. They found solace in worshiping the God of all comfort together. They spoke of a good, good Father. They reminded each other of Christ’s love and trustworthiness. And they sang His praises.
“We had church,” Angie said.
Crashing waves of sorrow are yet to come for Angie and her children, and for many who knew and loved Bryant. Although his life was short, the ongoing impact realized through his life and death – through his successes and failures – is profound.
“Grief is a gift,” she told me today. “I know it will come, but today I’ve got to do what God has given me to do. I can’t remember a time in my life when I felt more laser-focused on doing the will of my Father.
“Satan picked the wrong chick!”