Today's Reading

While I was growing up, my parents gave me a simple faith. They taught me to trust that God would take care of us and make everything work out all right. We weren't naive to the troubles of the world, but we believed that they were all part of a plan and that we could trust in God's provision in the future because he'd never failed us in the past. I'd applied that same philosophy to raising my own kids, trying to give each of them the peace of mind that comes when faith becomes real in your life.

But teaching your kids something is one thing. When you turn off the lights at night and it's just you and your thoughts, how real is it?

We were about to spread across the country, go back to our daily lives, be distant from one another. Josh wouldn't be close by to swim out for Mitch anymore, Caity and Kimber would no longer share a room, and Kalyn wouldn't be right down the hall every night as she'd been all week in the beach house.

But God had always been there before, no matter how stormy life had been through times of war, divorce, and stress.

In the darkness I reached over and took Lisa's hand. "Everything's gonna be okay."

"Yes, it will," she said. I believed it—then.


CHAPTER TWO

Not-So-Happy Birthday

To ask people to be brave is to expect them to think of their lives in a new way.
—GORDON LIVINGSTON, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

East Alabama Medical Center
Opelika, Alabama, 2008

I'd just finished my first operation of the day when my cell phone buzzed. I looked at the screen.

CALL DR. STINSON IN ED. 35 YO MALE, S/P MVA, PROBABLE BRAIN TUMOR.

A thirty-five-year-old man, status: post a motor-vehicle accident, probable brain tumor? That got my attention. So instead of calling Dr. Stinson, I decided to walk down to the emergency department (ED) and check it out.

"Morning, Doc," Claudette said when I entered. She's been the unit secretary of our hospital's ED for at least three hundred years, and I've never seen her out of the chair she was sitting in.

"Good morning. What's the story?" I said.

"Guy had a seizure or something. Wrecked his car on the way to work. Scan shows something wrong. Dr. Stinson's got his chart."

I turned toward the doctors' workstation to find Stinson. "Oh, and Doc?" Claudette called. "Today's his birthday."

I shook my head and shoved my hands into my lab coat pockets. If Stinson's text message was correct, the patient was not going to have a very happy birthday.

I found Stinson sitting in front of a computer, a pile of charts next to it. He was looking at a chest X-ray on the monitor; half a doughnut sat on the keyboard. This guy has been eating every waking moment since 1988, but he seems to be thinner every time I see him. He travels to developing countries with Doctors Without Borders, and I sometimes wonder whether he's got a tapeworm or something. He's almost a foot taller than me and razor thin; if you ran into the side of him, it might cut you in half. He wears a yarmulke over wavy black hair, and he has a sloped forehead that leads your eye right down to an extreme nose. You can't look away the first time you meet him because he looks like a Jewish Abraham Lincoln.

"Hey, Stinson," I said. "Emancipated many patients today?"

He sniffed and wiped a little powdered sugar off the corner of his keyboard. "About fourscore and seven. It's been crazy down here."

At least he has a sense of humor. You'd lose your mind working the ED if you didn't.

Stinson was a sight with all six foot six of him stuffed into his office chair, his knees above his thighs. He handed me a patient's chart. "Sad situation, if it's what it appears to be."

"Yeah," I said. "Pull up the scan."

He clicked his mouse a few times and brought up an MRI scan of the patient's brain. I leaned over and assumed control of the computer to work my way through the scan.

The label read "Martin, Samuel. Thirty-five." Three years younger than me. It was his birthday, just as Claudette had said.
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