Just out of curiousity, I picked up a book that tells the stories behind the hymns we find in church – the songs we rarely pick up because we often prefer Tim Hughes or Hillsong. More than anything, I sought to revitalize my appreciation of hymns. As I was browsing through, one hymn called “After” really moved me through the story that inspired the author to write.
N.B. Vandall had fought in World War I and survived – in 1934, he was happily married and the father of two children. One day, he went out to call the boys to dinner. This is what happened, in Vandall’s own words:
Rushing down the steps, I saw our second boy, Ted, running toward me. He was choking with hysteria. I had to shake him before he realized who I was.
“What’s wrong, son? Here’s Daddy. You’re not hurt, are you? Come on, now, what’s wrong?”
“Oh Daddy!” he gasped. “I’m all right – but it’s Paul!”
Between sobs he gasped out the story. Paul, playing between the curb and the sidewalk, ahd been hit by a car, out of control by its driver. It had dragged him up the street. Paul ahd been covered with blood when taken from under the car, unable to speak.
We found Paul in a nearby doctor’s office, still unconscious. the docotor had called an ambulance to take the boy to the hospital and was quite hopeless about his condition. The hospital docotor confirmed his fears. The boy had a brain concussion, a fractured skull, a broken leg, a shoulder misplaced, the left collar bone broken, and the left side of his head literally scalped and lost in the dirt of the street.
The surgeon, kind but frank, said, “The boy is badly hurt. We will do the best we can, but do not hope for too much.”
I replied, “Doctor, I am sure you will do the very best you can, but you hold out so little hope. I am a World War veteran, having served with the Marines for almost two years, and I’ve seen some hard things – they said I was tough. But I’m a Christian minister now, and this is my boy and you offer no hope. Please let me stand by and hold his hand and pray while you do what has to be done.”
The doctor looked me over for what seemed an eternity and then granted my request. For one hour and fifteen minutes, I held on in prayer while they cleaned and sewed up the head wounds. Then we took Paul upstairs and set the broken bones. No opiates were given because of his heart condition. The doctor said, “His heart cannot stand any more and may stop at any time.”
Wearily I made my way back to my humble home. I tried to comfort my wife by telling her that everything was all right, when, in my heart, I had no assurance.
I fell on my knees and tried to pray – words would not come. I remember only, “Oh, God!”
I am glad that we serve a God who knows our heart’s cry. Hardly had those words been uttered when God came. I seemed to me that Jesus knelt by my side and I could feel his arms around me as He said, “Never mind, my child. Your home will be visited with tribulation and sorrow, but in the afterwards to come, these things shall not be. Your home is in heaven, where tears shall be wiped away.”
Here is the hymn Vandall wrote immediately following this experience:
“After the toil and the heat of the day, after my troubles are past, after the sorrows are taken away, I shall see Jesus at last.
After the heart-aches and sighing shall cease, after the cold winter’s blast, after the conflict comes glorious peace – I shall see Jesus at last.
After the shadows of evening shall fall, after my anchor is cast, after I list to my Saviour’s last call, I shall see Jesus at last.
He will be waiting for me – Jesus, so kind and true; on His beautiful throne, He will wecome me home after the day is through.”
Vandall’s son Paul did recover, though still nervous and with impaired vision. Vandall offered praise saying “I thank God for His goodness in giving him back to us. God in His wisdom, through heartache, gave a song that has been a comfort to a vast number of His people.”
Looking back at my first year in college, I feel burdened by the ways I feel I failed, the fear I felt in maybe making a drastic mistake in going to UCLA, my hopelessness in deciding my future, my guilt in not achieving the goals I set, and the backsliding my faith suffered many times. There were instances where I felt so winded and dizzy from the pressure of college that I could do nothing but lie in bed wanting the day to end before it even began. The only consolation I could often find was in reading through the Psalms, screaming David’s words in my heart.
Now that I’m in the brief calm of summer, I still do not have the answers to most of the struggles I went through in my first year. I know in my head Jesus is the answer, but my heart shakes in doubt as I try to offer it completely to Christ. As Vandall looked on hopelessly at his broken son, I look at the shattered glass in my hands that was my frail pride and worldly aspirations. In some ways, I feel like Vandall in that I sometimes can only cry, “Oh, God!” in my weakness and fragility.
The realization hit me: as long as I place my hopes in the things of this world, I will never feel safe, I will never feel comforted, I will never feel good enough; if I continue to see death as the end to my worth, my life will be worthless within the century. As Vandall could not place his hopes upon the chance of his son living, so I cannot place my hopes on the fleeting shadow of worldly success. And all the while Jesus Christ, only Christ, can offer a way out from this prison I built for myself. What I can hope for is, rather than an end to my troubles, a promise of living eternally in the embrace of the God of galaxies – next to that, nothing else matters, and I shall see Jesus at last.