We sat across from each other on C3’s green velvet couch and caught up like the old friends that we are. I met Hannah when my husband and I moved to South Carolina in 2002 to work at the church her dad pastored. She was in college and dating her now husband, Kevin. I’d been so intimidated by her beauty and charisma that our friendship snuck up on me. And eventually–even after I clogged up their toilet and accidentally dropped the f-bomb in front of them–her family became like our family.
Judson, Crew, Ian, Josiah, Kevin, Polly, Haddon, Jessi, Gray, Evan, Navy, Hannah, & Kevin
Remembering I only had a long lunch break, I grabbed a swig of water and asked the question which would lead to the story I wasn’t yet ready to revisit. “I obviously know what happened, but my first question is–from your mouth–what is your tragedy? What has happened to you?”
“So, most of this you might know, but I’ll recount. The very first of October 2013, I felt like the Lord spoke to me and told me my life was going to change. I didn’t really understand, but just leaned in because I was curious. It wasn’t audible, but I told Kevin it felt like a coat of dread. Normally, I can pray through that or check my fear at the door. But this was different. I sorta tried to manipulate the situation, like,” Her pitch rises in jest. “Oh my gosh, this isn’t a coat of dread–I’m going to win the lottery! I don’t play the lottery, but somebody’s going to give me a million dollars–that’s how my life’s going to change. But it became stronger every day. To the point that I begged Kevin not to go to school the last few days of October because I kept thinking, ‘Maybe Kevin’s going to be gone, and if he’s going to be gone, I just want him to stay here.’ He was like, ‘You’re stupid.'” My laugh caught me off guard and she continued to recount her husband’s words to her. “‘If I’m going to die, I’m going to die just sitting here. This is dumb.’ And I told him, ‘It’s not dumb to me!’ But he went to work and I went to work.”
She leaned back and draped her arm across the couch. “And on October 30, my dad called me in his office. I didn’t know what he was going to say but the moment he said, ‘Hey come in here for a second,’ I knew that was it. I didn’t even know it would be about him honestly. He sat me down and told me he had lung cancer. I told him I would pray for a miracle and he said, ‘Don’t.’ I was like, ‘What?! I’m praying for a miracle–you can’t tell me what to do!’ He said ‘No, don’t pray for a miracle. Pray that God’s will is done.’ And I kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to pray that. No.’”
“My dad’s mental state the entire time was exactly what he preaches—’when God’s done with me, then God’s going take me. And that’s when I want to go.’ Because honestly, he should have died at 19-years-old and I shouldn’t be here.” She made reference to her dad’s bout with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age nineteen and the fact he was told he would never have children.
Kevin & Polly Childs
Kevin & Polly’s six children: Evan, Hannah, Josiah, Judson, Haddon, & Ian down front
Kevin & Hannah
“He went through all that before, which I know, changes a person. Anyway, it was a very small spot. His oncologist really wasn’t worried about it and told him he could probably go for a long time without any chemo. But that’s not really my dad’s nature–he wants to wrestle beasts and punch them in their faces.” I nodded at the truth she spoke. “So, he started chemo, some experimental treatments, and all-natural stuff. Everything looked good. One of the byproducts of lung cancer and chemo and all those things is fluid buildup, so every once and a while, he would go to his lung doctor to drain the fluid. It wasn’t a huge deal.”
“I think it was May 17th–my mom’s so much better with dates–but it was a Sunday morning and Matt was preaching. I couldn’t help but comment, ‘That’s odd’, and Matt’s response was, ‘Yeah, your dad asked me.’ My mom walked in the door and I said, ‘Where’s Daddy? Is he not feeling good?’ She said, ‘Well, he went to the hospital last night.’ And I said, ‘What?!‘ She told me he was just having trouble breathing. But for my dad to go, obviously he needed to go. I texted my dad and said, ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, what should my worry be?’ And he, of course responded, ‘Zero,’ because he doesn’t believe in worry. We were going out of town that day, so I asked if he wanted me to stay. He said, ‘Absolutely not. They’ll drain the fluid, no big deal.’ So, I went to the upstate–I don’t even remember what I was doing. A few days later, I was driving down the interstate when I got a panicky call from my sister-in-law asking if I’d talked to my mom. She said he might not make it. And I was like, ‘What are you talking about? What?!‘
Hannah started to recount her mom’s calmness while telling her that her dad was in surgery, but she was sidetracked by another thought. “I know we’re talking about God being good, but there are so many things in the story that point back–” She trailed off. “I don’t know. Things I’m thankful for that we just needed. Like that day, my mom was going stop by the store and she just decided not to. She walked in my dad’s room at the right time and saw him look like something wasn’t right, so she was able to get the doctor and they took him straight back to figure out how much fluid was in his abdomen. And during that time, Dr. Sasser–who was done with his shift and in the parking lot–said he got in his car and felt led by the Spirit to go back in and check.” I interrupted to make sure she was talking about Paul Sasser–her dad’s friend since their Wofford College days–and not Paul’s father, who is also a doctor. “Uh-huh. Paul went back in and asked, ‘You guys okay?’ And the nurses said, ‘Yeah, you just left.’ He looked over and saw a commotion. He picked up the chart and read Robert Childs and he thought, Oh, it’s Kevin Childs’ dad. But then he walked over to the commotion and saw it was my dad–who happens to have the same first name as my granddaddy.” So, he picked his nurses and went right into surgery. Paul would tell you, ‘I really thought he wouldn’t make it.’ And honestly, if he wouldn’t have gotten back out of his car, Dad probably wouldn’t have.”
Her words sank in, and I longed for them to be the triumphant conclusion of her story. But I knew better. She continued, “So anyway, they saved him and I got home. He got better, so was he moved down a floor, which was really cool because my mom went back to school for a while and I just hung out with him. I would doodle Scriptures and put Scripture on the wall for him to look at. And pray. I’d just sit on my computer and type and pray and journal through things I was feeling. And my sister Evan came down. It was cool because she’s been away for so long and there was something special about having her with me because she’s my partner.”
“During that time, it turned out my dad was getting oxygen in but not the carbon dioxide out. He was basically making himself high, which is what he was acting like, so they moved him back up to ICU. From that point on, it was crazy. In the ICU, you never rest. You’re a phone call away or you’re sleeping in the waiting room waiting for that one person to open the door. Dad’s doctors were great but they basically said, ‘We don’t know what else to do here.’ He loves–he loved his doctors.” It wasn’t the first time she’d referred to her dad in the present, but it was the first time she corrected herself and a wave of grief washed over me.
“We made the executive decision to go to Duke. When we got to Duke, they talked to us about what rehab looked like with him and without him in the room.” I interrupted for clarification. “So almost thinking as if…” Hannah finished my sentence by saying, “Like he was coming home. He would have a different way of life. Selfishly, I was thinking, he’s going to hate this. My dad is a man’s man. To have somebody who has to help him get up, and be on oxygen, and check in on him from the hospital… I think from that point–when he got to Duke and they started talking about that stuff–I told my mom I wouldn’t be surprised if he was praying the opposite of us. And I started seeing it, sort of, in his mannerisms as time went on. He wanted to watch sports and then he’d say, ‘No, just leave the TV off.’ He was just kind of being more still; being quieter.” Hannah grew quiet.
“One day we were on an upward swing, and he did a swallow test while we were all in the room. He ate a bite of apple sauce and drank some water, and then I went in the bathroom. When I came back out, someone had pushed the code blue button. I looked over and–it’s the craziest thing but—there were around twenty-five people in the room like–” She snapped her fingers. “–in a second. My mom looked panicked and my sister was saying, ‘What is going on?!’ So, they put us in the bathroom. I don’t know why they didn’t take us out of the room–that would’ve been really great. My sister stepped into the bathroom and literally collapsed. I caught her head before she hit the sink. After I slapped my sister in the face, telling her she will wake up, that she will not be asleep during this, all we could hear was the table where they were doing compressions and the nurse recounting. You would think it would be like, ‘What are we doing?! Get this, get that!’ But the room was dead silent and all we could hear were the compressions. And then the head doctor said, ‘Pulse check.’ We waited a few seconds and then we heard, ‘No pulse.’ And then they just continued doing CPR. It was like the twilight zone. It’s the only way I can describe it. He was gone for about fifteen minutes. And I don’t know if we prayed him back–he was probably angry for praying him back.” A little laugh-cry escaped my lips at her commentary. “But they said, ‘We have a pulse.’ So, everyone was like–” Hannah let out a huge breath by way of demonstration. “And in God’s providence, Dirk was already on his way, so we literally walked out of the room and we had his strong arms to hold us while we cried.” Hannah referred to her dad’s best friend since the seventh grade, Dirk Derrick.
Dirk & Kevin
“By the way, Dirk was such a gift during that time. It was awesome because he got to be in the meetings with the doctors, who decided, basically, to sort of freeze dad’s body because they didn’t know how much brain function he still had. From there, I don’t think he ever really spoke again. He mouthed words, which was funny because we would play games to try to figure out who could figure out what he was saying. And he would eye roll a lot.” I could picture him doing that so clearly, a laugh choked my emerging sob. Hannah continued. “But the brain-freezing thing totally worked because my sister would come in and she’d say, ‘Daddy, do you know who I am?’ And he’d be like,” She shook her head no. “And then Haddon would walk in and he’d say, ‘Hey Haddon.’ Not even dying for fifteen minutes can take away my dad’s sarcasm. Which is pretty miraculous if you think about it.” I laughed hard.
“It was insane. But it’s like you’re playing catch up the entire time you’re in ICU. One thing may be great, but everything else is bad. During that time his kidneys would not regain function, so they put him on dialysis to kick-start them. Then they noticed his heart was getting weaker. My dad’s heart has been through the ringer.” Hannah referred again to his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age nineteen and subsequent treatment. “His vessels were fried from radiation, and then he had all these stints. You could just pal–” We struggled with the pronunciation of the word ‘palpably,’ and since neither of us could get it right, Hannah improvised. “You could tell he was working hard. And tired. One day the doctor came in, and it was a doctor that we didn’t love. He had just finished talking to my mom and came and sat beside me. I kept thinking, ‘Why are you sitting beside me?’ And he said, ‘I don’t think we have much longer.’ And I said, ‘Like for a cure?’ For? In my mind, I felt like Dad was tired. So I said ‘… Okay.’ I walked down the hallway praying and I said, ‘Lord, what does that mean? Why would he have said that if he didn’t mean…?’ My mom found me and asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I told her, ‘Nothing.’ And she said, ‘You’re lying.’ I told her what the doctor said, but then we couldn’t find him to ask questions. So I called my brothers and Dirk and I said, ‘Um, I think you guys should drive up here today.’ And they all did.”
I did my best to brace my heart for what was coming as Hannah continued. “Basically, they told us that whatever infection he had, his body was too weak to fight it off. The nurse was so awesome that day. And I told her, ‘I need to know exactly what is going to go down because you hear horror stories.’ I wanted to mentally prepare, because I am ultra into mentally preparing to handle things. She said, ‘Once his heart gets to a point where it can’t beat, his heart will literally just stop beating and he will be asleep. He’ll be able to hear you from then.’ I don’t think they had him sedated on anything the entire time. They’d ask him if he was in pain. And he would just say, ‘No.’ The entire time,
‘Daddy are you ok?’
‘You feel good?’
‘Did you see angels when you died for 15 min?’
I laugh-cried again. “They came and got us probably about midnight. We were sleeping in the lobby and had left my mom in there with her sister so she could curl up and be with him and be by herself. They called us back there and just said, ‘We think we’re getting close and we want you guys to all be in here together.’ We all just got to stand around his bed with Dirk on the outside praying and emotional out of his deep friendship and love for my dad. Each of us got to pray and then just gave testimony to his life–” Her voice became soft and trembled as tears pooled in her eyes. “–and just thank God for what he’s been in our lives. It was–if you could picture the most beautiful way–then that was it. My mom came around the other side and she leaned down and whispered something in his ear and then his heart stopped beating. It was just–it was terribly perfect.” The way Hannah said it, it was almost a question. “I don’t know if that’s a good word to describe it.” Her face cleared at her next thought and she smiled. “And still with my family–because you know my family–there’s always a hint of sarcasm or laughter. So, during that entire time somebody would accidentally peel off his heart monitor and all of us are like,” She shot me a look of dread that explained their horror. “And then like, ‘So sorry, it was me.’ And they’d fix the device and the nurse would say, ‘Nope, he’s still here.'” I’d started giggling and couldn’t stop because I could picture the scene. Hannah continued. “Afterwards they got the creepy doctor and we were all thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, the creepy doctor!’ He walked in and did whatever doctors have to do and stepped back. And he, in The Sound of Music nun-posture, said, ‘I regret to inform you … Mr. Childs … is dead.’ I was like, ‘Is this a movie?! Can you go back to school and learn something?!’ But all of us looked at each other and basically laughed. It was comedic relief in the moment because it was just strange.” I asked her for clarification on the date of his passing. “It was July 10, 2014.”
“But those are all the stories, in a quick version. Which was not very quick.” I thanked her and moved on to the question I’d been mulling over since late last year. “So how–and I’m not interested in the why–but how, after everything you went through in that entire process, how can you personally still say that God is good?”
“Well I think it um–” She paused. “I think it starts before. I think that God knows me well enough to know that I have to mentally prepare, like I said. And so even in October with that cloak of dread, it was almost like he was preparing me mentally. I spent more time digging in and alone with him and asking him, ‘What is this?’ I think every step along the way, God prepared me or he gave me space to, not prepare me, but take care of me. So, in the weirdest way, I was taken care of through it. And he didn’t have to do that, obviously. I don’t know how to describe it because some of it is not tangible. I journaled about this the other day just because I read it again–I kept going back to the story of Jesus praying to change it when he was fixing to go to the cross. Change, change, change. The entire thing, the devo that day was that God is still good even though Jesus had to endure the cross. When you trust that God loves you–which is why Jesus was okay, because of anybody, he knew the love of the Father. So, when you trust the love of the Father–like truly trust the love of the Father–then you receive things differently from him. Like, when somebody comes to you and tells you something and you know they love you, it’s different than some Joe Schmoe just coming in. And so, I knew who God was in theory, but it was still like he was Joe Schmoe. But I think when you lean into him as a father–and sometimes I think tragedy is honestly the only way to get there–tragedy is the only road to understand his love for us.” Her statement came out as more of a question. “And if you believe that and walk it out, you see how he’s so good over so many things. And the small details that, just collectively, like really? You’re freakin’ good. How in the world? And then you understand his love, and out of that love, you just trust. Then instead of saying, ‘You took my dad from me.’ You can say, ‘You’re so good, look at the dad you gave me.’ Or, ‘You made us endure all this.’ Instead, ‘Look how much time I got alone with him.’ I don’t know.” She shrugged. “You just see things differently.”
She thought for a moment and then made reference to the man who has filled in her father’s place as pastor, Josh Finklea. “The verse Josh preached about when you go through tragedy and there’s perseverance, that perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. I was like, ‘Yes!’ Some days I had to wake up and say, ‘God is good–I’m going to say it. And God loves me.’ Some of those things are just things my dad instilled in me. Truths that my dad not only just said to me but lived out until his last breath. Like really basic, simple things to get me through. But that verse about character & hope–” She trailed off. “I don’t even feel like the same person. And then understanding the love of the Father, I feel, has changed my character in such a way that I have love for other people. I’ve always loved people, but a genuine love for people like God has for me. And that, literally, changes your entire life. Megan said the other day–” She mentioned her best friend, Megan Bayliff, who has walked through recent pain and grief. “–She said, ‘You know, tragedy’s almost a gift in the weirdest way.’ And I couldn’t help but agree and say, ‘That is so true.’ It really is. Because without that gift, I don’t think I’d ever have known God’s love or experienced God’s love. And without that, I could never turn around and give God’s love like I give God’s love. And out of that love and that character change–because to me the biggest character change for God is love. To turn around and give that, especially being in ministry, it changes everything.”
The gentle hum of coffee preparation and conversation filled the air as I absorbed her words. Hannah’s marked my fourth interview, yet I knew the last question would still spill out of my mouth as a disjointed mess. “What would you say to someone who would say, ‘If God is a good God–with as many people as were praying for your dad, with knowing what kind of Godly man he was–if God was truly a good God, why would he allow your dad to die?’”
She nodded her understanding. “I’ve actually thought about this so many times. And it’s been one thing I’ve had to really walk out with the Lord. The conclusion that I’ve come to with the Lord’s help–and it’s personal for me so somebody else might think, ‘That’s a stupid answer.'” I interrupted. “Dude. There is no stupid answer.” She smiled by way of thanks. “Okay. I think that when sin entered into the world, we opened ourselves up to all of these things. Through Scripture I see that God doesn’t necessarily send cancer. I think our lives and our sin patterns on earth and the things that we have evolved into–we’re a selfish and a fast society. Whatever you want to attribute it to. But I really feel like it starts with the fall. And that God was good. He created it perfectly where we never had to die. We never had to experience tragedy. And then sin came into the world and screwed everything up. God’s first intention was to make life perfect for us. We just screw it up a lot. And for some reason that brought me comfort, to know that God wasn’t like, ‘Well who am I going to pick to have cancer? I’m going to pick him!'” She points. “I don’t think it happens like that. I think this world is just awful. It’s earth, and we glorify it and we think it’s the best thing ever. And we have glimpses of joy and we love our kids and we love our husbands. And we love people and we love what the Lord’s doing and stuff, but it’s not what God intended. Heaven is the version of what God intended. And one day we’ll receive that. But here on earth, I feel like you almost have to brace yourself that these things happen. Like, I’m gonna die. And I feel like people try to ignore it a little bit. I might bury my kids. I might bury my husband. I don’t know, but that’s the way it works. And not because of who God is, but because of who we are and the things that we’ve allowed. And I don’t know why, but that brings me comfort just to know that it’s not in God’s character, it’s in our character. After my dad died, I read a lot about heaven. One of my favorite quotes is that we’re so close-minded and thinking of it as a distant land. But it’s so close to us. The author’s example was, if you were going to move somewhere one day, like if you were moving to Australia in a week. Or a day. How prepared would you want to be for Australia? You would want to know who’s there, what’s there, how’s it going to be? And he said so much of our life is so focused on earth and just surviving and living. And it’s not on the spiritual side of things. People don’t prepare, they don’t think about it. He said but when you have somebody there, it becomes very real. It’s almost like you put on these glasses and there’s a different depth to life. It’s almost like, relationally, when you go through something that bonds you together tighter. Or makes you lean in more. So, after going through tragedy and having the glasses on, you see things differently.”
She asked me to remind her of the last part of my horrifically worded question. I said, “If God was a good God then why would he allow …” Hannah nodded and said, “It took me months to process and work through that. It is something that I don’t know we’ll ever understand. Because I really have tried to sink into it. The idea that he has a bird’s-eye view and we have a miniscule view. There are certain things where you just have to have faith and trust that he knows what he’s doing. I read through the story of Job and the things that he allowed to happen to Job–trying to pick it apart. Megan and I went through David and the things that he allowed David to go through. But he loved David. David was a man after his own heart. I picked apart the Bible–to pieces. Every person who really did so much for God–who’s recorded in the Bible–went through a lot of crap. Everyone in the Bible who is a hero, or is in Hebrews in the faithful hall of fame, or mentioned as being used for God’s glory all go through sucky things that God allowed to happen. But in God’s goodness, he takes those sucky things and he’s still changing lives through it. So, I do think he allows it. But I think it’s having faith and trust that he can still bring about good even though he allowed this.”
She tucked her legs under her. “I remember reading in Proverbs about him collecting tears. Just the picture that describes of who God is–every tear I’ve ever shed over my dad, he’s counted. The idea that he wants to be near enough to me to count my tears, that proves God’s goodness to me. So that verse is such comfort. And I talked about understanding God, but even the idea of Jesus is different to me. And the idea of the Holy Spirit is different. I know you’ve walked with the Holy Spirit differently. You know. But understanding the Spirit. Like how good he is even just to have given us the Holy Spirit blows my mind. When he says in John, hey, I have to go but it’s really good for me to go to the Father because I’m going to send you something so much better. Wrapping your mind around the fact that we get to carry that around with us all the time. And the fact that he gives us the Spirit, to me, even proves his goodness. Who but the Spirit could make you feel okay after you feel like the rug is ripped from underneath you? Who but the Spirit? Out of that same verse, the perseverance and the character and the hope,” She paused. “Out of the hope that only the Spirit provides, I believe, if you allow him to change your character–out of that, you do experience God’s goodness on a whole other level. I’ve had opportunities to talk to people and walk them through tragedy. I’ve had so many conversations with people I don’t even know, and I always encourage them to just really lean in. Don’t lean out. And when you lean into the gifting–” She interrupted herself and laughed a little. “–that’s so bizarrely named–of tragedy and you allow him to work on your character during it, then you come out with a hope that cannot be taken. So, the rug gets pulled out, but the hope doesn’t leave. The rug gets pulled out, but the peace is so beyond what you could gather up for yourself if you tried. I remember reading the story about the fisherman fishing and it was such a visual picture of trying to get it all for myself and Jesus is saying, ‘No, if you’ll just do it my way–go on the other side of the boat and just cast your net again.’ The boatload you get– it just doesn’t compare. It breaks my heart because I feel like I’ve seen some others lean out after tragedy and gather on their own. They’re like, scraping little bones. And I’m over here dumping fish loads of hope on top of me. So that’s why I always tell them to lean in. Lean in and trust in his love and let him work on your character, because it is a working. And on the other side of it, you’re a whole other individual–I don’t even remember who I was three years ago. And then experience all the things that he promises. And mounds and mounds of fish.”
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
Hannah is the KidzRock Pastor and deals with all things creative at The Rock Church. She and her husband Kevin have three children: Gray, Crew, and Navy. According to her, they live in Conway, SC; the town you pass through on your way to the beach. In her spare time she teaches hand lettering classes to raise money for her friends wanting to adopt again, and you can follow @thehannahgray on Instagram to learn more.
October 2, 2017 Leave a comment