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I’m Supposed to be an Example, and I Do Something Stupid Like This

April 8, 2014

1bbbWe had Scripture-reading speeches last week, with the students pairing up for the presentation.  One student would read a passage from the book of Colossians, and the other would then go into a short explanation of that passage.    The  presentations were to be one minute long, with one student taking approximately thirty seconds for the reading and the other taking thirty seconds for the commentary.

Overall the speeches went quite well, but we did have a few hiccups along the way.  Abby was finishing up and neglected to look at the timekeeper, who was frantically waving and trying to let her know that she was well over the one-minute mark.  The tension was mounting – if she went too far over the time limit, the team would be dropped a whole grade level.  Soon two or three students were joining in the waving, trying to let her know that she needed to cease immediately.  Abby turned from the PowerPoint to see a whole row of students flapping their arms about, and could not decipher the massive action… and she overloaded.

Went brain dead right there.

Froze up, staring for about five seconds.

Then she did the only thing she could think of – she looked at the waving students, threw up her hands and squealed.


The class got a good laugh out of that.

Between classes, Tyler was still giggling about the reaction.  “Abby was just caught off guard.  She wasn’t used to that kind of situation.  I guess maybe she felt ‘out of  position.'”  Tyler turned to leave, but looked back at me.

“Dr. Zockoll, did you ever feel that way in a public setting?  I mean, like ‘out of position’?”

I had to smile.  “Tyler, I could tell you hundreds of times when I felt that way.  In your career you will constantly get caught off guard.  Especially when you’re put in the spotlight and have no idea what is going on…”

My mind went back to our small school in California.  I was in my second year of teaching, and I was learning the ins and outs of working in a microscopic educational system.  It was summed up in one phrase: “all hands on deck.”  In other words, if something needed to be done, we (the staff) did it.  This could turn out to be pretty exhausting, as some of my fellow small-school teachers will agree.  During my stint in that school system, I dug ditches, took on extra coaching assignments, drove the school van, chaperoned elementary school trips, cleaned and mopped the schoolrooms, did carpentry, taught the church Sunday School, spoke in countless chapel services… well, you get the idea.  We had to be ready to do anything.

And I mean anything.

I was walking over toward my car at the end of a school day when our principal grabbed me.  “I need help,” Dale confided.  “We have a girls’ basketball game here in a half an hour and I don’t have any referees.”

“What are you going to do?  In this league, is that a forfeit?” I asked, piling my papers into my car.

“No, but it’ll mess up the schedule, if we have to shift the calendar,” replied Dale.  “Brad…”  He had that look.  That look.

I stepped back and raised my hands.  “Now, Dale, I don’t know a thing about any basketball rules,” I said.  “Besides, you know my eyesight’s going bad.  I’m not sharp enough to catch all of the action on the court…”

Dale smiled widely and handed me a referee shirt and a whistle.  “Just keep the girls from tackling each other,” he said.  “Be traffic control, at least.”

And so I did.  If you take a look at our school yearbook, you will see a picture of me in the corner of a photograph, running up the court with the whistle in my mouth appearing to be totally in charge.

Brother, I had no idea what I was doing.  Mostly I handled the jump balls and blew the whistle when the ball went out of bounds. I never called a foul the whole game – I didn’t understand the rules about fouling.

The funny thing is, the opposing coach thanked me after the game.  “I like it when a ref doesn’t hammer down.  You let the players play.”  I took that as a compliment and retired my roundball referee career.

Sometimes, though, the situation is much more serious.  You are called upon in a situation where you need to realize your ineptitude and totally let God take control.  Such was the case for me in Arizona at our church/school campus…

The whole pastoral staff was out of town on a late Friday afternoon when I received the call.

The voice on the other end of the phone seemed strained.  “The secretary said your name is Brad.  Are you on staff?”

“Yes, I work on campus here.  I’m a teacher in the academy.”

“Well, I’m Melody Hammaker, and I’m new to the church.”

The name rung a bell.  “Yes, Mrs. Hammaker, I didn’t get a chance to meet you last week.  You moved here from Colorado, am I correct?  Your husband sent you on ahead to get the apartment set up while he finished his work in Colorado?”

“Yes,” she replied.  “And that’s why I’m calling…” She hesitated.

“Yes, ma’am?”

I could tell she was trying to control her emotions.  “M-my husband arrived from the airport this morning, and about two hours later… he just collapsed.” She paused.  “Something with his liver.  The doctors are trying to find out.  Might be his heart as well.  I tried to get the pastor on the phone but the secretary said they were all gone.”

She took a breath.  “Family’s been flying in and meeting at the hospital all afternoon.  There are a dozen or so people at the hospital…”

I realized what she was saying.

“It doesn’t look good at all.  I need you to come up here and help me,” she said simply.  “Come and pray over Bob, give us comfort, and help us.  Would you do that?”

I was on my way across town immediately.  I arrived at the hospital within twenty minutes.

As I stepped off of the elevator, a whole crowd of people looked my way.  Mrs. Hammaker stepped forward, her eyes trying to recognize me.  I could see the intense strain on her face.

“Mrs. Hammaker, I’m Brad Zockoll, and we spoke…”

She took my hand and shook it gently, turning to the group.  “This is the preacher I told you would come.”

The group stepped back, smiled slightly and nodded deeply.  I was actually embarrassed at the reverence they were showing, but I knew that this situation was extreme.  I could tell they wanted me to speak.

“Thank you for your care,” I said.  “This is a magnificent act of love, flying in from all over the country to be with Mr. and Mrs. Hammaker at this time.”

She gave my hand a gentle pull.  “W-would you come on in and see Bob?”   I nodded and followed her.  She motioned to two of the relatives, a man and a woman, who followed as well.  The rest of the group returned to the waiting room.

I stepped in the room and saw the seriousness of the situation.  Tubes were running into Bob’s arms and even into his nostrils.  He was unconscious.

“He hasn’t been responsive for hours,” said Melody.  The others nodded silently.

He was normally a fairly normal-sized man; here, he was bloated and puffy.  His skin was a sickening hue of yellow.

Melody and the others stood back.  I went over to Bob and took his hand.  It was clammy and unmoving.

“Dear God,” I prayed.  “We ask for mercy right now, in healing Bob if it is Your will.  We don’t know why this should happen just as Bob is starting a new life and new career here in Arizona, but You are the Creator, the Physician and…”

I couldn’t finish.  Tears welled up and flowed from me to the point that I couldn’t speak.  This was such a situation that I’d never seen before, and I was overcome with the gravity of it all.  I stood there, holding Bob’s hand and weeping uncontrollably.  This man was going to die.  I knew it and I didn’t know how to continue.  The grief was staggering me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder.  It was Melody.  I looked at her, humiliated.  I was supposed to be the stalwart one, encouraging the others, being the example…  I felt like a fool.

“Thank you, Brad,” she said simply.  “Thank you.”

I could see a peace on her face that I hadn’t seen before.

I spent some time in the waiting room with the family.  I left there with a promise to keep contact every half an hour, and Melody assured me that she would keep me informed and would call if they needed me again.

Bob died that night.

Within a week after the funeral the church people helped Melody pack her belongings.  She decided to move back to Colorado and live with her family while she tried to figure out her next steps in life.  She left word with us about how grateful she was for all of the support and comfort we gave in her time of crisis.

For a while I was mystified as to how Melody could find comfort from a blubbering teacher who did nothing to be the strong comforting presence she needed.  Then I realized that this was exactly what God wanted to show Melody …  and me.

She should look to Him for comfort. Not me.  Not anybody on earth.  He was giving the peace that passes all understanding. 

She understood.    She was peaceful.

And I learned that even in the most unfamiliar and unprepared circumstances, God can use someone as inept as me.

For His glory.








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  1. lfergusonjr permalink

    Wonderful! As I contemplate a return to ministry after our tragedy, I need to remember this!

  2. Sometimes, as I contemplate the turns in the road-signs of my life: nurse-turned-educator/translator, single-turned-instant-wife/”new-mother” of 10 yr. old twins plus a19 yrs old away from home; widow-turned-promoter-in-radio and grandmother of 12… well, it sounds dizzying but since it covers over 60 years with the Lord directing each turn-in-the-road, I joy in His leading and trust Him for even more victories that I may or may not see in my lifetime.

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