From the Family Foundations archives
The words you never want to hear from a doctor came in August 2004, shortly after our 35th anniversary: “There’s nothing else we can do.”
Doctors had identified a spot on my right lung — an infection that spread quickly, overtaking both lungs. The medicine used to treat it triggered an allergic reaction, causing anaphylactic shock and respiratory arrest.
Then came the fuzzy part, which panicked my wife, Martha: I stopped breathing for 10 minutes and slipped into a physician-induced coma.
Martha called our priest and asked him to administer last rites. She initiated a prayer chain that criss-crossed the country.
“Dear Lord, I’ll accept whatever you will, but I want more time with him here on earth,” she begged. “We’ll do good together if you’ll let us.”
Four days later, much to the bewilderment of the hospital staff, my X-rays improved and I was lifted out of the coma. There was no medical explanation for my recovery.
At first I couldn’t speak, but when words returned they tumbled out, stunning Martha. I had had an out-of-body experience, looking down on my naked body as it was being worked on, a blue medical robe laid over me. Nurses were crowded around me, connecting tubes and pumping my chest.
Wow! I remember thinking. That’s me down there!
Before I could process what was happening, the scene was over, and an array of bright colors flashed before me. I felt the gnawing sense of God’s absence — purgatory, I later concluded. And then, just as quickly, I was back in the hospital bed, Martha leaning over me in tears.
She found in her gray-haired husband a new man. When we left the hospital, nothing looked or felt the same. Traffic? Who cares? A long red light? All the better to admire the day! Such a blue sky! Such a delight to feel sun on my face, wind in my hair!
My buoyant wonder was hitched to a steely sense of responsibility. We didn’t know why God had given me another lease on life, but we were certain it was not to be taken lightly. We took a long, hard look at our lives. Over the decades we cradle Catholics had gradually embraced our faith, making time for Scripture study and attending Mass more frequently. But now faith felt so central, so urgent.
A bishop’s advice
We had an opportunity to speak with Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was serving in Denver at the time. I’ll never forget our conversation, the earnest expression in his brown eyes and his message to us: The first question embedded in our inquiry, “What does God want us to do,” is “What does God want?”
We took his words to heart.
Our first change was probably the most significant. We learned to truly pray as a couple, rather than two people side by side. We’ve come to view ourselves as one spiritual entity. We pray the rosary every time we hop in our SUV, and we’ve reaped great fruits from praying the Divine Intimacy meditations daily.
Prayer has empowered us to take risks, like the cross-country move we made so I could serve as CEO of Relevant Radio. We enrolled in a master’s program in biblical theology through the John Paul II Catholic University. We launched the Catholic Renewal Campaign to equip Americans to respond to the anti-Catholicism taking hold here. We’re working with Hollywood movers and shakers to create first-rate films with Catholic themes through a production company called Origin Entertainment.
And perhaps most exciting, we poured our hearts and hard-won wisdom into a jointly written book, Answer Your Call: Reclaim God’s Purpose for Faith, Family, and Work, [released in 2013] by Servant. IN a practical, user-friendly way, the book breaks down why we lose sight of God’s presence, how we lose touch with our natural gifts and how to discern and then fulfill our God-given purpose.
Since my coma I’ve walked both my daughters down the aisle and welcomed seven grandchildren. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve also grown in wellness, taking time to care for my body, mind and soul. The Church teaches that body and soul are one — “not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature,” the Catechism says. So just as surely as we end each day with prayer, Martha and I begin each day with a walk, working our hearts and opening our eyes. With every sunrise I inhale deeply. It is well with my soul. This meat-loving man has even made more space for fruits and veggies on his plate!
I am breathing and blinking, serving and studying. It’s all part of my grateful fiat. He brought me back.
— Dick Lyles is the CEO of Origin Entertainment, a production company dedicated to making a positive impact on the world through movies with a message promoting the greater good.
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