Saturday, August 16, 2003 2:10 AM CDT
When Wrong Seems Oft' So StrongMark Thallander's Spiritual Pilgrimage
God is the Ruler Yet
By: Gary DeVaul
Dinner was sitting too long- roast chicken and cranberry dressing made with real wild Maine cranberries were waiting!
Where is that guy? He can be late if he's yapping on the phone, or transfixed to his computer, but not with the car under him pushing
him through the black rainy night. And then of course it came, the inevitable phone call, from a friend. It was our friend Ron, he
said," The State Troopers are trying to get a hold of you Gary, your numbers are unlisted and they need to talk to you. Mark has had
an accident and with this new privacy thing they won't give me any information. Stay put, I'm on my way." Then before Ron could arrive,
the phone rang again. It was the emergency room. "We need you here Mr. DeVaul; Mr. Thallander has some serious issues and he won't let
us proceed without you". No details, not a hint, and I would never have guessed the truth of the tragedy because the truth as you all
know - was unbelievable!
When Mark and I were working at our first jobs in ministry at Garden Grove Community Church, some 25 years ago, my
venerable friend and mentor in ministry was Raymond Beckering. Ray had a saying for times like these. "When wrong seems oft' so
strong, God is the ruler yet." This line, from the hymn "This Is My Father's World", is rooted in the Calvinist idea of God's Sovereignty,
and it brings with it a raft of truth. The Biblical basis for it can be found in the text "And we know that all things work together
for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28 - New King James Version) Well
that sounds good, but now, pardon the pun, the rubber meets the road.
When Ron and I arrived at the hospital they ensconced us in a small waiting room off the surgery and recovery areas.
The plastic surgeon met us immediately. "We tried to get a hold of you Gary, Mark wanted us to wait and consult with you before we
operated, but the four of us decided that if we waited he would bleed to death. He lost over five units of blood. You see his arm
was severed in three places; the worst of these wounds was at the shoulder of his left arm. The impact and seat belt somehow pulled
the arm off, tearing the blood vessels and shredding the nerves in such a fashion that it was impossible for us to save the arm. We
had to amputate. We thought hard about this Gary. We know Mark just played concerts at Carnegie Hall, and St. Patrick's Cathedral,
in New York, but we really had no choice. He's conscious now and he may know what we had to do, nevertheless you might find it necessary
to tell him."
The Critical Care Unit was dark, a smoky, gray, and glum, there was one other patient to my left as I entered, and
then there was my dearest friend dreadfully damaged on a gurney at the far end of the room. This is not about me, but I have to tell
you, crossing that room and getting to his side was like one of those nightmares where you walk in slow motion struggling against an
unseen dread. And "yet", you make it, and we all know why, don't we?
His eyes opened in little slits, heavily sedated, still in great pain, he said,"Oh Gary, I'm so glad you're here."
The nurse came over to his side and whispered to me, "Does he know?" Mark interrupted her to say, "I remember what the doctor said,
is it true?" I said, "Yes it is." Mark sighed and said;" Oh wow." closed his eyes and went to sleep. The nurse told me to get some
rest that I would need it, and I tried to sleep at a friend's house just behind the hospital.
Early the next morning Mark and I were visited by the orthopedic surgeon who was part of the operation and decision
making process the night before. Now one of the greatest gifts and most overlooked gifts of God is the gift of humor. All who know
Mark are aquatinted with an irresistible, dusty, dry wit. That wit, when combined with the power of the Spirit is awesome and capable
of lifting him and everyone else beyond the fog of drugs and pain. A plane not fraught with denial, but something grounded in the
words "When Wrong Seems Oft' So Strong..."
The doctor wanted to explain to Mark why they had to take his arm, and after a rather blunt description the doctor
said, "Now if you want, or need to, we have a full complement of pictures of your arm that might help you deal with the situation,
and understand more fully why we had to amputate." Mark looked at the doctor and without hesitation said, "Do you suppose the pictures
would be something I could use in my Christmas letter?" The doctor was stunned! He looked at Mark and said, "Well, we obviously didn't
take your sense of humor, that's good, that's healthy." Mark replied, "No you didn't, and I won't let you have it either." The whole
moment was instantly transformed. The power of the Spirit coupled with Marks intellectual prowess won the day, and would continue
to make every moment after that an adventure in the Spirit rather than an adventure in tragedy.
Oh yes, there have been profound moments of grief. I was there and we cried together, but there was never a hint
of despondency, never hopelessness. There is anger too- Why didn't this happen, or why did I do this, or that? But there was never
desperation. One night late when things had calmed down in the hospital, he said to me, as if to encourage me and comfort me, "What
a mess Gary, I'm an organist, a pianist, I just played a concert at St. Patrick's, and I've lost my left arm! This is unbelievable!"
And then, moving his right arm through the air from left to right, he said, "And yet, look at the flowers and cards, and the website,
can you imagine the prayers? I had no idea people would care so much. Think of the things I can do? I can teach, and arrange, and
I know I can still play! There are lots of people that will help me."
The next day proved difficult. Mark was given a pump with which to administer himself much needed morphine. The
morphine built up in his system and affected him differently than it would most. They tell me these are called "complications."
I thought he was sleeping, though I must admit I didn't like the sound of his breathing. About that time a good friend who is a
talented nurse that works at Massachusetts General Hospital came into the room to visit. It took only a moment for him to hear
the sounds of death. His name is Paul. He hit the speaker alarm on the wall and shouted with great authority, "317 STAT! The
room instantly filled with nurses and doctors. Mark was shutting down, his lungs were filling and he was unconscious! It was
horrible moment. They administered the proper medicines and machines of all sorts, and in forty-five minutes he was back. A
little later under the protective care of our very own St. Paul the nurse, Mark said something that further revealed the Spirit
we love. Mark called Paul over to the bedside, reached out and took Paul's hand and said, "Thanks Paul, you gave me a hand and
as you can see, I need one. Boy all the prayers are working aren't they?" Then he gave of a little laugh and went back to sleep.
And indeed they are working Mark, for the power of the Spirit will inspire your friends to lift and love you with
their words and deeds, and use their various gifts as He has used yours. He has used your sense of humor, your personal integrity,
your unbridled imagination and creative powers. He will use our gifts as well. Composers will write music for you to play;
universities will hire you to teach; arrangers will arrange for one hand and two feet. Concerts will be booked, and very importantly,
those who can will give hundreds and yes thousands for your support. For as our friend Raymond said, "When Wrong Seems Oft' So Strong,
God is the Ruler Yet"!
Now as Mark's friend of almost thirty years I want to say something to you all. Mark and I come out of the great
positive tradition of our first workplace. It is a place that teaches and believes in the possibilities of all people when they
open themselves to the power of God. The verse, "All things work together for good to those that are called according to His purpose."
is often misused, more often misunderstood. We often hear only the first words of the passage, "All things work for good," and miss
the rest of the sentence, "to those who love God, to those that are called according to His purpose." His purpose is very simply our
faith. If we want to be a part of God's purpose we must keep the faith as we know it and believe it. My Toyota lost its grip,
hydroplaned out of control and look what we have. But WE will not hydroplane. This is where the rubber meets the road for all
of us who know and love Mark.
Those of you, who know me, know that I am not mercenary, but neither am I afraid to tell it like it is. Our bright,
loving, loyal and faithful friend is in trouble. He is not a rich man financially; he's a church musician. His resources, even his
insurance is limited, but our corporate Christian treasury is not. Together God will use us to proclaim 'resurrection is real'. Mark
needs our support and God knows he deserves it. There has been a Trust established for Mark's immediate and future needs. Oh, I know,
we have our building funds and our missionaries; we have our youth programs, music programs, hotlines, hospices, food programs, our
out-reach programs, and then we have our own, one of our dear ones.
Everyday this past week I have watched Mark go through incredible pain both psychologically and physically, even
the loss of his own father has not dimmed his eyes. I have seen him laugh in the face of death and great loss, garnering about him
God's Spirit. I have had my mailbox filled with hundreds of cards and letters of prayer and support. The hospital is besieged with
calls and with flowers. This website is flooded with the best wishes and the prayers of hundreds. It has brought him great comfort.
But I must tell you all, it will not be enough to pay the bills. He has remained faithful to His purpose and so must we. The Trust
needs thousands to cover his future rehabilitation and medical needs. Marks spirits are high; his humor intact, his faithfulness
represents the greatest among us. We must reward him with our support. We must be part of the powerful statement: When
Wrong Seems Oft' So Strong, God is the Ruler Yet! Please commit yourselves to this need and help make his recovery a