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The Miraculous True Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection
By Joyce Smith
With Ginger Kolbaba
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Through the years and the struggles, when life seemed more about hurt and loss than hope and mercy, God was positioning the Smiths for something extraordinary-the death and resurrection of their son.
When Joyce Smith’s fourteen-year-old son John fell through an icy Missouri lake one winter morning, she and her family had seemingly lost everything. At the hospital, John lay lifeless for more than sixty minutes. But Joyce was not ready to give up on her son. She mustered all her faith and strength into one force and cried out to God in a loud voice to save him.
Miraculously, her son’s heart immediately started beating again.
In the coming days, John would defy every expert, every case history, and every scientific prediction. Sixteen days after falling through the ice and being clinically dead for an hour, he walked out of the hospital under his own power, completely healed.
The Impossible is about a profound truth: prayer really does work. God uses it to remind us that He is always with us, and when we combine it with unshakable faith, nothing is impossible.
A Bad Feeling
Sunday, January 18, 2015
The air hung thick with tension. Usually Living Word Christian Middle School’s gymnasium echoed with a cacophony of yells and cheers of students and siblings, parents shouting out advice, refs blowing whistles, and coaches screaming directions throughout a basketball game. But this game was quiet. No one was shouting or cheering. We heard only the sounds of the players talking with one another, the bounce of the ball hitting the wooden floor, and the screech of the players’ shoes as they maneuvered around the hoops. Our Eagles eighth-grade A team were deadlock-tied with the Duchesne Pioneers. We just couldn’t get enough ahead. So far this season our team hadn’t been doing well, so we had to get a win under our belt. But Duchesne’s team didn’t seem to want to let us win! For every point our team made, the Pioneers tied it. Eleven, eleven. Fifteen, fifteen. Twenty-two, twenty-two.
My eyes stayed glued to the black-haired, handsome, olive-skinned young man wearing the black, teal, and white uniform, with the number 4 displayed across his back. As the point guard and shooting guard, my son John called the plays, controlled the tempo of the game, and talked to the ref if one of the players had an issue. He was also the leading scorer for the team. Not bad for a kid standing tall at five feet four inches. To say I was proud of him would be the understatement of the year. I thought he hung the moon. Actually, I didn’t think that; I knew it. But that wasn’t to say I overlooked his quirks. And one of those—his penchant for arguing with his coach over plays the coach called and then rolling his eyes in disgust—had gotten him benched the game before.
While I was glad he was back playing in this game, I knew John was still stinging from the previous game’s tension. But he stayed focused. His competitive streak was in full gear as he cut in and out, maneuvered, and ran around the floor with a vengeance. Basketball was his life. From the time he was three he had a basketball in his hands. All of his games were do-or-die for him.
Finally the game was nearing its end—and still the teams were tied. My husband, Brian, and I were exhausted from the game’s tension, so I could only imagine what John and his teammates felt. The scoreboard read thirty-three to thirty-three, while the clock showed forty seconds left in the fourth quarter. All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, John captured the ball and ran down the court, dribbling toward the hoop. He pulled out a breakaway layup and shot. The ball soared through the air and landed with a swish.
Thirty-five to thirty-three.
Brian and I were on our feet, along with the other fifty to sixty people in the stands, erupting with the loudest cheers. Our Eagles were going to pull this off!
The clock ticked down while the Pioneers struggled to land a tying score, until finally the horn blew loudly, announcing the end of the game. Christian Middle School had won. And my son had made the winning basket.
The whole team jumped on one another—hugging and shouting and laughing. They’d worked so hard for this win; now it was time to celebrate. And they had Monday off school for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to do just that.
Brian and I walked down off the bleachers. We knew it would take time for the boys to settle enough to head back to the locker room and get changed before they were ready to leave, so we patiently waited off to the side. But John and two friends and teammates, Josh Rieger and Josh Sander, beelined straight toward us.
I groaned inwardly, knowing what they wanted. All weekend long, John had talked to me about wanting to go to Josh Rieger’s house to spend the night after the game. And all weekend long I’d downplayed it, because I didn’t want him to go. I couldn’t explain why; I just had a weird feeling about it.
I didn’t get ominous feelings often, but when I did, I’d learned to listen to them because they always meant something bad was going to happen. One time in particular, when one of my older sons, Tom, was a freshman in high school, his football coach showed up at our front door and asked if Tom could join the team on a camping trip. Something about this coach did not sit right with me. He seemed nice enough, but I couldn’t shake the uneasiness I felt about the situation, so I said no. Several months later the coach was arrested for molesting boys.
“Please, Mrs. Smith! Please can John go? Let him spend the night. Pleeeease!” The two Joshes had ganged up on Brian and me. They knew Brian was a pushover, so they had to lay it on thick to Mama.
“Can I, Mom?…Can I?”
Everything within me wanted to shout no, to encircle his sweaty body in my arms and whisk him home to safety—from what, I didn’t know. But I looked into my sweet boy’s big, beautiful, dark eyes filled with excitement. How could I say no to him? They’d just won the game. They were good kids. He’d spent the night at Josh Rieger’s house plenty of times. Josh’s family were good people, and his parents, Kurt and Cindy, were responsible and attentive. I liked them and trusted them with John. And John loved going over there.
I’m sure I’m just being overly protective, I decided. I looked at these fourteen-year-old boys who stood in front of me, so eager to extend their celebration and have a little fun down time. Joyce, you cannot be a stick in the mud. You can’t be that mom.
“Mom?” John needed an answer.
I sighed and nodded, against my better judgment, knowing I couldn’t deny that kid something so simple, and sure I was overreacting to the uneasiness I felt. “Okay. You can go.”
The boys all shouted their relief. “Ah, thanks, Mrs. Smith. This is great! We’re going to have—”
“Just make sure you’re safe. And don’t do anything stupid.” Ha, I thought. They’re fourteen. They’re boys. Of course they’re going to do something stupid. Just as long as it’s not dangerous stupid…
“Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Dad!”
“Make sure you stay in touch,” I told him, as Brian and I gathered our coats to leave.
“I will. See you!” He turned and ran back to his team, still celebrating with their coach.
True to his word, John texted me later that night to let me know they were having fun hanging out with Josh Rieger’s family, eating pizza rolls, drinking soda, and playing Call of Duty. No big deal.
I smiled and felt relieved. They were good boys. I didn’t know why my spirit had been so troubled about John spending the night over there. Nothing to worry about, I reminded myself.
What John failed to mention to me was that earlier that evening, the boys had gotten bored and wandered two blocks away to Lake Ste. Louise, a small lake in the Riegers’ neighborhood that they liked to visit. They saw that the lake was iced over, so they got the harebrained idea to walk out onto the ice, squat down, take a photo of themselves, and then post it on Instagram. The boys were dressed lightly. No coats. John wore shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. Yes, it was unseasonably warm for January in the St. Louis area, but still…shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt? Had I known about his attire—or, more important, about his ice capade adventure—I would have driven straight over and hauled him home. But I didn’t know. Parents so rarely know everything fourteen-year-olds do, unfortunately.
So that night, after we texted that we loved him, Brian and I went to bed blissfully unaware of anything other than John eating pizza and playing video games.
Monday, January 19, 2015
The next morning passed uneventfully. Brian headed to his job as a corporate media event specialist at Boeing, since the Martin Luther King holiday wasn’t an official day off for his company. I fed and petted our dog, Cuddles, talked to my sister, Janice, and then grabbed some breakfast, along with my Bible, and sat in the kitchen to spend some quiet time with God.
I glanced at my phone’s clock. It was almost twenty after eleven. Josh Rieger’s mom, Cindy, and I were scheduled to do the “child exchange” sometime in the afternoon, so I still had some time before I picked John up. Cindy had said she’d call when they were on their way. Usually I’d meet Cindy and the kids at a mall or someplace in the middle between our houses, since we lived in St. Charles, Missouri, and they lived almost twenty minutes away in Lake St. Louis, about forty miles outside of St. Louis. Meeting in the middle allowed us to do the handoff without either of us having to drive the whole way.
Once I picked up John, I figured he’d want to go to the local recreational center to shoot some hoops and work out, since that was his routine on his days off from school. I wasn’t sure if he’d want to go straight there or stop off at the house first, so I decided to check in with him. The phone’s clock told me it was now 11:23 a.m. so I needed to figure out what we were doing. I texted him. “Hey, are we still doing the rec plex or are you coming here first and what time?”
John answered right away, “Text Cindy, idk” which I knew, was short for “I don’t know.”
What does Cindy have to do with John going to the rec center or coming home? I wondered. “No,” I texted back, “I am asking you what you want to do about the rec plex. yes or no?”
“Idc.” I don’t care. “Is Dad going?”
I smiled. John and his dad loved hanging out together. They played sports together, went to the recreation center together. They even had a long-standing Saturday-morning-breakfast guy time at the local Waffle House, which they’d kept since John was eight years old.
“No, he is at work right now. He won’t be home till later. He might go then. Don’t know.”
“Okay,” he wrote back. That was it, nothing else. I sighed, feeling frustrated. I didn’t know what he was saying okay to, and I didn’t have an answer about whether we were going to the rec center or coming home. “That kid will be the death of me,” I griped to myself. “I’m just going to call him.”
At 11:26 a.m. I dialed my son’s number, determined to get an answer to my question.
He picked up right away. “Hey.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” I told him. “Do you want to go to the rec plex or not? If you do, I can have Cindy drop you off there and I’ll pick you up later.”
“Um, yeah, that sounds good,” he said. He sounded cheerful, as if the day had been a good one for him so far.
“Okay, then, I’ll see you there. Love you.”
With that issue now handled and our game plan set, I turned my attention back to my phone, but this time for a different—more calming!—reason. I opened the Facebook app and found Mark Callaway’s page. Mark was my older sons’ former youth pastor at a church our family attended years ago, when we lived in Indianapolis. We considered him and his wife, Leslie, to be dear friends. Mark posted daily devotional writings on Facebook, and I tried to read them every morning. His writing always seemed to connect with exactly what I needed for that day.
What do you do when you are in a crisis, whether self-made or caused by other’s actions. We can sit & fume, thinking of how we were cheated or what a failure we are…& that will do NOTHING (except put off dealing with it). David wrote, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me,” yet hardly a breath later he said that GOD is enthroned [in the praises of HIS people] (Psalm 22). Later Scripture says to “thank God in all things.” Worry/discouragement is a natural first response, but it is what we do next that matters. Do we stay there or do we move forward? By moving forward from a big problem to our BIG GOD begins bringing perspective and moves us past an emotional myopia. Then taking it further by thanking God for the challenge begins the process of conquering. When we see God as BIGGER and begin to thank God for the challenge, we are accepting the challenge as something we and GOD can handle.…That we will know more of GOD coming out of this than we did going in.
At that moment the phone rang. It was 11:51 a.m. and it was Cindy.
John’s day had started well. The country was celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and civil rights accomplishments on the holiday named after him. But for John and his two friends, it was simply a fun and welcomed day off of school. They arose late in the morning and decided that since the ice on Lake Ste. Louise had proven thick enough the previous night when they had taken their photo, they, along with Josh’s older sister, Jamie, would trek back down and check it out. The lure of a frozen lake—something that rarely happens in our area—was just too much to pass up.
The sun shone brightly on the ice, covering it with a look of pure glass. The day was unseasonably warm, promising to make it up to fifty degrees. A perfect day for the middle of January and a welcome reprieve from a cold snap that had been in the low twenties.
Dressed only in tank shirts and shorts, the boys first picked up some rocks at the shoreline and dropped them on the ice to see how strong it was. Satisfied that it was still solid enough to handle them again this day, they headed out, each step leading them farther offshore, while Jamie chose to play it safe and stay on land. They laughed and slid and enjoyed their ability to “walk on water.”
The community of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, is home to two lakes in close proximity, Lake St. Louis being the larger at 650 acres. Even though its sister lake, Lake Ste. Louise, is not very large, at only seventy square acres, it still runs deep, measuring in most places between fifty and sixty feet, and with a muddy bottom covered with silt and sludge. Size doesn’t seem to matter where water is concerned. Given the right conditions, a person can get into just as much trouble in a pond as they can in the ocean. John had discovered this just the previous summer when he and Josh Rieger had gone swimming out in the middle of this same lake and needed help when they were unable to swim back to shore.
But today John wasn’t considering that warm summer day’s troubles as he continued to glide over the surface. As he and his friends skidded around and jumped up and down on the ice, daring it to break, and feeling challenged to see how far toward the middle they could go, inside the Lake Ste. Louise’s association club, mere yards away on the west side of the shore, manager Ron Wilson glanced through his office window, saw what the boys were doing, and came outside to confront them.
“Hey!” he yelled. “You kids need to get off the ice. It’s too dangerous out there. Get off the ice!”
They acknowledged his warning, but they didn’t seem to be in any great hurry to comply, so Ron returned to his office. In the meantime, I’d begun texting with John. When I called him to strategize on going to the rec plex, unbeknownst to me he was standing about fifty feet from shore.
A trait that all four of my sons share is that they constantly walk or pace when they’re talking. Get them long enough on the phone, and they could probably make it to California on foot! So at 11:26 that morning, as I was talking to John and seated firmly on solid ground, he was pacing, mindlessly moving toward thin ice.
Within moments of hanging up the phone with me, ominous cracking noises thundered across the lake. The ice broke beneath his feet and the water devoured my son. Josh Sander dropped to his hands and knees, but as he was grabbing John’s hand, the ice fell away beneath him. Josh Rieger, who was farther away, immediately ran over to help his friends. Lying on his stomach, he tried to pull John out but still fell in himself. The boys splashed frantically, desperately trying to escape the dark and cold water’s grasp.
At 11:33 a.m. once again Ron Wilson glanced through his office window, but this time it was to witness the ice tear open and swallow the boys. Immediately he called 911, which in turn notified the Lake St. Louis police department.
“Call 911!” John yelled to Jamie Rieger. “I don’t want to die!”
On Thin Ice
Monday, January 19, 2015
At 11:35 a.m., the alarm went out to the Lake St. Louis fire department as well as to the neighboring community fire department of Wentzville.
As first responders headed to the lake, Josh Sander was able to grab on to a solid piece of ice, pull himself out, and half-crawl, half-slide toward the association’s dock, which sat closest to the boys. John and Josh Rieger were still flailing in the water, bobbing up and down; John was pushing Josh onto the ice ledge while trying to get himself out as well.
Meanwhile, police officers Rick Frauenfelder and Ryan Hall were seated at their desks in the Lake St. Louis police department, writing reports and catching up on paperwork, when they got the dispatch call that three teens were on Lake Ste. Louise and had fallen through the ice. Immediately, they dropped what they were doing and ran to their squad cars. Flipping on the lights and sirens, both officers sped the short distance to the lake. Officer Hall rounded to the far side of the lake, and Officer Frauenfelder headed toward the dock by the Lake Ste. Louise club association building. Neither knew exactly where the boys had fallen in, so by splitting up they hoped one of them would find the spot quickly.
As the officers arrived at the lake, Wentzville Fire Protection District chief Mike Marlo, along with his wife, Kathy, were in their car, heading toward downtown Wentzville for the Martin Luther King Day parade. They were scheduled to represent their community’s first responders, whom both Mike and Kathy loved supporting. Almost at the parade lineup, the fire tone announced the call, and Mike listened carefully to the dispatch: “Ice rescue, three thirteen- to fifteen-year-old boys, Lake Ste. Louise.” Normally Chief Marlo wouldn’t go out on calls, but something in his spirit moved him to think differently about this one. He couldn’t explain why; he just knew he had to be there.
He looked at his wife. “We’re going to this call.”
Meanwhile Tommy Shine, an eleven-year veteran of the Wentzville Fire Department, had just started his forty-eight-hour shift with his unit, so it was the perfect time to hit the grocery store to shop for their rotation time at the firehouse. They had no sooner entered Dierbergs Market and walked down the produce aisle when they received the call that kids were in the water and one had completely submerged.
Tommy and the three others abandoned their cart and raced out to the truck.
Within minutes of the 911 call, Officer Frauenfelder was the first on scene at 11:38 a.m., with officers Ryan Hall, Tyler Christeson, Cody Fry, and Detective Sergeant Bret Carbray close behind. Josh Sander was sliding his body on the ice, already nearing the dock, wet and cold but safe. The officers saw Josh Rieger clinging desperately to the ice shelf—the largest and sturdiest mass of ice—but was struggling to hold on, as he was getting weaker and weaker. John was bobbing in and out of the water, flailing, flapping his arms, splashing, and grabbing for anything solid. But with each grab at the ice, a chunk would splinter off, leaving him still with nothing stable to hold on to.
“Help! Help us!” Josh and John yelled, as soon as they saw the men.
Immediately Rick Frauenfelder and Ryan Hall tore off their gun belts, vests, and other gear and raced toward the lake’s edge. With no time to waste, Rick and Ryan immediately headed onto the ice, knowing that Bret Carbray would throw life jackets and ropes from their squad cars’ trunks. As they were about twelve feet out, Bret tossed them the life vests and ropes. They hurriedly put them on and began crawling farther out, but Rick noticed that the ice was sloshy—not a good sign. With each movement, the ice was starting to give way. In his fifteen years as a police officer—eight of those with the Lake St. Louis police department—he’d answered plenty of calls regarding trouble on this lake, but nothing this bad. These boys were in real danger, and he wasn’t sure he could help them. But he was going to try.
“Roll on your backs and lie flat!” he called out to the boys. “Stay calm and don’t try to get out.” He was worried that by panicking, they were actually doing themselves more harm. He could tell that hysteria had set in and the boys were unable to listen to his commands. He tried crawling more quickly, but the water was pooling on top of the ice, which became thinner the farther out he went.
By this point, John, having grown so weak and cold in the barely forty-degree water, was slipping under the surface for longer periods until finally he disappeared completely.
The St. Charles county ambulance Medic 9 and Lake St. Charles Unit 9224’s firefighters arrived at 11:43 to find one boy with only his head above water and weakly holding on to the thin ice as it threatened to break away from the ice ledge. Having been in the water for ten minutes by this point, his muscles were weakened, his coordination and strength had quickly diminished, and his blood had begun to move away from his extremities toward the center of his body, his core, to keep him alive. But within a matter of seconds he could go under. Meanwhile, the EMTs worked on Josh Sander, who had made it back to shore, warming him with a Bair Hugger—a special heating blanket—and treating him for hypothermia. The firefighters dressed in ice floatation suits, grabbed a rescue wakeboard, and headed toward open water. Officers Frauenfelder and Hall, now themselves wet and cold, were still only about halfway to the other two boys.
“We’ve got to go back,” Rick told Ryan when he saw Ryan’s legs now covered with water as they were still trying to reach John and Josh. They slowly turned around and returned to shore.
Within moments Chief Marlo pulled up and navigated through the growing crowd of first responders and onlookers to take command. As he scoped out the lake with the broken ice and open water everywhere, his heart sunk. One boy was being treated. One boy was barely alive but hanging on. No sign of the third boy. If the lake just had one hole in the ice, he could have figured out that John must be in that area, but he didn’t have that. He had a huge area of ice that was broken and no clue where John was. He could be anywhere, having been whisked away by any underwater waves. And now going on twelve minutes being submerged…
Chief Marlo had to figure out where that third boy was. He called for Ron Wilson to give him more details about what the association manager had witnessed. “Where did you see these kids? Especially the last time you saw them?”
“Out that way,” Ron said, pointing out over the lake.
“Obviously out that way!” Chief Marlo said, feeling frustrated. “But where out that way?” A hundred yards? A hundred feet?
Officer Frauenfelder reached Chief Marlo and pointed out the direction. Then one of the firefighters called out, “Chief, when fourteen”—the Wentzville unit—“gets here, have them search out there.” He pointed out about seventy-five feet from the dock. “We think we have nine to ten feet of water in that area.”
Ten feet of water was definitely better than fifty feet. In an emergency situation where a teen has drowned, it might as well have been five hundred feet.
The chief wasn’t ready to consider this a retrieval yet. Still, that reality was rushing toward them, and the dive-and-retrieval team was on its way. If there were any chance that this boy could still be alive, the first responders were going to do everything possible to find him and rescue him.
Chief Marlo radioed his guys with instructions. “Bring the ten-foot pike poles. You’re going to search in an area that’s nine to ten feet deep. And get your ice suits on now!”
Already en route on the Wentzville fire truck, Tommy Shine heard Chief Marlo, grabbed his ice floatation suit, and began to change. He didn’t want to waste even a second at the scene, so as the truck sirens blared and the vehicle sped to the scene, off came the fire uniform and gear. In its place Tommy tucked himself into a bright yellow, rubberized, waterproof, and coldproof suit that looked as though he were headed to outer space.
Tommy was grateful that just a week prior, his unit had taken ice rescue training on Lake St. Louis. That training kicked in, and he focused his breathing and nerves to remain steady. He had a job to do. He wouldn’t think about his own teenage son who, only a week before, had played ice hockey on a private lake. His son could have very easily been at this lake with these boys. He wouldn’t think of all the noise and activity going on around him. He wouldn’t think about the pressure that would weigh on him as soon as he entered that water—pressure to find that boy alive
- Joyce's true recount of bringing her son back from the dead with her prayers is gripping from start to finish! It shows that a mother's love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. The Impossible is a must read and will inspire even the cynic to believe in miracles!—DeVon Franklin, producer of Miracles From Heaven
- Faith empowers us to see the invisible, embrace the impossible, and hope for the incredible. The Impossible is an amazing testament to the power of prayer--it will leave you feeling renewed in your belief in God's infinite power.—Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Latino Evangelical Association, and author of Be Light
- On Sale
- Nov 7, 2017
- Page Count
- 256 pages