The Regret of Screening Calls

I don’t like getting phone calls. Like, I wish there was a phone I could get that would only allow me texting and wifi capabilities but remove the ability to make or receive a phone call. I get that seems extreme, but it’s the unknown of getting a call, figuring out what is needed, needing to respond right away to whatever was said but also respond in a way that my voice matches (or masks) my emotions. Face-to-face conversations require an immediate response but you also get the full-body experience. Her voice sounds angsty but her face is happy so she’s probably just tired. A text doesn’t require an immediate response but you have to read between the lack of punctuation to find out if that “k” means ok!, ugh ok, k sure whatever, or I’m too tired/busy to respond with more than one letter right now. Both somehow seem easier for my brain to handle instead of talking on the phone.

All of that was probably unnecessary information, but I wanted to be clear of where I’m coming from. It helps alleviate the guilt. July 25, 2013 I got a phone call around 7:30pm. It’s been 6 years but the guilt of screening that call still gnaws at me. Let’s back-track. My brother was deployed to Afghanistan in the spring of 2013. My mom had told that if Stephen tried to call from overseas the number would look fake due to all the extra numbers but to answer all calls in case it as him. I said ok. A few weeks went by and my parents got a phone call from Stephen. My brother wasn’t the type to check in a lot, but he called them several times during his deployment. He never called me. Weeks turned into months and I didn’t hear from him. I wasn’t surprised; it was kind of our relationship.

My husband and I took students from our middle school to camp that week in July. Life was going as normal. I was tired from a week of hanging out with teenagers while also having my 13month old joining us at camp. Every night I was setting up the pack n play and my air mattress in the side room next to the worship center at camp. Every morning, I was putting it away so we had access to the room during the day. Maybe that’s why I forgot what my mom said. 7:30pm meant we were starting our worship session. The songs had just ended when my phone began to ring. Maybe I was so focused on worshiping and that was why I didn’t answer when my phone rang and a bajillion digit phone number showed up on my screen. I declined the call and sat for a few more minutes. A voicemail notification appeared. Then, I bolted out of the room. Suddenly I remembered what my mom had told me. Without listening to the voicemail I tried to call the number back. I knew it wouldn’t work. My mom had told me that too. It was a one way call so there wasn’t a way to call back if I missed it. I felt bummed, but listened to the voicemail. From what I remember, it was short. I remember he told me he loved me. He didn’t tell me that often so it was super special. I went back in. I carried on with camp life for another few hours and then went home to resume normal life.

I still have that voicemail, but I can’t listen to it. Not yet. 6 years is still too soon.

Three days later on July 28, 2013 my brother was killed by shrapnel while working as combat medic. July 29, 2013 my husband got a call around 6:30 or 7am. It was from my dad. We didn’t screen that one. We assumed it was an accidental call, but I told Andy to answer it anyway. That was when we found out. I wonder sometimes if he had a suspicion that something was going to happen. What made him call me just three days before he died when he hadn’t called me for months prior? I’ll never know. I’ll always wonder.

I don’t have a way to wrap up this post. I don’t know why I’m writing it honestly other than today marks 6 years since that call. There’s no heartwarming ending or practical application. I still screen my calls when I don’t know the number. That’s not the moral of the story. But, maybe someone out there is also grieving the what-ifs of your story. If so, you’re not alone. It’s not our fault for missing that call, missing that flight, or thinking we had more time. We did what we thought was right at the time. I had no insight into the future, no way to foresee what was to come. But God knew. He knew Stephen would call. He knew I’d screen the call. He knew that in just a few days my world would be rocked. And God stayed the same through it all. The same God I was singing praise to July 25, 2013 at 7:20pm was the same God who met me in the shock I felt on July 29, 2013 at 7am and the same God who carries me through my grief even still. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He binds up the brokenhearted and on days like today I’m oh so grateful for that.