“Please pray, we are in an ambulance and Dan has been stabbed.”

August 12, 2016 was a pretty simple day. I looked at my calendar the night before and realized that I only had one meeting scheduled – lunch with my friend Darren – and the remainder of the day was simply getting final details in order for the upcoming service that weekend at Center City Church. I was sitting on my couch when this message came through. My heart sank and my mind raced in terror. I called out to Dara and we prayed. We prayed hard. Through the fear and the questions and the worry. We prayed.

Corrie never makes spelling errors. Strangely enough, that is one of the first things that stuck me when I got that message: the spelling errors. The frantic text continued with a flurry of fast-paced information asking me to start sending out a plea for our friends and family to be praying for Dan. He was stabbed in a public park in Costa Rica in front of his wife (Corrie) and their four boys. Everyone involved thought that August 12, 2016 would be Dan’s last day on earth and first day in heaven.

Dan didn’t die that day, but he came about as close as a man can come to dying. I still cannot wrap my head around the scene of Corrie sitting next to him on the park bench, frantic. Their oldest son, 14 years old, came running over and used his own shirt to plug the wound, begging his dad not to die. The three younger boys watching a scene unfold that no child should ever witness. Even as I type this, I’m in tears. However, he didn’t die that day.

I will never forget the first time Dara and I got to see him after the attack. Even through FaceTime, his eyes didn’t look the same. His eyes couldn’t look the same. Not after what they had been through. It was in that moment that I knew that we needed to do everything we could to get them back home and love them back to health. Nothing we could ever do would take away the pain of that moment, but a loving community could become shoulders to cry on and support when they needed it most.

Instead of continuing their 12-month immersive language school in Costa Rica and proceeding to their intended destination in Paraguay as full-time missionaries, they ended up back in Charlotte, NC surrounded by family and friends. Over the course of the past year, there have been many tears, sleepless nights, and an unmistakable portion of God’s grace. The boys have settled back into a routine. Dan started working at Center City Church as our Executive Pastor as he worked through counseling (along with the entire family). Corrie has been homeschooling the boys. However, nothing is the same. Nothing will ever be the same.

August 12, 2016 marked Dan, Corrie, and the boys forever. He’s got the scar to prove it on his back. However, that scar has become a testimony to God’s amazing grace. This has not been an easy year by any stretch of the imagination. Conversely, it’s been in intense year full of honest struggle and pain. I will never forget the day that Dan asked me to update our staff on how they were doing and he said, “Please don’t tell them we are ok. We are not ok. But we are experiencing God’s grace.”

Fast-forward one year, and our family is enjoying a week at the beach with their family, and we’re pausing to commemorate a day that changed so much. I did not say anything at the time, but my mind wandered as Dan and I were grilling dinner for our families as the kids played in the pool this week. I was amazed at how far they have come in only one year. We talked about the future, God’s plan for their family, and the vision that God has birthed in their heart for ministry that they will do in the years to come. I was amazed to look into his eyes and see something so powerful: life.

Dan and Corrie are our friends. Our boys are best friends with their boys, and on this anniversary of such tragic realities, I am just grateful to be spending this day walking on the beach with my friends. I am glad Dan is with us. I am glad Corrie’s husband is here. I am glad the boys’ dad is here. I have learned so much from Dan over the past few years, but this year I have learned how to keep pressing forward, even when everything inside of you wants to shrink back.

Dan has chosen to live out the courage that Joseph showed in Genesis 50:20. He had faced unimaginable challenges, but his response was to keep pressing forward, and to give glory to God. He states, Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.”

In the course of the past year, Dan has established a relationship between Center City Church and Ashley Park PreK-8 School that includes 25+ people volunteering an hour a week to read with kids that are performing under their reading level. He’s adopted multiple teachers at the same school, encouraging them to stay the course in the midst of one of the highest concentrations of poverty in our state. He has led a charge with me to reorganize our staff, introduce new systems into our church family, and help us move from a church plant to an organized and efficient church family. Admittedly, he is not a miracle worker, so we’ve still got some work to do on that whole organized and efficient thing, but we’re getting there.

Instead of languishing in the memory of an attack that was neither provoked nor deserved, Dan has chosen to move forward in God’s grace. Their family has courageously faced unthinkable challenges over and again. No one would have asked for this experience, and no one can prepare for such things. However, my friends have shown us how to journey with God through hell on earth and continue to praise him along the way.

Now, directly to my friend:

Dan, you are not just my friend, you are my brother. I am grateful that God brought you into my life. You are raising boys that have forever impacted my boys. Your family means the world to me. You mean the world to me. Losing you would have meant losing a huge piece of our hearts. I write this through tears because of what could have been one year ago today. Thank you for teaching me so much.

Let’s enjoy this day together; laughing, reminiscing, and maybe even shedding some tears. We will enjoy the beauty of God’s creation together, and we will praise our God in heaven for his grace that the blade of your attacker wasn’t “one millimeter to the left or right.” We will talk about a future full of life and adventure and challenge and joy. Let’s continue trying to figure out how to raise children that love God and neighbor with full passion. You have shown me how to live this year.

Your life is a representation of the life of Christ, and I’m forever grateful that we get to share this day together, and many more to come.

August 12 is now forever a celebration of life.

I love you, my friend.