There were maybe a hundred of us that night.
But when you’re young, I think your mind inflates numbers…it makes everything bigger. But there were at least 50 people there.
It was November, 2000, and I was 18 years old—a tall, lanky college freshman, living in my hometown of Florence, Alabama.
It was one of those nights you never forget—seared into your memory because it was emotional, tactile, surprising. This night was all of that and more.
I remember it being wet and cold...not snowing of course, because this was Alabama, and we don’t get snow in Alabama.
Our group huddled in the front yard of my parents' suburban home—bundled up, umbrellas, rain jackets. It was a classic suburban neighborhood, built in the 80’s with lots of brick houses packed in, side by side. Like the rest of the houses in the neighborhood, there were big Alabama pines and oaks in our front yard. They towered over us, naked branches dripping water onto our heads.
This was an impromptu gathering of folks from our church, Woodmont Baptist Church. There were all ages—teenagers like me, old ladies, married couples, and even some kids.
My dad, Bill Trapp, had been the pastor at Woodmont for over a decade, and everyone loved “Brother Bill”…as he was called.
Dad was easy to love. He wasn’t one of those angry Baptist hellfire preachers…the kind you might expect to find in the south. He was the kind that would visit your sick grandmother on a Tuesday night or skip an Alabama football game on Saturday to perform your wedding. Church folks know there’s a difference in a preacher and a pastor…dad was a pastor. He kept his people close and loved them well.
But he wasn’t a pushover either. He taught the Bible and was very conservative. He took our family to the big annual convention of Southern Baptists each summer. They eventually asked him to be on the Board of Trustees at Golden Gate Seminary—one of the premiere conservative seminaries for Baptist ministers-to-be. Brother Bill was a man of God in the pulpit, and he was a man of God at home when he was just Dad.
But in 1997, he began having trouble speaking. You could hear it when he preached. He had trouble pronouncing any word with an "S" in it.
One of the first doctors he saw said the outlook was grim—he either had ALS or a killer brain tumor. We were hoping for the killer brain tumor. A few doctors later and the diagnosis was official: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis...ALS...Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS (of Ice Bucket Challenge Fame) is a notorious neurological disease that is always fatal. There is no treatment and no cure. You just wait to die.
So for three years, a little remnant of believers had prayed for my dad’s healing.
And I was one of them. We believed that dad’s sickness was a test of our faith and that this was a divinely orchestrated fiasco in which God would Chuck-Norris his way into the last scene to perform a miracle, a healing. We all believed this. And I believed it the most.
Months earlier, some ladies organized a 24-hour prayer chain which meant someone was praying for my dad every hour of the day. I can remember some nights waking up at 2 or 3am, peeking through the blinds in my bedroom window, and seeing cars, lights off, parked in front of our house—pray-ers who wanted to bring their prayers a little closer to their pastor.
Later, Someone printed a couple hundred white bumper stickers with big bold red letters that said PRAY FOR BROTHER BILL. I remember being at Wal-Mart once and counting all the PFBB bumper stickers in the parking lot.
There was a lot of buzz in our little town. Everyone knew of Brother Bill’s sickness and of what was happening over at Woodmont.
But by now, the situation had gotten bad.
My dad had stayed mostly healthy…until November, 2000, when his health took a nosedive. He lost the ability to speak, could barely walk, and his arms had mostly given out. He was confined to a medical bed in the guest room of our house. I helped feed him by pouring a chalky formula into a feeding tube surgically inserted into his stomach. That's what kept him alive.
We gathered that cold night at the urging of a lady in our church.
She said God told her we needed to do what the Israelites did in the Battle of Jericho. Specifically, we needed to meet at Brother Bill’s house, pray, march around the house seven times, and then all shout together—a furious declaration that God would do the impossible.
So that’s what we did.
Back then some people in our church had shofars. A shofar is a long curvy ram’s horn with a hole cut in the small end, and if blown just right, makes an incredibly loud blast, like an airhorn. (We were totally appropriating Jewish religious tradition, but we didn’t know that was a thing in the 90s.) I was a teenage boy, and I thought shofars were cool. I had one with me that night. Mine had a strap, so I could sling it around my back like a big gun.
We formed a single file line and began walking around the side of our red brick house, towards the backyard.
Heads were bowed and people were mostly quiet—a moving column of troops. It was an indelible scene—whispered prayers, water dripping from the trees, soft footsteps on wet winter grass. Our house backed up to some woods so when we got to the backyard we had to push through some branches and prickly holly bushes. Felt appropriate.
1st march around the house — A resolute army of silent prayer warriors…we told God what we sought.
2nd march around the house — We knew God didn’t want this man of God to be sick.
3rd march around the house — I can’t remember if we told dad what we were doing...I’m sure we did. He could’t see us from his bed, but only a brick wall separated us from his bedroom. He was close.
4th march around the house — God would show up…we knew it. By now, we had cut a little trail through the woods.
5th march around the house — We were like kids, scribbling holy ovals on the earth with our Nikes, hoping to get Dad's attention.
6th march around the house — It was about to happen. We knew this was it...God’s healing hand was about to move towards Alabama, the same hand that lifted Lazarus would swipe away this biological scourge.
7th march around the house — Our hearts beat a little faster as hope surged in our chests. The group reassembled in the front yard.
The neighborhood is dark, completely silent. Most of our neighbors are already in bed or putting their kids down...tomorrow was a workday.
We all look around, not knowing exactly who would start the shout.
I'll do it.
I raise my shofar to my lips, take a giant breath in, and push out the loudest blast my lungs could muster. The whole group follows suit in a bellowing roar of shouts, screams, shrieks, war cries, whoops, and howls. Three more shofars pivot up towards the black pines and join in, launching screams to the heavens, each with a different piercing pitch.
I don’t know how long we held the shout, but I remember it was long enough for me to take another breath and do it again several more times. I eventually fell to my knees, collapsing into the wet grass. A few others began to give out, and the din faded in waves.
Our holy shout reverberated through suburbia, snaking across slick-black pavement and disappearing into the night.
I pulled one knee up, my jeans soaked through to the skin. I glanced left and saw several others laid out in the grass, like melted scarecrows with their sticks removed. Some stood—wide-eyed and panting—stunned at what had just happened. We were Baptists...we weren't used to this Pentecostal stuff.
We huddled up once again, and someone said a closing prayer. Under a gentle mist and the yellow glow of street lights, everyone walked back to their cars.
I went inside the house, to the back bedroom where dad was. He was lying there wide awake when I walked in.
“Did you hear us?". I knew he could.
He nodded yes and gave a half smile, which, I knew, was his best attempt at a full smile. I told him goodnight and gently closed his door.
Our miracle didn’t come that night. But it would. We knew it would. I knew it would.
After three long years of praying for a miracle, I knew the orders:
Brett, don’t be discouraged when the miracle doesn't come...
Numb up, boy, if that’s what you need to do.
Press on, soldier. Press. On.
God will do His thing.
Flood your spirit with faith.
God laughs at impossible situations. He scoffs at things we aren’t able to change ourselves. This is easy for Him.
A miracle was possible. Change was possible—inevitable even—we just had to give it time. 👊
B.B.P.S. - Rather listen than read? Hear Brett read every episode as a podcast. Click here.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.