Part 4 in The Remarkable Life of Tomislav*
The first time he looked at Ivana*, he knew she would be his wife. Soon after this first encounter, they stood in front of their pastor to pledge themselves to each other. She was only 19, but in love with this handsome man who had committed himself to wholeheartedly serving God. It was 1958, and at 23 years old, Tomislav was already preaching and ordained as a deacon in the church.
Suddenly, the pastor stopped the service, looking intently at Tomislav and Ivana. “I feel like there will be some big obstacles on your life path. I have an impression that there is a voice saying, ‘Only by my power will you be able to cross all of these obstacles that are on the path.'”
Tomislav and Ivana looked at each other—neither was a stranger to hardship, but if this was indeed from God, they couldn’t help but wonder what those obstacles might be.
Two months after the wedding, Tomislav and his father were navigating their horse-drawn cart over muddy, slippery wheel tracks. As they were crossing over a tram station, the horses started trotting too fast, and Tomislav tugged forcefully on the reigns. The horses shook their heads, their feet sliding around the deep tractor-grooves, and as their momentum increased, the wagon began to pendulum. Suddenly, there was a jolt that thrust Tomislav between the two horses.
“The last thing I remember, ” he said, leaning forward to look at me, “was being in between the horses while they were running, and then the cart ran over me.”
When he awoke, he was staring at the sky. “Dear Lord, am I alive?” he gasped. He looked to his right and left, seeing the endless fields of corn. He tried to stand up, but his legs would not obey him. He put his hands on his knees, but could only feel his hands touching something. At that moment, an unbearable truth revealed itself deep in his soul. But a strange calm descended upon him as he uttered it out loud.
“I broke my back, ” he called to his father who had also been thrown from the cart.
“Oh no, you didn’t,” his father reassured him.
Tomislav looked again at his immobile legs. “Yes, yes I did, ” he said quietly.
This message was sent back to his wife, who did not understand or believe the seriousness of the report.
“I didn’t know what it meant if you broke your back. We were from a small town,” she said softly, her hands folded tightly on her tiny lap, her wizened faced hinting at countless untold stories. “I was 19. You can imagine how I felt.”
In fact, they had called for emergency hospital services, but no one was available to come. Finally, someone dispatched a tractor from the village and they loaded him onto it—nobody knew that a person in Tomislav’s condition should be immobilized on a backboard. When they arrived at the hospital, they laid him on a table, and a young doctor came in to examine him.
“I think I broke my back, ” Tomislav repeated. The doctor told him to close his eyes and after doing some tests, agreed with his self-diagnosis.
“We cannot keep you here at the hospital, we are too small here,” the doctor said, “but I need my supervisor to check you.” The supervisor came in and then took the younger doctor outside the room for a consultation.
“Don’t bring him anywhere…just put him in this small room. I guarantee in one week he will be dead anyway.” The doctor’s quiet words, overheard by Tomislav, sent rivers of distress down his already-shocked body. After they moved him into the small room, he began to pray, “Oh Lord, this cannot be true, because I know the promise you gave me for my life. You called me and chose me to preach your gospel. I’ve just begun.”
“Did you feel despair when you found out you would never walk again?” I asked him.
“I felt peace and security because I knew that God had purpose for my life,” he smiled from his wheelchair, his face alive with the memories and feelings of his story.
And Tomislav stayed in that hospital for 10 long days, waiting to see what would happen.
Next: The Light in the Valley of Shadows
*names have been changed