Bryan Koch: But on June 7th, I thought that was my last day on planet earth. My boys thought that was it, that they were gonna lose their mom and their dad on the same day. But God numbers our days.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: This is Focus on the Family, and today you’ll hear how that man, Bryan Koch, survived a terrible accident that took the life of his wife. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: Uh, John, I always find it encouraging to hear how the Lord can redeem any situation if, if we’re walking with him. And today, we’ll hear how a pastor and father of three was able to survive a terrible accident, and also forgive the person who caused. Uh, even though, as you said, his wife, Lynn, tragically died that day. Uh, Pastor Bryan has been in ministry for over 25 years and is the lead pastor of GT Church in Reading, Pennsylvania. He was a Minor League baseball player in his younger days, and in this presentation, you’ll hear him refer to a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, which he’s using to illustrate some of his points.
John: Here now is Pastor Bryan Koch, speaking at a Washington County prayer breakfast in Pennsylvania, on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Bryan: I- I’m gonna share my story with you today, and I’m gonna do it from Psalm 37. And I’m just gonna read a couple verses, and it really kind of speaks to the life of my story. Psalm 37:23-24. Here’s what it says, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Just think about that. Every detail. Not 75%, no three-quarters. Every detail of our life. “Though they stumble, they will never fall. For the Lord holds them by the hand.” That’s really good.
So, um, I’m gonna tell you a little bit, my story. I’m all right. How many of you know that sometimes in life, it’s okay just to be okay? Sometimes in the Christian world it’s like, “Praise God, Hallelujah, you know, miracle, yeah, I’m always wonderful.” No, we’re not always wonderful. How many have a bad day sometimes? Some of you that have hair have a bad hair day. (Laughter) I never have a bad hair day, ever. It’s amazing. Now, I’ll have a bad leg day, all right? My leg’s a little sore or whatever. You know, ladies, when you wear those shoes all day long, they’re beautiful, you’re like, “Oh, I can’t wait to get these shoes off.” I sometimes say to Josh, “I can’t wait to get my leg off.” (Laughter) Yeah, give that some thought.
But it’s okay. It’s all right to be okay. When you have God in your life, no matter what you’re going through, you’re gonna be all right. There’s a better life coming. There’s something more coming in our life. And so, when I read that, uh, verse, Psalm, uh, 37:23, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly.” I can be all right today, because God directs every step I take. All right?
Now, I want you to see this Louisville Slugger. When I played ball, you’d get a couple cases of these to start the season. I want you to think of this Louisville Slugger as a bat, because that’s a part of my story. In fact, for so much of my life, this was all of my story. I wasn’t a good student, I didn’t really spend a lot of time, you know, studying and all that. It was amazing. I went to high school four years, never had any homework. Amazing. (Laughter) I’m sorry. To the teachers at my table, I’m sorry. (Laughter) I had homework; I just didn’t do it. All right? But I loved to play baseball.
And uh, so I went to Muhlenberg High School out in Berks County and, uh, went through school, did just enough to stay, you know, legal to play baseball. But again, I unfortunately… And I, I did drugs. I drank alcohol. I chewed tobacco. I dipped snuff. I did a lot of the things that were affecting my body in a negative way, and it wasn’t just social drinking. I drank to get drunk. I was kind of a binge drinker as a high school student. So, I, I, I was far from God.
And uh, so 1981, I walked through the library, which I didn’t do often at our school, but there was a cute girl there and I thought, “Maybe I’ll study a little bit today.” (Laughter) I sat there, but this young girl, not only was she attractive, but she was a Christian and she started talking to me about God. Well, her dad, to make a long story short, her dad said, “Look, you can’t go anywhere with our daughter.”
He… They were teachers at my school, and they knew me. (Laughter) Okay? They knew Bryan Koch. They knew what I did and didn’t… They saw my skull ring in my back pocket, and they knew I did things I shouldn’t do. He said, “Bryan, the only place you could ever go with our daughter is to church.” I thought, “Well, she’s really cute. I guess I’ll go to church.” (Laughter)
I went to church; I was there on a Tuesday night. Long story, but I had not been… Like I said, I very seldom went to church, but man, that guy was preaching the Gospel that day. He was an older gentleman and he just talked about the fact… I thought, “Hey…” I thought, “I’m American, I’m going to Heaven. I’m an American. Everybody goes to Heaven. I’m not an ax murderer. I, I used to hit baseballs. I don’t hit people with this. I’m gonna make it to Heaven.” He said, “If you don’t know God, you’re not going to Heaven.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re a church member or this or that. You know, we say, “Oh, I’m a good person.” No, none of us are really good. The Bible says there’s none righteous. No, not one. We all sin. Fault word, indeed our… Every one of us. We need the grace of God.
So, man, they… This service went on and on. I’m thinking, “Wow, she’s cute, but I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this.” (Laughter) And you know, they’re singing this song and I’m starting to sweat a little bit, I’m convicted. I didn’t even know what conviction was, but he kept singing that song and he gave the altar call. Well, long story short, I came to the altar and that night, I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ, Tuesday night. (Clapping)
I didn’t… 1 Corinthians, I didn’t know what that was. I thought it was 1 Carnations. Malachi, I thought it was Malachi. (Laughter) I didn’t know Mar- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We had a big Bible in our house. It was like a piece of furniture. My mom would dust it. (Laughter) Open it up, you had to use… Like, it was, like, a bicep workout just to open the Bible.
I came home that night, Tuesday night, about 11:00 on a school night. I come creeping in the house, because I did that before. Go to flip the light, I don’t know why. You were in construction, right Paul? Tell me why they put that little switch there at the sink and you think it’s a light, and it’s the garbage disposal. (Laughter) “Du,de,de,de,du,de,du.”
My mom gets up, she says, “Bryan Koch, where were you?” I said, “Mom, I was at church.” She said, “I’m gonna ask you one more time. (Laughter) If you don’t tell me where you were, I’m gonna get your dad up.” I said, “Mom, I was at church.” And I said, “Tonight, I don’t understand it.” I said, “But, I gave my life to God tonight.”
I’ll never forget it. My mom grew up in North Carolina. She went to a Baptist church as a kid, but walked away from God, married my dad who knew nothing about God. She dropped to her knees that night on our kitchen floor and hugged me around my knees and said, “I’ve tried to give you everything as a mother.” She loved to cook and bake, and she was a loving mother, but she said, “I didn’t give you what was most important. I haven’t given you God.” And that night, my mom recommitted her life to God on the kitchen floor at 11:00 at night. (Clapping)
I wanna tell you something. God guides every step of our life, even when we don’t even know him. He’s just involved in our life. So, years go by and you think about life. Again, I was born May 23rd, 1964. If you think about life, just like this line, there’s things that happen above the line and below the line. Right? That night, Tuesday night, that was above the line. I came to know God. Next year I was gonna try to graduate high school, 1982. Thank God I did, that was above the line. I didn’t know if I would, and I was all set to go to Arizona State to play baseball.
I graduated on a Thursday night. Friday was the MLB draft. So, I was sitting by the phone. A couple teams, the Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, a couple teams had talked to me about maybe playing. We had good high school teams. We went to the State Final every year. And uh, phone didn’t ring, didn’t ring. 11:00, the phone rings. The Chicago White Sox called my house and said, “Brian, you know, uh, you were drafted today. Congratulations. If you wanna be a Chicago White Sock, we can fly in tomorrow and, uh, we can sign your contract.”
So, graduate on Thursday, drafted on Friday. On Saturday, um, I signed my contract. My dad was my agent. I wouldn’t recommend that necessarily, (Laughter) but I signed the dotted line. Monday, I was in Spring training. I played three and a half years, and to show you how God directs every step, I was a catcher, all right? So, playing one night up in New York in the Minor Leagues, and, um, kid hit a home run off of us in the fourth inning. And you, you know, many times it’s called the beanball. You do that… How many know what a beanball is?
So, I’m in… The manager’s in the dugout and he’s looking over doing the signs, nose, ears, you know, whatever, and all the stuff. And I look over and he’s just going like this. He’s wiggling his thumb. That was the sign for the beanball. Well, now I had, I had about two seconds to make a decision. I’m a Christian. I’m trying to live for God. I’m trying to make it to the Major Leagues, I’m a young kid, and I had to decide, “Am I gonna give…” I was gonna give that same signal to the pitcher and we were gonna hit this kid intentionally. Well, I decided not to do it. I gave fastball inside.
So, we didn’t hit him. The manager runs out of the dugout. You know how they come out and they have the meeting on the mound, and they put their glove over their mouth? He should have the glove in his mouth. He was cursing and carrying on, “I told you to do that.” And uh, we went… Next pitch, the kid is hitting, and we hit him. He broke, uh, the finger of… His ring finger on his glove hand. That ended his season for the year. We were near the end of the year.
So, I came up three innings later. I was a lefty, and so I’m up hitting and now they’re gonna retaliate, and this young kid threw a 90 mile an hour fastball behind my head. Not at my hip, not at my back. He threw it here. And I… You know, you’re not used to, like, leaning forward. I leaned back and the ball ran up under my helmet and hit me in the face. It just about knocked my left eye out of my head.
So, I’m 95% blind in my left eye. And I really thought that was gonna be the end of my li- you know, I took two steps, my head hit home plate, I laid there. They took me to the hospital, they flew me to Chicago, the team doctor worked on me and he said, “Brian, I don’t know how to tell you this.” But he said, “You’re never gonna play again. It’s hard enough to hit a baseball with two eyes. You’re never gonna have your…” My macula was destroyed and my retina just… I have totally, like, black vision, just about, in my left eye.
God doesn’t always fix things in our life. He didn’t fix it for Jeremiah or Isaiah. He didn’t fix it for Joseph or John the Baptist. How many know Jesus Christ died on a cross for our sins? God doesn’t always fix stuff in our life. He’s miraculous, he can do it. You know, I talk to people now all the time and they’re saying, you know, “I don’t get this. You know, you’re a preacher, you talk about God doing miracles and whatever. Where’s the miracle?” I said, “The miracle is I’m talking to you. The miracle is I still know what my name is. I shouldn’t even be alive, but God did fix my calling.”
The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. He delights in every detail of our… Think of all the details in our life. I mean, think of it. Just think of all the people in here and all the details. The Bible says that God delights in every detail of our life.
John: You’re listening today to Pastor Bryan Koch on Focus on the Family, and we have a CD of this program that we’ll send out to you for a gift of any amount, when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or you can donate and request that CD at our website, focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and return now to Bryan Koch.
Bryan: So, my hobby as… From the time I was a kid, I’d go to North Carolina with my mom and my dad. Uh, I learned to ride motorcycles. So, I rode motorcycles from the time I was, like, 11 years old. So, that’s what my wife and I loved to do. We loved to ride motorcycle. We’d hop on the bike and go and, uh, she had her license, but a lot of times she’d hop on the back and we’d take a ride. I’d get my Harley Davidson and we’d go. And just, we, we did probably 10,000 miles a year. We just really enjoyed it. And uh, again, I, I like the wind blowing through my hair. You know what I mean? (Laughter) It’s just, it’s just a really cool thing. It was just, it was just nice.
So, June 7th, uh, there was a detail in my life that was gonna be below the line. It was that day, we had First Responder Sunday. So, in our church, we were honoring all the policemen, fire, EMTs, uh, 911 operators. We just were saying, “Man, think of what our community would be like if we didn’t have first responders, and we need to pray for them that serve in that way. They, they deal with the toughest things in society and they very seldom get credit. They often just get whatever. It’s… We really need to pray for those who respond to our communities that way.”
So, we did that, that day. And later that afternoon, I had no idea. We had probably 35, 40 first responders at our church that day, Detectives, whatever. Little did I know that many of them would show up at my accident that night. My wife and I, after the day, she says, “Hey, you wanna take a ride?” We went up to Lancaster. How many know the Amish Country? We passed some horse and buggies and we just thought it was a beautiful day. We’re having a great time. Uh, we were gonna be empty nesters. Any empty nesters? There’s one word for empty nesters. You know what it is? Yes! (Laughter)
Uh, now my wife wasn’t that excited. She was sad. You know, just a guy thing, I guess. Whatever. But, we had a great day and we’re driving home on the motorcycle, beautiful day. We’re less than a mile from our house on a really bad turn. I’ve taken that turn 10,000 times. In fact, I said to her, I said, “If you’re on the double yellow or whatever, and someone’s messing with their phone or even their radio or whatever, you know, you could…” And so, I would- I was tight on the white line. We took it down, we were getting ready to go home. And uh, that day at that very spot, we passed a drunk driver.
Talk about addiction. Addiction has affected my life. That young man started drinking at 11:00 that day. He was addicted to prescription drugs, as well. He came up over that turn, which was a blind turn, a really bad turn. The state has been sued several times for the road. He hit us head on with that SUV. My dear wife… You know, that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever lost on my left, my leg, my eye, but I lost the wedding ring off my left hand, because that day, my wife was instantly killed.
Her neck snapped. She was dead the moment… The, the police told me, they said, “Bryan, one thing, she didn’t suffer one second. She was instantly in the presence of Jesus Christ.” Um, my leg was nearly amputated at the site. They thought it was gonna fall off when they put me on the stretcher. Crushed both my hips, my pelvis. Um, they had to cut me open almost right there at the scene to kind of just save my life. I died twice and came back. They finally put me under.
I was in a medicated coma for 51 days. I had 19 surgeries. My leg was so messed up, they never thought I’d even wear a prosthetic leg. They told my boys, “If he does live, which we don’t know that he will, he’ll probably be a wheelchair the rest of his life.” That was a tough day. That was a tough detail in my life. I’ll never forget waking up 51 days later. As a pastor, I’ve done hundreds of funerals, hundreds of funerals. Little did I know that I would miss my own wife’s funeral. My wife was dead, they buried her. They tried to wait until I would wake up, but it just was too long. So, they buried her.
And I’ll never forget waking up and those of you that are chaplains, you would understand this. It’s, um… They… I was medicated, all different kinds of things, and they said, “If you don’t wanna be the one that tells Bryan about his leg and about his wife, then just change the subject.” And I woke up, and there was a guy that would come in everyday. You talk about marketplace ministries, there were guys that ran businesses and every day before they’d go to work, would come in my hospital room and pray for me.
So, I woke up, started waking up the one day and there was a guy from our staff that was there. And um, I just recognized and said, “Greg.” I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “Well, we love you.” I said, “Well, I love you too, man.” But I said, “Why are you here?” I didn’t even know where I was. I said, uh, “Where’s Lynn?” He said, “Hey, you want a cup of coffee?” I said, “Yeah, I’d love a cup of coffee.”
But an hour later my sister-in-law came in and I said, “Where is Lynn?” I said, “What’s going on?” I said, “Where am I?” She said, “Bryan, Lynn is dead. You were in a really bad accident. You were hit head on.” And she said, “You lost your left leg.” And I will never forget laying in that bed and, and putting my hand down along my left leg and there was no kneecap. It was just my thigh there and I, I… Yeah, it was devastating. That was a detail in my life I wish would have never happened. It was hard. You know, my boys, the church… I mean, the church began to pray. I, I know many around the world prayed for me that day, and I, I do thank God for that. He delights in every detail of their lives.
The last part of the verse is this, “Though they stumble, they will never fall. The Lord holds them by my hand.” So now, I want you to think of this Louisville Slugger not as a bat, not as a set of handlebars, but I want you to think of it as a cane. Every step I take, I think of the hip flex, I think of the heel kick. You don’t ever think about walking. I think now about every step I take.
We can be all right, because God designs every detail of our life. He designs every detail of our life. I- I’ll never forget, I didn’t have my leg, they didn’t know if I could get a prosthetic leg. They called me, I went down, I got measured. They didn’t know. She called me and she said, “Well…” They did decide that I could wear my leg. So, this was… I was hit in June, uh, this is two weeks before Christmas and I’m getting my leg. In fact, I’m in rehab learning how to use it. And she said, “Oh, Brian, you gotta come down.” She says, “Your leg is in.” And she goes, “Your kneecap is beautiful.” (Laughter)
I always ask wherever I speak, how many have ever been told your kneecap is beautiful? (Laughter) I don’t even… I don’t know who would think that was a compliment, but I guess when you pay $65,000 for your kneecap, it ought to be beautiful. It ought to send email. It ought to make coffee. It ought to brush my teeth at night. (Laughter)
So, I’m learning to use this leg, trying to take my steps. I wanna tell you, God, God is faithful. There was a time when I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing today. I thought I’d be stuck in a wheelchair. When I heard the story, I thought, “You know what? I could have been in Heaven with my wife.” But God wasn’t finished with me yet, and God has a purpose for you. He has a purpose for your business, your career, if you’re a politician, the ministry. Whatever you’re doing in this room, God has a plan for your life, and I know you know that.
I’m gonna close with this. I had just gotten my leg, uh, I had gone back to church, I was starting to preach, I was using a walker, and then I got my leg and we had our Christmas services. We have about six or seven Christmas Eve services. The week before that, the young man who hit me, in Berks County it’s called DUI Thursday. And for about four or five hours, it’s lawyers, politicians, you name it, no matter what you do, stay-at-home moms, you know, they- they’re arrested for DUI. And our case was gonna be the last case, uh, because the media got all involved and they wanted to know this and that.
In fact, the media had grabbed me and said, “Bryan, you know…” I had uncles, I have uncles that don’t know God and they were like, “Brian, how in the world… What are you gonna do?” And uh, I said, “Well, I’m gonna… I, I need to forgive him.” “Forgive him?” I said, “We all need forgiveness.” And it wasn’t easy. I’ll remember that day. I’m in the courtroom, we’re sitting there, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen this guy face to face.
So, the judge sits to my left, you’re in this little chair and you look at him and the guy, the young kid that did this to us was sitting about six feet from me and I said, “Judge Boccabella…” It was his last day in the court. 30-some years in the court, it was his last, last hearing ever. I said, “Can I look at him and just let you listen, rather than look at you and let him listen?” He said, “Yeah.”
So, I looked at this young man right in the eye. And only by God’s grace and help, I talked to him about the power of choices. We make our own choices, but someday our choices are gonna make us. And I talked to him and I said, “I don’t know how many years you’re gonna get.” He fell on the mercy of the court. Uh, they were going after him. It was gonna be one of the largest DUI cases in Berks County. They were going for this kid for 20 years. We were the second family he hit. He didn’t kill anybody the first time. He could have got three years. He got three days.
And I said, “I don’t know how many years you’re gonna get, but I wanna say this.” I said, “I’ve been given a life sentence by you. I’m gonna live the rest of my life without my wife. My three boys are never gonna have their mom. My grandkids are never gonna have their grandma.” I said, “That’s the power of choice.” And I said, “I wanna say to you, young man, I, I… That you also have a choice, and I hope you do find God, because my sons and my sister-in-laws, we’ve made a choice and we forgive you. Is it easy? No, but we do forgive you.”
When I drank as a young kid, I could have easily done to somebody else what he did to me. We’re no better than anybody else. I’m just one beggar helping other beggars where to find their bread. If it weren’t for God, we’d all be lost. But I said, “I forgive you.” And um, I’m gonna close with this at this prayer breakfast today. How many know God can give you freedom like none other? People that don’t forgive and, “I’ll never forgive that person.” Listen, I’m not gonna live the rest of my life in pain and agony. I’m gonna give this guy to God and I’m saying, “You know what, Lord? I truly forgive him.”
And I’ll say this. It’s really amazing to understand forgiveness. I remember that night on a Tuesday night when that guy’s preaching, I didn’t think I was a sinner. I didn’t think I was… I thought, “I’m a nice guy.” I thought… What I thought was, “God’s gonna weigh the good in my life and the bad and I’m sure the good’s gonna outweigh the bad and he’s gonna let me in.” That’s not the way it works. The Bible says none of us are good. We’re all sinners.
So, I understood forgiveness. It’s one thing… It’s an, an amazing thing to receive forgiveness. That changed my life. I went home that night, I didn’t understand it all, but that night, my life was changed, and that’s what God does. But I wanna tell you, sometimes it’s really hard to give forgiveness. It was hard to forgive that kid. And we don’t forgive and forget. I wake up every day and put my leg on. I’ll always remember what that young man did to my wife and to me, and I really am praying that someday… Because his young family… His dad committed suicide. His story was really tough. If he’d have come to our church two weeks before that, I said to him, “I’d have loved to meet you in our church, rather than meeting you on that bad turn.”
What I wanna do right now, I’m just gonna ask everyone to bow your head, close your eyes. I’m gonna close. Father, I thank you for today. I think you that I’m still living another day. I think you for your grace, your protection, and I need your grace. And so, I pray, God, that you would cleanse us in this room, that you would wash away every sin. And God, that not only would you forgive our sin, but that you would help us to forgive others, those who’ve sinned against us. We thank you for it, in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen. God bless you.
John: What a message today from Pastor Bryan Koch, uh, emphasizing the need for true forgiveness on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Jim: Wow, John. Uh, I can’t imagine forgiving the drunk driver who killed my wife. Uh, but as Pastor Bryan pointed out, it’s the only way forward as a Christian. Unforgiveness is a terrible burden to bear. As they say, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It doesn’t hurt them; it only hurts you. In fact, Jesus said, “If you refuse to forgive others, your Heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” And that’s in Matthew 6:15. And I don’t know about you, John, but that scares me.
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: I have plenty of sins that need forgiveness, big and small.
John: Well, there, there are very few moments that I’m not aware of my own need for God’s forgiveness, every day.
Jim: That- that’s right. And let me remind you, uh, listening today, if you’re struggling with unforgiveness, uh, please give us a call and ask for a call back from one of our caring Christian counselors. It’s a free service that we’re able to provide, thanks to donors like you.
John: Yeah, and there’s no obligation here at all. Just call 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459, and, uh, ask to connect with one of our counselors.
Jim: Here’s the rest of the story. Uh, Pastor Bryan told us that the young man who caused the accident was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, but he has appealed that decision. And as Bryan said, this man only served three days in jail for his first drinking and driving accident, which impacted another family. So, we can pray that justice will be served for Brian and his family, and that this young man will never drink and drive again.
John: It’s really difficult to comprehend how hard it must have been for those three boys of Bryan’s to lost their mother-
John: … and almost lose their dad on the same day. How traumatic that must have been.
Jim: Yeah, and that kind of major life event is just one example of why we offer, uh, counseling services, free of charge. Uh, there’s a lot of hurting folks out there, and our counseling team receives over 2,000 requests per month from people who need help with a marriage, parenting, or family issue. And we couldn’t provide that service without the help of our donors. So, let me remind you that Focus on the Family needs your partnership. We’re in this together, and when you make a donation of any amount, I’ll send you the CD of today’s message from Pastor Bryan, as our way of saying thank you.
John: Yeah, you can be a part of the many good things that, uh, God is doing through us here at Focus on the Family. Just call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate online and request your CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And that CD would definitely make a great conversation starter for teens and young adults, and you can listen along and then, uh, that’ll really remind them of the serious consequences of drinking and driving. Next time, Greg and Erin Smalley explain why marriages drift apart and what you can do to restore the romance.
Greg Smalley: I think we put so much effort and energy into courting, dating, putting that ring on her finger. What we notice is that oftentimes, when we accomplish that, then our focus changes to all these other things. And there begins then, a slow fade.