Ernest Herridge: The Grace Years
I was just a boy when my Dad, Ernest Herridge, got sick. He began to gain an excessive amount of weight but we thought it was just normal weight gain. He also fell asleep very easily and his skin color had darkened. We did not know that on the inside Dad had Cushing’s disease, which is a very rare glandular disease that very few people had even heard of. It took a wreck to find this out. It also took a wreck for Dad to get serious about serving God.
In 1976 on FM 1127 between Shepherd and Urbana, Texas Dad fell asleep at the wheel of his Chevrolet pick up. He was out delivering packages for Tex Pack, the small business that he had started. His truck drove up on the rail and then tipped over and plunged 40 feet to the bottom of the ravine. The Chevy landed upside down in the mud and just a few feet from standing water. The wrecker driver that pulled the truck out later told us that they found two dead water moccasins under the crushed truck.
Dad was pinned in by the steering wheel, which was pressed down deep into his thigh muscles. He carried the scars from that steering wheel the rest of his life. The gas tank was behind the seat on this pickup and it was punctured by the fall. Gas leaked out and covered him. This road was little used and Dad said that he only heard two cars drive by while he was trapped below. Each time he hollered as loud as he could but no one heard him. For three hours he hung upside down in the pickup all soaked in oil and gas. At one point a flame started on the hood of the truck. Dad knew that if the fire caught he would not survive (there are pictures of a burnt spot in the middle of the hood of the wrecked truck) and he prayed to God and the fire went out. For those three hours Dad prayed and committed everything to God, crying out, “Lord, save me and I will serve you, I will take my family to that Pentecostal Church.”
Finally he heard someone yell from the top of the bridge, “Mister, we are going to go get you some help. Hold on.” Two boys had played hooky from school and were out joy riding. God had sent help from a most unlikely source. It was not long afterward that help arrived and they cut Dad out of the truck. Once they cut the steering wheel loose Dad rolled over, got up, and walked to the stretcher. The rescue worker said, “Hold on mister, we will carry you” and Dad replied, “I have been lying there long enough”.
At the hospital things looked pretty grim. Dad had three crushed vertebrae and second and third degree burns from the gasoline all over his body. I will never forget that day when the phone rang at home. My brother and I were playing in my room. Momma hung up the phone in a hurry and said, “Come on boys, your Daddy has been in an accident.” We loaded up in our brown Buick station wagon and finally made it to the emergency room in Livingston. We rushed inside not knowing what we would find. It was a very scary time for us as we hung on to hope that God would pull him through.
The hospital decided that it would be better to transfer my Dad to a better equipped hospital in Lufkin. By ambulance Dad was transferred there. He was in a coma as they tried to treat his burns and the damage from the accident. Large blisters formed on his body. Our Pastor, Brother Frank J. Woolf came to the ICU in Lufkin and laid hands on Dad. Immediately the blisters shrank away and disappeared. The beauty of this is that Dad never carried any scars from the burns. God was already working.
The doctors continually told us that he should be dead. Some said he was “Lucky” but we knew that luck had nothing to do with it. He was in God’s hands.
Finally Dad came home. The doctors said it would take time but he would recover. Weeks went by but he never got better but rather grew worse. Brother Woolf came by and took Dad to the Veteran’s Memorial Hospital (VA) in Houston. Many tests were run. Finally a doctor figured out that Dad had Cushing’s disease. At the time of his Diagnosis the Doctor said there were only twelve known cases in the world. The treatment for this condition was that all of Dad’s glands had to either be removed or rendered inoperative. They used radiation to kill the glands near his brain and cut out the ones near his kidneys.
For one year Dad was in the VA Hospital in Houston. In those days the patients were housed in large rooms called Wards. Dad was in Ward 308. The doctors were amazed at Dad’s enthusiasm for God and his determination to live. When Dad would share his testimony of the wreck he had survived they would stand in awe. At one point a doctor stood Dad up on a table in the Ward and had him share his testimony with everyone in the Ward. There were tears in the eyes of all around as Dad shared his new commitment to the Lord and the miracle he had experienced.
It was a long time but finally Dad came home. The doctors said we had better enjoy the few years we had left with him, for they would most likely not be many. You know God is always greater than the situation. Dad lived another 32 years after the accident and his treatment for Cushing’s disease. I have come to refer to those 32 years as the “Grace Years” – these were the years that God gave us that we did not deserve, but he gave them to us because of his “Amazing Grace”.
In September 2008 Dad finally went home to his reward. In all of those years since the wreck he served the Lord. As a Pastor, he was my greatest supporter. He never failed brag on my preaching and to tell me that I was the greatest preacher in the whole world, even when I felt I had flopped. His faithfulness to God’s house is surely legendary. I could count on one hand how many times he missed a church service. He was our doorkeeper. He faithfully kept his post until his health would not allow him to do so. May God give us more such believers.