By Scott Harrup
From the third grade at Strafford (Mo.) Elementary School
through their 2006 graduation from Strafford High, Lukas and Emily were just
friends. As in, “Hi, how are you?” — end of conversation.
In 2007 Lukas joined the Army and was headed to Iraq in
“He came back from training before he was deployed,” Emily
remembers. “I didn’t even realize I missed him until I saw him and ran up to
him and gave him a big hug and said, ‘I missed you.’”
That was April. He left in May.
As 6,700 miles came between them, they burned through cell
phone minutes and sent e-mails at every opportunity. They couldn’t wait for his
deployment to end — for the opportunity to invite his Iraq buddies to
what would surely be one of those all-day family weddings and receptions at
Strafford First Assembly where he grew up.
Lukas and Emily Shook did marry on April 8 this year. But it
was at the local courthouse, and their “honeymoon” was Lukas’ convalescent
leave at his family’s home in Strafford. Their first months as husband and wife
have revolved around his surgeries and extensive rehabilitation.
The change in their wedding plans came about because of what
happened on Nov. 30, 2008.
Pfc. (now Spc.) Lukas Shook was deployed to Iraq on May 22,
2008, with the 110th Military Police Company out of Fort Carson, Colo. They
were assigned to protect the president, vice president and prime minister of
Iraq. In the following months, Lukas became all too familiar with Baghdad’s
threats as he spent many days in convoy transporting one or another government
But the worst-case scenarios never materialized. After long
days on duty, Lukas could return to base to phone Emily, read e-mails or enjoy
opening a package from home.
“I didn’t care what was inside,” he says. “Just seeing her
name written on the package made me feel better.”
On Nov. 30, a Sunday, there was no escort service. Lukas had
finished eating breakfast and was walking across base when a 107 mm rocket hit.
“It landed about 10-15 meters behind me,” he says.
The explosion lifted Lukas through the air as pieces of
shrapnel pierced him. The largest fragment blew a 3-inch-diameter hole
completely through his body. Miraculously, the projectile went through his
pelvis without breaking any bones or severing any major blood vessels.
Other fragments impacted Lukas’ lower spine, and the force
of the explosion created instant and severe brain trauma.
Two soldiers quickly dragged Lukas to a bunker, but there was
no transportation in sight to get him to a hospital. Then, out of nowhere,
Loren Doole, an independent contractor, appeared. He had been driving by just
as the rocket hit. Instead of seeking shelter, he jumped from his SUV and ran
to the bunker where Lukas’ friends had taken him.
“I’m here to help,” he said.
In seven minutes Doole had driven Lukas to the base
hospital. That life-saving time frame was just one of many events to follow
that convince Lukas, Emily and their families of God’s faithfulness and
“His wounds were so severe that he could have bled to death
very easily,” says Dennis Shook, Lukas’ father.
“It’s better to trust in the Lord …”
Dennis had been visiting his own mother in the hospital much
of the night and had caught just two hours of sleep when the call about Lukas
came at 6 a.m. that Sunday. With Baghdad nine hours ahead of southwest
Missouri, it was already mid-afternoon in Iraq. Doctors had treated Lukas as
best they could and assessed his injuries.
“When the captain called us,” Dennis remembers, “it was like
he couldn’t say ‘very’ enough times. He said, ‘Lukas Shook has been very, very,
very seriously injured.’ Then they proceeded to tell me of his injuries.”
Dennis immediately called family, friends and fellow church
members. Emily was first on his list.
“I can’t even describe it,” Emily says of that moment,
trying to control the quaver in her voice. “It was like my heart sank. I get
sad every time I think about it. I just didn’t know if he was going to die. His
brothers and my roommate were at my house when I got the news. I had to tell
Everyone’s immediate focus was prayer.
“Two days before this happened,” Dennis says, “the Lord gave
me a Scripture in Psalm 118:8 that says, ‘It’s better to trust in the Lord than
to put your confidence in man.’ I’d read that before, but for some reason it
stuck out to me. And then two days later I get this phone call, and we have
used that Scripture from then on.”
“Without God, we couldn’t have made it,” says Lukas’ mother,
Cynthia Shook. “If you don’t have God, there’s no hope. We have made it a
family mission to use this experience as a tool to witness.”
Psalm 118:8 immediately came to mind when Dennis and Cynthia
joined Lukas at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in
December. When a team of doctors offered their outlook for Lukas’ future, they
all agreed his spinal damage was profound and he would likely never walk again.
But Dennis knew he had received God’s assurance.
“Lukas,” he promised, “the doctors will look at their X-rays
and they’ll look at the things that they ‘know.’ But I’m telling you, we walk
by faith, and God’s already showed me you’re going to walk again.”
Two weeks later, Lukas was walking.
The long haul
But there were other complications. The brain swelling
caused by the explosion had necessitated removal of part of Lukas’ skull. The
gaping wound through his pelvis was very slow to heal. Even encased in a torso
brace, Lukas’ attempts at walking created stress on his spinal injuries. Nerve
damage plagued his right side.
For Emily, the only solution was to be with the man she
loved. Not just during Dennis and Cynthia’s extended visits, but 24/7. She quit
her job, sold her car, moved out of her rental home and pulled up stakes for
Washington, D.C. The staff at Walter Reed welcomed her and provided a reclining
chair where she could sleep by Lukas’ bed.
There followed weeks of medical procedures and therapies.
Weeks of pain and progress. Weeks of growing more in love as much because of
their shared pain as in spite of it.
“I’m so grateful I have been able to go through this with
him,” Emily says. “We know more about each other than some people who’ve been
married for years.”
Emily went with Lukas to Tampa, Fla., for additional
rehabilitation. Then, finally, the couple came home to Strafford for the month
On April 4, a crowd of friends and family from across
Strafford and nearby Springfield gathered at a reception for Lukas and Emily at
the Strafford School District Early Childhood Center, just a stone’s throw from
where the couple first met.
There were hugs and tears and respectful acknowledgements of
Lukas’ Purple Heart. There were congratulations when people learned Lukas had
officially proposed to Emily during his rehabilitation in Tampa. The couple
hugged guests and smiled in return, their wedding plans still a secret.
People came to see the young man who had sparked countless
prayer vigils. To share memories with the family they had rallied around
through fund-raisers and cards and gifts of every kind.
“I feel like God knew we were ready to come home on
convalescent leave,” Emily says. “We were both so tired. I felt like God gave
us this little time to regroup and go back after it again.”
And they are going “back after it again” with all the faith
and determination they share. By early May, Lukas and Emily were again at
Walter Reed preparing for Lukas’ cranial reconstruction and additional
rehabilitation. There are sure to be challenges in the months to come, but they
believe God has been with them every step of the way.
Dennis and Cynthia share that conviction.
“The night after this happened,” Dennis remembers, “I was
walking through the kitchen and I asked the Lord, ‘Why our son?’ And the Lord
told me, ‘I will be glorified in this.’
“God has definitely been glorified many times over through
this whole situation. Anytime somebody asks us about Lukas, they’ll hear about
the Lord. Every time. That’s why Lukas has come this far. Look at what God has
done. He’s preserved his life. He’s kept him from brain damage. He’s allowed
him to walk again. And we’re still trusting God for more.”
For a detailed online journal of Lukas’ story, visit
www.strafford1st.com and select “Lukas updates.”
SCOTT HARRUP is senior associate editor of Today’s
Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Out There (sharrup.agblogger.org).
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