East Texas coach, family experience Easter miracleby Tyler Clifton News Messenger
MARSHALL NEWS MESSENGER (3/31/13) - Easter is a special time to bond with family, but this holiday is taking an extra special meaning for first-year East Texas Baptist University football coach Joshua Eargle, his wife Kristen and their family.
Both found out one week ago how daughter Landrey Hope has officially been given a clean bill of health after fighting off death no more than four times in her seven months and being taken off all medication.
"Our hearts are really full with how good God is when it comes to the trials and triumphs of the past year,” Eargle said. "It’s certainly been an emotional roller coaster ride for Kristen and myself, but Christ died on a cross for us and cares for every small detail of a young child’s life. It affected our daily routine and finances, but God took care of everyone, and we couldn’t feel more blessed at this time of year.”
Eargle can remember almost one year ago being in the midst of spring football practice as the defensive coordinator at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant and racing home to disturbing news.
Kristen was 12 weeks into the pregnancy at an OBGYN visit for a prenatal checkup ironically in Longview. The nurse was unable to find a heartbeat and found what appeared to be a cyst around Landrey’s neck which she said typically leads to a genetic disorders such as Down’s or Turner’s Syndrome. Various forms of disturbing news followed for six months of her not being carried full term to being stillborn.
"We had to trust in God every time we went to the doctor’s office, and we got a different story each visit,” Eargle said. "It went from her having severe genetic disorders to possibly dying, but the end result was a heart defect, and she had to have multiple surgeries, including a procedure to patch a hole.”
It was the most difficult thing Eargle has gone through in his life and possibly ever will, as what happens on the football field is of secondary importance when it comes to life. Kristen called older daughter Kourtney’s birth in May of 2011 "easy” in comparison, but it all returns to a decade-long marriage which has grown by the day and only gotten stronger due to the trials and tribulations of the last year.
"Our family couldn’t be stronger, and my wife and I thought we were close before going through this,” Eargle said. "When you go through the challenges we faced together, you lean on one another and learn more about each other. There are two ways we could go – push apart or pull together, and what we endured was definitely an experience which pulled us together with our love of one another. Kristen is a gift from God, and to see the kind of fight and faith she possesses as a woman is amazing. There are days I’d be at work, but she never left the hospital for most of the 73 days Landrey was there. We have such a tight bond which is inseparable, as she and my two little girls have been such a blessing to me.”
Southeastern had just begun its football season and had a rare first weekend of September off, and it was ironically the same weekend Landrey was born, as she was given the name which means "Ruler of Hope,” and it seems only fitting for a baby girl with a strong heart which is now fully functioning.
Kristen had one year earlier made a life-changing move to focus on her marriage instead of career which had her becoming the first female to be offered the main sports anchor position at the CBS affiliate in Shreveport. Eargle had been given his walking papers from Arkansas-Monticello after an off-the-field incident involving the head coach led to the termination of the staff, and Kristen was six months into her pregnancy with Kourtney while getting kicked out of their campus house, losing their insurance, savings and retirement and having to apply for Medicaid while going nine months without a paycheck.
It’s certainly been a challenging time for the Eargle family, but they’re looking for their move to Marshall to be a new chapter and one in which they plan to stay, watch the girls grow up and win football games.
Eargle likes to compare the situations from the past 22 months to the proverbial hand people are given.
"Without a question we’re all dealt a different deck of cards so to speak – some good, some tough,” Eargle said. "There are people out there with tougher roads to hoe than Kristen and I went through, and even though this was by far our toughest journey, we walked it together. All we could do was pray.”
Their lives have now come been blessed with their daughter’s recent diagnosis, and both Josh and Kristen showed their strong-willed personalities and devout faith in one another along with the added strength they had to show, as they felt helpless at times when it came to Landrey’s well being.
If this was a test of their faith, then so be it, but their utmost concern was to believe in the hands of something or someone more powerful, as they couldn’t do anything to help their own flesh and blood.
"God is faithful and has been throughout this whole ordeal,” Kristen said. "It’s almost like last year we had to choose between peace and joy and try our best to not walk around every day and not panic. We have a sense of peace and don’t have to choose it, because there’s so much calmness around us now.”
Eargle has done it all as a coach at Hallsville and at many different stops on the college level and even spoke on Saturday night at the 80th annual H-Association banquet at the new Hallsville High School. His stature as a former offensive lineman at the University of Memphis, where he met Kristen in college was overcome with a sense of helplessness when it came to showing how tough he could be on the outside.
"It was definitely a test, and I’d like to think we were strong enough to handle everything, and especially when it comes to being men,” Eargle said. "If it wasn’t for the grace of God and Christ dying on a cross for us more than 2,000 years ago, I wouldn’t be talking to you today. The journey is too much for us to bear on our own and is bigger than us. It’s too tough for us to handle alone, and we definitely had help.”
Eargle did all a husband and father could do, pick up Kourtney from daycare and help take care of her and be by Landrey’s side when he could despite not being physically able to do anything for her.
"I couldn’t do anything about it – nothing,” Eargle said. "The Bible talks about praying without ceasing, and it’s definitely the closest I’ve ever been to the Lord, because my heart was aching. She was just lying there, and all I could do was continue to pray, as there was nothing I could do to help my little girl.”
Eargle has also grown professionally, as he’s responsible for turning around an ETBU football program which is trying to reach the next level of success, and even though there will be tough times along the way, they fail in comparison to the test he and Kristen have passed the last 2 ½ to three years.
"I think this allows us to relate more to people and more sympathetic to them, as everybody is either struggling or has some battle or challenge staring them in the face,” Eargle said. "It’s important to realize other people around you are hurting and how key it is to be sympathetic to one another’s needs. It’s so rewarding, and it makes it a little easier to deal with when you know others are there to help.”
Eargle credited the Southeastern Oklahoma State University staff for its assistance and generosity – whether it be bringing meals by the house or helping the family financially. They took care of one of their own despite what wound up being Eargle’s final season at the school being tough mentally.
He and Kristen can both look back to Easter 2013 knowing it was the time when it all came full circle.
"Whatever level of faith we were at, we needed to stand on it and did,” Eargle said. "Whatever might seem big to some of us is really small compared to other people we don’t know. I believe our faith put us where we are today, and it helped us immensely by leaps and bounds. I absolutely, positively believe 100 percent in the power of God Almighty and how he plans to help our little children here on Earth.”
Eargle and Kristen both have help by soon-to-be two-year old Kourtney, who is already trying to perfect the role of big sister with constant hugs and kisses along with fuzzy blankets to keep Landrey warm.
It all goes back to the meaning "Ruler of Hope,” and anyone interested in reading more about Kristen’s personal account of the ups and downs of Landrey’s birth can go online to rulerofhope.blogspot.com.
Kristen has the luxury of a bond only a mother-daughter can have and said nothing could compare with the six months of constant guessing and fearing the worst when it came to her daughter’s health.
"Women have hormones as it is, and when you combine a pregnancy on top of it all, this is something you fight for every single day,” Kristen said. "You live with fear and doubt, but you have to choose to have joy and put hope in the Lord, because he was the only one who could carry us through all of this. There were difficult moments, but everything turned out well in the end, and I can’t describe my joy.”
Not only are the Eargles starting their new life in Marshall, but there’s been an Easter miracle as well.
(Used by permission www.marshallnewsmessenger.com)