Dan & Hazel Hall—Hearts Set on the Journey

By on November 1, 2017
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Dan and Hazel Hall
Hearts Set on the Journey

 

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca (bitterness) they make it a place of springs…”(Psalm 84:5-6). That’s the verse Dan cites when he tells about his journey of late.

 

Dan Hall, husband, father, pastor, executive coach, and leadership guru is a “turnaround guy.” He is the wizard with a gift and a passion for straightening messes in businesses, churches, and other organizations—the bigger, the better.

 

Author John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, must have had Dan in mind when he wrote, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” Dan has always been that warrior who runs bravely into the thick of the battle confident in his expertise at slaying dragons and saving the day.

 

The Before

 

Dan and Hazel Hall share one big legacy. They are Baptist preachers’ kids. They grew up in the same neighborhood near Fort Worth, Texas. When Dan’s dad took a job with James Robison Ministries, his family moved away, but the Halls and the Andersons remained good friends. It was not until the two were college students at Baylor that they met again.

 

Dan and Hazel were married August 14, 1987.

It would seem that image is etched in Dan’s memory forever. He was leaving a Denny’s restaurant as Hazel was coming in. She recognized him and introduced herself. Dan had already noticed the pretty girl in the 501 jeans and the red high-top tennis shoes. He could not believe his good fortune! As he says, “I took one look and I was done!”

 

They married less than two years later and set up housekeeping in Clinton, Mississippi, where Dan had already begun pastoring at a new church, Cornerstone. The year was 1987. The Civil Rights Movement, per se, had ended, but there was still more room for improvement in race relations. There was little evidence of racial reconciliation between Whites and Blacks in the Deep South.

 

The leadership at Cornerstone wanted to be intentional about bringing the races together, and Dan believed to his very core that the message of the gospel of Jesus is one of love and unity. There was no place for a racial divide between brothers in Christ.

 

Establishing a racially integrated church was a radical endeavor, but evidently, there were others who were likeminded. The church that began in the Jaycee Meeting Hut in Clinton continually had to find larger and larger quarters, and from the start it was impossible to label it a “Black” church or a “White” church because there seemed to be an equal mix of both black and white faces in the pews week after week.

 

The members worked side by side feeding the poor, befriending the homeless, teaching the Word, and growing Believers in their community.

 

If Dan is passionate about racial reconciliation, he is just as passionate about pro-life issues. By 1987, there were several busy abortion clinics in the Jackson area. Dan spearheaded a coalition of both Black and White pastors called Pastors for Life who held sidewalk vigils across the street from the abortion clinic worshiping, praying, and sometimes having the opportunity to persuade women headed inside to make a different choice. He was an outspoken advocate and board member at Pro-Life Mississippi.

 

His Path

 

Dan says there are no “straight lines” in the story of his life. “I’ve never been the guy who when asked, could just go write out my life goals and go after them. It’s like I’ve lived a life of divine opportunity and something comes up and I see it and know that’s what I am supposed to do.”

 

During the years in Kentucky/Indiana.

He will attest that there have been times his unorthodox way of taking on a new assignment created a great deal of stress for both his and Hazel’s parents. He has always been a bit of a maverick. When he felt God’s call to leave Jackson, Mississippi, in 1999 it did not make a lot of sense that the guy who was so committed to racial reconciliation would take a church in Indiana—the state that has the largest KKK presence in the whole country. That’s just the kind of challenge that has always attracted Dan.

 

It was there on the Kentucky and Indiana border that Dan practically stumbled into business coaching, another of those “divine opportunities” that seem to find him. As an outreach, he began a weekly luncheon for business leaders called “Power Lunch with Dan Hall.” One day one of the attendees asked Dan, “Can a Christian fire somebody?”

 

That question was the genesis for what later became On Course Solutions. Week after week the business leaders brought their workplace dilemmas involving leadership, ethics, and relationships. Dan taught them how scriptural principles applied to modern problems.

 

The church he pastored was one of those first “turnaround” opportunities. When Dan arrived, it was broke, in disrepair, and had lost much of its membership. For three years he pastored there and was able to shepherd a recovery.

 

Dan with fellow pastors during a leadership conference in the Philippines for indigenous pastors.

His next assignment was a struggling church in South Florida that gave new meaning to the word “multicultural.” There were members there representing 38 countries and God continued to bless his efforts at bringing unity through the gospel in the midst of incredible diversity. By the time he left in 2007, the church roll had increased substantially from a membership of 1800 to 5000. They ran a Saturday night service and three Sunday morning services. While he successfully worked at that turnaround effort, he also continued his leadership coaching working with many other churches and non-profits all over the country.

 

When God called him back to Mississippi in 2007, he accepted interim pastor positions at a succession of churches in various stages of transition. Dan was something of a Super Man in the way he pastored his different congregations, loved on the hurting, kept On Course Solutions running, and made Hazel and their six children his first priority—right after God, that is.

 

The Accident

 

At 52 years of age, he was at the pinnacle of everything he had tried to build. Life was good. His reputation and resume as a “fill-in” pastor had forged deep relationships with congregations all over the Southeast. His business was “crazy busy in a good way,” his marriage was great, and his children were all doing well. He was fulfilled in his professional life and was in the best place he had ever been financially.

 

At about 2 a.m. on August 16, 2015, while on a business trip to Houston, Texas, Dan suffered a pulmonary embolism. He was alone in his hotel room when he passed out, fell in a narrow passageway, and injured his spinal cord. Immediately, the 6’4” physically fit man in the prime of life became paraplegic.

 

When Dan regained consciousness a few hours later, he did not immediately realize the gravity of his plight. He was face down in the carpet, his nose was broken, and the full weight of his body was pressing into his lungs. He was slowly suffocating. Reality slowly dawned, but he was strangely calm. “I just settled down and my brain was going a million miles an hour.” He did a quick assessment of his life and recalls, “I remember thinking I’m okay with God. I knew that the faith I put in Christ at the age of five was still sufficient. I remember having a peace, but it was also in that moment I said to God, ‘I know you don’t need me, God, but my kids do. I would really like to live for them.’”

 

By the grace of God and the sheer stubborn will that is Dan Hall, he fought to stay awake, kept struggling to breathe out of the corner of his mouth, and played mental slideshows of Hannah, Elizabeth, Rebekah, Lydia, Micaiah, and Bethany over and over. Hours passed.

 

Missions are core to Dan’s calling. He spoke at a Christian Boy’s School in India 2001.

Meanwhile, across town at the West University Baptist Church, Pastor Roger Patterson was concerned when Dan did not arrive for their 9 a.m. meeting. Everyone knew that Dan was compulsive about showing up as much as a half-hour early. When he did not answer his cell phone, Roger knew something was wrong. He prevailed on the hotel security to do a safety check.

 

The last thing Dan remembers was the sound of his door opening and a voice saying, “Mr. Hall. Mr. Hall,” and then, “Call 911!”

 

Hazel Hall was at home in Madison, Mississippi, getting ready to go to work when she got the chilling call from Roger Patterson telling her that Dan had been found in his hotel room “unresponsive” and she should just get there right away.

 

With the help of daughter Elizabeth who lived close by, she managed to pack a suitcase, buy an extremely expensive airline ticket, and catch the first flight from Jackson to Houston—via Atlanta, of course. It was 4:30 that afternoon before she walked into the ICU at the Texas Medical Center. Her husband was almost unrecognizable as he lay there with tubes and monitors. He was hooked up to more machines than Hazel even knew existed. Dan had been evaluated by a host of specialists, but he was not stable enough for the surgery he needed. They really doubted that he was going to live.

 

The doctors underestimated Dan’s will to fight. Amazingly, he would wake up every now and then as lucid as if nothing was wrong—except that he could not talk or move, so he would try to mouth words. Knowing her husband as well as she did, Hazel realized he was worried about his schedule and his clients. They developed their own system of communicating. Hazel would go down the alphabet, and Dan would nod when she came to a letter in a word. Every thought and every sentence had to be composed that way for weeks.

 

The Hall Kids: Hannah, Bethany, Micaiah, Elizabeth, Rebekah, and Lydia

 

A team of physicians came and went constantly, but they had very little real information to share with Hazel. Two weeks passed before she cornered a doctor and asked him exactly what she should prepare for. His answer was short and to the point, “He’s still the sickest patient on this floor.”

 

Because Dan’s spinal cord was not severed, no one was certain whether or not the paralysis would be permanent. He still had a tracheostomy tube in place and the lungs had to mend from the blood clot, nerve damage, and a mysterious disorder that was partially caused by the carpet fibers jammed against his face during his seven-hour ordeal on the hotel room floor. He underwent seven bronchoscopies in a matter of weeks.

 

The future could not have been more vague. Dan’s condition was precarious to say the least. And on a practical note, there was a myriad of questions without answers. How long would they need to stay in Houston? Where would they go when they had to leave the hospital?

 

God’s Faithfulness

 

Three weeks after the accident, the insurance benefits for his hospital care were depleted and arrangements were made to move him to a rehab facility. “Rehab” to Dan and Hazel meant restoration of Dan’s body to its pre-accident condition, but they quickly discovered rehab was not that at all. Hazel says, “The point of rehab was to help Dan come to grips with his new situation.”

 

All the practical questions that had crossed Hazel’s mind during the previous weeks of uncertainty were now reality. Where would they live during Dan’s extensive rehab—a time period that was still open-ended? Dan was self-employed. If he couldn’t work, what then? How were they going to manage household expenses without a regular stream of income?

 

Back Row (Left to Right ): Daughters Hannah and Rebekah; Hannah’s husband, Mike; Hazel; and son Micaiah Front row (Left to Right): Daughter Bethany; granddaughter Peyton; Dan; grandson Kain; and daughters Lydia and Elizabeth

 

Transportation was another huge challenge. Getting a 6’4” man with Dan’s disabilities into the average vehicle was next to impossible, especially for his petite wife and caregiver.

 

The scripture that comes to mind is Isaiah 65:24, “Before they call, I will answer.” One by one, the answers came almost before the prayer was prayed or the need was shared with a friend.

 

Daughter Elizabeth, who had moved back home in Madison to take care of her younger sister, Bethany, called Hazel one morning to say, “Mom, I am sitting at Dad’s desk opening mail and there are stacks of gift cards here from people from all over for restaurants, groceries, gasoline, and stores. Our refrigerator is filled with food. There is also a man outside from one of the churches mowing our lawn. I don’t know any of these people, but they are all people Dad has poured into over the years.” She was completely overwhelmed that people were so giving.

 

That was a precious teachable moment as Hazel said to Elizabeth, “That’s a beautiful picture of grace, Elizabeth. That’s what Christ’s love looks like.”

 

And that was only the beginning.

 

Dan (right) with his dad, T.D., and brothers, Dennis and Tom.

The finance committee chairman from West University Baptist in Houston had gotten to know Dan over the past months. He offered the Halls a luxury apartment in a high rise his company managed. This apartment was just a few blocks from the rehab facility, and he gave it to Dan and Hazel rent-free for the nine months they were living in Houston.

 

When they arrived the first day, they found a well-stocked household complete with new furniture, dishes, linens, and groceries. Even a top-of-the-line, widescreen television was theirs to keep.

 

Another church from Clearwater, Florida, where Dan preached every July while the pastor took a sabbatical bought a completely custom wheelchair accessible van for them. That solved the transportation difficulties.

 

Dan’s only son, Micaiah, was in the first week of his freshman year at the University of Alabama when the news of his dad’s accident reached him. Several men from the Valleydale Baptist Church in Birmingham—another of Dan’s transitional assignments—drove to Tuscaloosa with gift cards for food and gas, comforted Micaiah, and offered to “be there” for whatever he needed for as long as he needed it. Whether the name of a mechanic, the answer to a financial question, or just some fatherly advice, these Christian brothers were on call.

 

Meanwhile back in Houston, as progress was slow and all their prayers weren’t being answered exactly as they wished, Dan and Hazel were moving through this shared journey with a spiritual resilience that was impossible not to notice.

 

This was 2015 when the news cycle was 100% focused on the next year’s Presidential election. A frequent comment in so many polls was that this would be the first election where the evangelical vote was not going to make a difference. Again and again Hazel heard that Christians had lost their once great power of influence.

 

All Hazel could see in her present circumstances was something else entirely. She saw the supernatural power of the body of Christ and what it manages to do when it mobilizes. She calls it “stunning.”

 

The New Normal

 

Everything Dan has taught others over the last 30 years of ministry, he is now demonstrating by example. God, for whatever reason, has not chosen to put him back together the way he was before August 16, 2015. But his gifts are still there. The same creative mind, extraordinary communication skills, wise insight, and quick wit shine as brightly as ever. He can still tell a story that makes this writer laugh!

 

Assistive technology has kept him writing, speaking, and helping others unlock potential talents they don’t see in themselves. He is just as much a “turnaround guy” as he ever was—just maybe a little more amazing because of his own continuing personal “turnaround” story.

 

His joy is still there. His faith in the Lord is still there. And there is a notable lack of bitterness over the injury that has so altered life for him and for those he loves. He sees this part of his journey with a surprising sense of gratitude when he says, “There are moments that I get really overwhelmed that God can trust me with this {disability}. As I look ahead I struggle emotionally, but I don’t feel depressed.”

 

For the time being he is teaching on Sunday morning at Livingston Fellowship in Livingston. Catch him one Sunday morning soon. The service starts at 10:30 a.m. and you can always walk across the parking lot afterward and grab Sunday lunch at the restaurant, The Gathering. (The fried chicken is better than your grandmother’s!)

 

Dan is working on a couple of books—one on his story and one on generosity, which is another core message he has taught and lived for all his years. He and Hazel long ago decided to give well beyond a 10% tithe. I asked him if even once during the last two years he had wished he had held more back for this rainy day.

 

His answer really didn’t shock me. He said, “It has never entered my head. Generosity is the most freeing way to live. Having doesn’t solve anything. We’re made to be conduits. We carry God’s image at no other time as clearly as when we give.”

 

That is not going to change—not now and not ever.

 

You can reach Dan Hall at dan@oncoursesolutions.com. Follow him on Facebook at Dan Hall – Still On Course and find the video of his entire story at Emerging From the Shadow of Death on vimeo.com.

 

 

Mr. Junior Central High School in Euless, Texas.

 

For years, Dan led a missionary retreat to encourage them in the field as part of Operation Barnabas. This one in Barcelona.

 

Dan spoke at the Billy Graham crusade in Louisville in 2001.