Donn’s Story: A Quiet Assurance

Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterward, he earned a PhD in English literature and began a long career in teaching and writing. Now 88, he looks back over a lifetime of walking with God, whom he has found to be a quiet abiding presence and a love that will not let him go. Here is his story…

~~~

For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

My first meeting with God came when I was seventeen. A difficult teenager, I’d been baptized at fourteen but nothing changed. By seventeen I was asking questions for which neither school nor church gave answers. Who and what was I? Was evangelical Christianity mere emotion and self-deception? Did God really exist?

Then God Himself intervened. An older boy, worried about my rebellious conduct, prayed with me one night. Our prayers grew more desperate. Then, suddenly, we were overwhelmed by a terrible but wonderful Presence. This remains the most vivid and intense experience of my life. It lasted perhaps one second, and then we were left in wonder, awed but no longer desperate.

That experience was unique. In normal life my response comes in sequences: an event happens, I react to it emotionally, and then find its meaning. But in that unique experience all three came simultaneously within about one second of time. God did exist, and He cared for me.

I would like to say that from that moment I led a different and virtuous life, but it did not happen. I could not recreate the certainty of that moment. I repeatedly asked God for a call to service, but no call came. With no follow-up program and no guidance, I drifted. I eventually decided the experience was nothing more than extreme emotion. Illogically, I let dishonest conduct by Christian leaders convince me there was no God. So I left God. But though I didn’t know it then, He did not leave me.

In retrospect, I see that He led me into marriage with Mildred, a wonderful Christian woman. He led me through the Korean War unscathed and gave me the first two of our four children. One instance of His care stands out. I completed Army flight training without incident down to the final flight examination in the Aviation Tactics Course. A young West Pointer and I flipped a coin to see which one would be tested first. I won the toss, went first, and passed. On the second flight, the instructor crashed the aircraft and the student received severe burns. (He completed the course a year later.) Through God’s mercy, I continued with my family without drama. Through Mildred’s example, God moved me gradually back into professed Christianity and the solemnity of prayer. I came to believe that my experience at seventeen was genuine, and I am still awed by it.

Some people speak of an everyday friendship with God, including actual conversations: “God told me . . . .” I don’t dispute these reports, but my experience has been less direct. I am always conscious of God as the continuing ruler of all things, a Reality without whom there is no meaning or value. I am convinced that He controls the tides of history and many of the individual waves. (Though perhaps He leaves many waves to human free will.)  My experience of His leadership in my life, however, has chiefly been one of open or closed doors.

When I completed my doctorate, I wanted to spend my life probing deeper into English Renaissance literature at a research university. But those doors did not open. I will never know whether my status as a veteran and Christian screened me out, or whether I simply wasn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter. For in retrospect, I see that God protected me. The increasingly vicious political environment in those institutions would have chewed me up and spit me out. That has happened to many others, regardless of their professional quality. Instead, the Lord opened doors into denominational universities where political pressures were less intense.

Only twice have I had faint echoes of that original experience of God. I’ll tell of the second instance later. But the first came after my kindergarten-age son suffered a potentially fatal fractured skull. Getting him diagnosed and into treatment left us frantic emotionally. But in prayer, desperate prayer, I suddenly knew he would be all right. My tension disappeared. Years later, as a lawyer, that boy won a case against the state attorney general. When the Lord sends the “all right” signal, He means it.

Mildred and I both felt God’s assurance throughout her eight-year battle with ovarian cancer. Somehow, we both knew He was in control. When the doctor told us he could do no more, Mildred smiled and said, “I’m ready to meet the Lord.” Two months later, she embarked on the journey.

My second direct experience came soon after. I ventured into “listening prayer.” Once I asked, not in anger but in curiosity, why God had not answered my prayers for Mildred’s healing. Instantly, without my volition, words appeared in my mind: “She is completely healed in heaven.”

As I’d once asked for a call, I now asked God for a mission to give meaning to the remaining years my life. I received no guidance. But a door opened into what I believe is a mission that lets me be an encourager to more people than I ever have before.

So here, near the end of my days, I have not known the daily familiarity with God that some testify to, nor have I ever had a call to any form of ministry. But in retrospect I see that even when I was farthest from God, His silent guidance was with me at every turn, clear evidence of His love and care.

Donn Taylor portraits 12/7/07  Donn Taylor

 

Aggi’s Story: Drafted into the War on Cancer

Aggi Stevenson shared her journey through cancer on Facebook while she was living it. Whenever I read her posts, I marveled both at her faith and at God’s faithfulness. I asked her to share something of her journey with you, because in the worst of the battle she experienced the best of God’s love. Here is Aggi’s story…

There are no volunteers in this Army. Everyone diagnosed with cancer was drafted into the ranks of soldiers fighting this horrific disease. During the heat of the battle, warriors feel they are outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and powerless against the might and cruelty of the enemy. The loss of body parts, femininity, masculinity, and their crowning glory—the very hair of their heads—is staggering to the formerly healthy civilian.

In 2014, I was drafted into the war on cancer. For what I gained in the midst of battle, I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything.

~~~

Normally after a mammogram, I wouldn’t be wearing a soft robe in a private waiting room watching coffee drip into a paper cup while they decided if they needed more pictures for the third time. Just when I thought I could dress and leave, the doctor ordered a breast ultrasound. By then I was given the VIP treatment. The nurses offered me everything available to make me comfortable. We joked and laughed as they asked if I could stay even longer because the doctor wanted to personally perform the ultrasound again. While pretending to be oblivious to what was happening, my heart pounded and my head throbbed. Still smiling, I left with an appointment for biopsies.

Biopsies were done on both breasts and lymph nodes. The two-week waiting period seemed like an eternity.  Finally the day came to learn the results. When I arrived at the doctor’s office there wasn’t one person, patient, or staff in the waiting/check-in area. This can’t be good, I thought…and it wasn’t. The diagnosis was bilateral breast cancer and lymph nodes tested positive as well.

As the words, “I’ve—got—cancer” penetrated my mind, heart, and soul, I felt a comforting warmth, as if wrapped in a blanket fresh from the dryer. A heavenly peace enveloped me, and I experienced a calmness that was not my own. There were no tears, no fear, just peace and strength—exactly what I prayed for.

~~~

My husband, Jim, held my hand and remained quiet, his face ashen. We viewed the x-rays and chose the hospital, surgeon, and oncologist from a list of professionals we knew nothing about.

Afterward, we walked to the car in silence. As the car doors closed, my rock of a husband crumbled to pieces. I consoled him as he wept on my shoulder. Again I possessed strength that was not my own.

Was it time to leave my precious family?  Was God going to march me right into heaven? He could heal me or take me home. Realizing God’s perfect will was to draft me into battling cancer, I was okay with whatever decision He made. I had fallen helplessly into His hands.

~~~

In full armor, I fought a brutal war of losses. I lost both breasts, hair, control of bladder and bowels, the ability to walk, and the capacity to care for myself. I lost track of whether it was day or night, what day of the week it was, or how many days I’d been in bed. My breathing became labored with the least bit of exertion. I suffered blood clots, constant nausea, and nerve damage that caused my feet, legs, tongue, and lips to become numb. Once when I cried out to God that the writhing pain was too much for me, I remember nothing else until I woke up sometime later. He had simply put me to sleep.

Jim was a gentle and loving caregiver. He assisted with bathroom duties and lowered me into our jetted tub to soak my aching body. I remember times when I would awaken to his warm hands rubbing my bald head, pulling the covers up around my neck when I was cold, and kissing my forehead. I was vaguely aware of him putting my cap back on that I had lost in the bedding because he knew how important it was to me for my head to be covered.

~~~

Every two weeks I climbed into my tank, traveled to the battlefield, and engaged cancer. When I could no longer walk, Jim carried me, drove the tank himself, and pushed the wheelchair that held my withering body into battle. Every chemo treatment was worse than the one before. Each time, I left the cancer center in defeat, wounded and beaten yet again.

This life began to dim, and I looked forward to heaven.  The suffering finally became unbearable. Waving the white flag, I surrendered to whatever God decided to do with this warrior who was too war-torn to continue. The chemo treatments were stopped. Gradually I began to get stronger. I could care for myself again. I no longer had to be in isolation because of a damaged immune system. Three months later I had healed enough to undergo 33 radiation treatments and breast reconstruction.

~~~

I’ve been cancer-free since 2015. I now have the privilege and great joy of counseling and praying with cancer-fighting warriors and their loved ones. Any time, day or night, I’m always available to them.

Cancer took me into a deep and exciting relationship with God that I would never have known any other way. Through it all, God was faithful to supply what I needed, and the people I needed at just the right time. Family and friends all rallied around me and held me up. I saw God’s love in and through them, and especially in the tender and tireless care of my husband. God’s presence with me in the midst of the battle is indescribable, and to this day I find great difficulty putting it into words. The darkest days couldn’t touch the light show that was going on in my soul. God was so close, it was as if I could feel His breath on my cheek.

Mountaintop experiences are breath-taking, and thank God for them, but if we only had those exhilarating times we wouldn’t understand the breath and depth of God’s love. He loves us through our suffering as well. He’s still the same loving God in good times and bad.

aggi stevenson 2 Aggi Stevenson