Carol’s Story: A Sacred Conspiracy

Does God still speak to us today as he did in biblical times? Carol Stratton knows that he does. After the death of her infant granddaughter, God spoke a promise to her heart. Here’s Carol’s story…

On a blustery April day in 2015, my daughter Caitlin went to check on her sleeping baby and found little Juniper dead in her crib. She had been fine when Caitlin laid her down for a nap, but only a short time later she succumbed to SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Juniper was five months old.

The loss was devastating to Caitlin, her husband Matt and their four-year-old daughter Magnolia. But the grief of course didn’t stop there. Only if you’ve lost a child or grandchild can you know the emptiness it creates for an entire family. An empty car seat sitting in the garage and boxes of infant clothes ready for the Goodwill were sad reminders of Juniper’s short life. And spotting a five-month-old baby at the grocery brought renewed tears at a moment’s notice for any of us.

The months that followed were a time in which each of us worked through our grief. My grief encompassed not just the loss of my granddaughter, but the pain that my daughter was going through. I ached deeply for Caitlin, and wished I could somehow lift the burden of sorrow from her shoulders.

I turned to God for answers. I needed him to speak to me in the midst of this heartache. Maybe he couldn’t tell me why Juniper was taken from us, but I needed him to tell me something so I could go on trusting him.

~~~

In previous generations people used to talk about how God spoke to them. The Old Testament regularly has the Almighty speaking to Adam, Moses, Abraham and many others. And the New Testament has Jesus speaking to regular folks like you and me. But nowadays stories about our Heavenly Father weighing in on our daily lives are rare.

I’ve often wondered why.

Could it be that we don’t pay attention to that quiet voice? Possibly. I lean towards that theory. We lead noisy, busy lives. With our frantic bustling around to accomplish everything on our chore chart, vision board and bucket list, reflection rarely fits in with our schedule.

But God operates best in silence. In that quiet place of grief, God had my attention.

~~~

A few days before Christmas that same year, I awoke one morning with the strong impression that God had spoken to me in the night. Jumping out of bed and running around to my husband’s side, I announced to my half-awake spouse that we were going to have three grandchildren to add to the four we already had, and all within a year’s span. And as the words leaped out of my mouth I thought, “Where did that come from?”

It was a bold confession. Since the loss of Juniper, I didn’t imagine there would be any more grandchildren for a while. Nor did we bring up the subject with our three married children during family gatherings. It was simply too sensitive a topic. Surely, we’d keep this secret to ourselves.

Christmas Day, our oldest daughter Erica marched her three boys into our family room. They were all wearing orange shirts that read, “Party of six.” Busy cooking the dinner, I glanced over at the group. It took a few minutes to register that they were announcing their family of five would soon become six!

Ah ha, Baby number 1 is on its way!

We all jumped up and down and applauded. Then my husband John decided to let everyone in on what I’d shared with him a few days earlier. “Yep, kids, your mother predicts three grandkids in a year.”

I gulped. Please, no. Now I was really on the spot.

Little did I know that my daughter-in-law, Betsy, standing by me, had her own secret. Christmas Eve she’d shown positive on a pregnancy test. Two weeks later she and our son Seth told us they were having their first child.

Baby number 2. Hey, Lord, we’re on a roll!

But what about baby number three? Even though Caitlin wanted another child, she had to watch from the sidelines as her sister and sister-in-law donned maternity clothes for their new baby bumps. I wished my husband hadn’t made the pronouncement at Christmas. What if I hadn’t heard from the Lord correctly? I felt guilty knowing my youngest wondered if God had forgotten her.

Later that year on Father’s Day I dropped in on Caitlin to help her prepare for a cookout. Walking into the house, I discovered it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a month. Poking around the kitchen I found nothing but dirty dishes, no sumptuous dessert in the fridge, nothing brewing on the stove. Did she not remember they were hosting a barbecue that day?

My daughter Caitlin was stretched out on the living room couch looking unwell. I figured she was fighting allergies. Then I spied a basin sitting on the coffee table waiting for her stomach to erupt once again. With a woozy expression, she blurted out, “I’m pregnant,” and rushed to the nearest toilet.

There ya go, Baby number 3!

Time for rejoicing. Rejoicing three times. Three babies in nine months. Happy chaos now reigns when the three toddlers get together.

Today, I look at these three miracles and marvel at God’s loving-kindness in letting me in on his plans. In the midst of my grief, when I needed him to speak to me, he didn’t tell me the why of our loss, but he gave me a hope for our future.  He invited me into a sacred conspiracy, giving me a peek at what was to come, and he did what he promised to do.

headshopt turtleneck closeup Carol Stratton

A Red Diaper Baby Meets an Angel

Sometimes, people really are touched by an angel. Here’s my husband Bob’s story…

For the first forty years of my life I was an atheist, influenced by my childhood. My two sisters and I were what’s sometimes called “red diaper babies”—that is, our parents were Communist-leaning leftists. Even when the Cold War was at its height and  American patriotism ran high, my parents believed the Soviet Union could do no wrong. To Mom and Dad, capitalism was what was wrong with our country.

Although we lived a middle class lifestyle, our “church” was devoted to the coming of the Revolution, which would make all people equal in service to the State, which in turn would provide benevolently for all.  An elemental tenet of this church was that those who believed in God were superstitious and ignorant, and those God-believers, in essence, were enemies of the people.  Phrases like bourgeoisie, reactionary, and crypto-fascist were common in our household.

~~~

So how did I, a red diaper baby, come to be a Christian?  It was certainly not because of my own efforts.  It took an encounter with evil.

Over a matter of years, I watched as my former wife succumbed to a toxic mix of alcoholism and bi-polar disorder. Affected in bizarre and harmful ways, she changed from a caring and affectionate woman to a stranger possessed by forces beyond her control. Even her voice at times would change from her normal tone to a deep, almost baritone note. Eventually, as her personality collapsed, so did our marriage.

From this experience I came to realize that evil is a presence.  With that realization came the logical conclusion that if there is an “evil,” by what measure do we define it?  What makes evil, evil?

Evil is evil only if we have something “good” to compare it to. What then, I began to wonder, was the good? I resolved to find out. Though I’d been raised atheist, my upbringing had been within a Jewish cultural context since my father’s family was Jewish.  So I was far more familiar with synagogues (but only from attending Bar Mitvahs!) than I was with churches.  After considerable reflection, I decided to look up a rabbi.

~~~

I went to bed that night determined to start my rabbi quest the next day.  And then a funny thing happened—I met an angel. Not one of the cute little winged cherubs that flutter around the edges of greeting cards. This one meant business.

In a dream—though it’s probably best called a vision—I was visiting a friend in a kind of hospital.  I hadn’t seen him but once or twice since high school, and that was decades ago.  Although the building seemed like some sort of institution, there were no signs in my friend of sickness. He seemed perfectly well and happy. Too, there was a quietness to the place that I found disturbing. Today I recognize it as serenity. And yet I was frightened, afraid that “they” would hold me there against my will. I ran down corridors, down stairs, as “they” came after me—the usual nightmare scenario.  Finally, I reached the doorway to the great, grassy lawn.

And it was there that I was caught by a strong creature, whose features I could not make out.  He held me down.  In his right hand he held a large hypodermic.  His words were these: “You don’t understand.  You need this!”  And then the needle entered my arm.

I don’t recall waking immediately from the dream/nightmare/vision, but when morning arrived, I woke up with a singular thought that I could not shake: “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

~~~

What? Jesus Christ is Lord? How could that be?  Jesus was just one of those superstitious myths, someone who never really existed, a figment of the religious establishment. And yet, the thought not only failed to disappear as I awoke more clearly, but it began to seep into my consciousness as a reality.

Because of my recent divorce, I had purchased a small home that had been a parsonage of a church in the neighborhood.  Some days later, with the message of Christ’s reality now fixed in my heart, I sought out the pastor of that church for conversations. Many conversations.

I bought a Bible and began to read. Not a whole lot made sense to me until I opened the book one day to Jeremiah 31, and began reading at verse 31: “The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

And I read further: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” That, I knew, was exactly what God had done for me. He had quite literally injected me with his truth, and with his own hand he had written his words on my mind and heart. I knew I was a Christian.

Not everything about my life and actions changed immediately, but over time, the intellectual acceptance of God’s truths became a transforming reality. As I began to read the Bible from cover to cover, I slowly became a different person, one who began to see life’s purposes and other people in a whole new way—a far better way. I joined a church, and in a Bible study group I met Ann. We have now been married for 26 years.

So after having been an atheist, a cynic and a red diaper baby, here I am—a child of God, thanks to his grace and mercy. And an angel armed with a really big hypodermic needle.

Ann BD 2011 1  Ann Tatlock and Bob Blank

Karen’s Story: Trading Fathers

In this excerpt from her memoir, Trading Fathers, Karen Rabbitt describes how God first revealed his love to her. She was dealing with a lot—as a child, she was sexually abused by her father, and as an adult, she had two serious emotional breakdowns, one postpartum, in 1975, when she was 23, and the second two years later.

By 1979, she was both terrified of another breakdown and was praying for a revelation of the love of the Father. Because her trust in her earthly father’s goodness had been betrayed, she was struggling to trust God’s goodness. Weighed down by shame and guilt, she didn’t understand that rather than sending punishment, God wanted to fill her life with good things.

But all that changed one special night. Here is Karen’s story…

~~~

Because the psychiatrist had no answers for me, I asked God. I wrote my request in my journal, with a date: October 30, 1979. It had been two years since the second crisis. “Help me understand so maybe it won’t happen again.”

God began to answer the next day. Jerry and I, as was our habit, were lying in bed together, reading before sleep. In the new issue of Logos Journal magazine, I saw words that changed my life. A chaplain quoted a schizophrenic woman: “I’ve always been taught you should be so good before taking the Lord’s Supper.”

Then he wrote: “Here was her guilt—a core problem in the lives of persons with mental- emotional problems.”

In my journal, I wrote:

That hits home. I think that God is going to just throw me away if I don’t do tremendous things for him—intercession, drama ministry, some other enormous, demanding activity. God has helped me a lot with free-floating guilt, and I feel pretty close to being healed of such high requirements for acceptance. A growing awareness that God will accept me—that he may not have a demanding work for me to do . . . that he will welcome me with open arms if I’m only able to be faithful to my family—Jerry and Jenny.

As I wrote those words, a warmth I’d never felt before began at the top of my head and flowed through every inch of my body. In one swoop through my being, God’s love filled my heart. He was smiling at me. His arms were open as I walked into his embrace. It was the revelation of the Father’s love I’d been asking for.

Jerry noticed my deep breathing. “You okay?”

“Never better.” I leaned over and kissed him. I could have kissed the whole world.

Though excited, I also felt a deep calm. That was new. Excitement, for me, usually led to racing thoughts that made it hard to get to sleep. That night, though, I drifted off easily, with a sense of Jesus’ arms around me.

The next morning, I picked up my Bible and opened to Jeremiah, where I’d been reading the last few weeks. I’d been making an effort to read the Bible more consistently. The women at Prayer and Share all seemed to set aside a daily quiet time for prayer and Bible study.

Jeremiah rang with God’s thundering judgments against his people for their disobedience and rebellion. I knew I was disobedient, too. I didn’t know exactly in what way, but there was always more I could be doing. That morning, though, as I began to read in chapter 26, something clicked.

Verse 3 says, “Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.”

God wants to change his mind and stop the punishment. I looked around my cozy house. I thought about my good husband. God has given me so much. I wrote in my journal:

It’s taken a long time to have a real sense of God’s desire for me—that he has good things for me—that he grieves at my sin; not sadistically rubs his hands together as he looks forward to seeing me in pain as I live out the consequences of sin.

I had not yet realized how my father’s seeking pleasure at the expense of my pain had impacted my image of God.

What I knew at the moment God revealed his love to me was a joy I’d never felt before. That surface feeling of joy didn’t last more than a few weeks, but it settled in my heart.

Previous to this revelation, I had only hoped in his love. After this revelation, my roots grabbed hold of the soil of his tender care.

~~~

Postscript:  After this revelation, Karen has never seriously doubted God’s love. And she has not had another breakdown, in spite of taking no medication for the last 40 years. The revelation of the love of the Father changed her life as much as becoming a Christian seven years prior to this experience.

You can read the rest of the story in a free pdf of Trading Fathers at:

https://karenrabbitt.typepad.com/files/2013-trading-fathers.pdf

More resources, including videos, from Karen are available at: www.tradingfathers.com

Karen Rabbit Karen Rabbitt

Pete’s Story: The Illness that Led to Life

Soon after waking up in recovery, I was being transported back to my hospital room when I sensed that something had gone terribly wrong during surgery. Once in my room, my feelings of unease were validated by a quick glance at the faces of my wife, family, and friends. I was then informed by my doctor that at some point during the complex operation to remove a tumor from my spine, I had become paralyzed from the chest down and that it was highly unlikely that I would ever walk again.

~~~

For the first 50 years of my life, I lived what some have described as a charmed existence. My formative years were filled with athletic success, as I played top-tier Jr.A and D-1 NCAA College ice hockey. Later years involved starting a small business from scratch, which became very successful.

As my annual income increased to substantial levels, I was never one who had any problem whatsoever spending almost every penny of it on expensive material items like sleek sports cars and oversized luxury SUVs. Our main family home was in a high-end subdivision, in the “right” suburban Atlanta town. My beautiful wife Adele acquired an extensive wardrobe that filled to overflowing a large walk-in closet. The sheer volume of our kids’ toys, bikes, water skis, hockey equipment, and miscellaneous other sporting goods made it virtually impossible for us to park any of our cars in the garage.

~~~

I had successfully ticked most of the boxes necessary to achieve the American Dream. And yet, something was missing. To fill the emptiness, I turned more and more to alcohol until I steadily descended into alcoholism. My excessive drinking was often accompanied by volatile, unjustified, angry outbursts directed at my wife and kids at home.

For years, I lived a shameful lie. Having at best a lukewarm faith in God, I attended church with my family once or twice a month, mainly out of a sense of obligation (I was a cradle Catholic), or just to keep up appearances to help maintain the ruse.

~~~

Then the physical pain began. One day I was unable to finish my daily six-mile run due to what I thought was a groin pull. But rather than getting better, the situation deteriorated so rapidly that between the ages of 50 and 51, I had five spinal-fusion surgeries and a hip replacement. Still, none of these highly invasive procedures resulted in even the slightest reduction in the severe, nearly debilitating, lower back pain that dominated every single second of my days.

Then, at a follow-up appointment with my doctor, the X-ray technician took an image of my upper rather than lower back which, quite by accident, revealed the real culprit of my agony, a spinal tumor. Nearly two painful years later, the tumor began to hemorrhage; I was scheduled for immediate surgery at the renowned Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

That surgery both saved my life and left me paralyzed.

~~~

As the surgeon broke the dire news to me, “Who I was” slowly dissolved right before my eyes. In that one gut-wrenching moment, I lost everything that defined me. After tasting the raw, genuinely fearful emotion of helplessness, I launched into a fit of rage, directed primarily at God. Why had he allowed everything in my life to be lost?

Over the subsequent days, I descended steadily, ever deeper into depression and despair—sometimes to the point of contemplating suicide. In desperation, I decided to devote some of my newly acquired “spare time” to search for answers to life’s existential questions, number one being whether God and Jesus Christ were real. My gut feeling was they had long since been proven to be nothing more than ancient fairy tales, mere myths, long-since debunked—logically, empirically invalidated by modern science.

I spent weeks researching both sides of the issue, reading the arguments for scientific atheism as well as the works of Christian apologists. I also began to delve into the Bible, to see for myself what it had to say. It was a lengthy process, but through my research, I became convinced that science does not disprove the Christian notion of a purposeful, infinitely loving and supremely intelligent being. In fact, I found the theist’s arguments more well-reasoned and the facts in evidence more supportive of their premises.

I was beginning to believe that God really does exist and that he is who the Bible defines him to be and who Jesus Christ revealed him to be.

~~~

Out of options, I decided to bind together the shattered pieces of my broken life and hand them off to God. But before I did, I wrote out and then formally confessed every sin I was directly responsible for and the negative impact it had on others. Almost instantly, I felt a lighter load, a freer, less chaotic sense of reality. A fresh start of understanding and forgiveness permeated the warm, glowing feeling of peace I was experiencing.

From there, it was as if I was gently lifted out of bed, caught up in the love of someone or some power so great and so pure it was something I had never associated with being part of a relationship with God. God, I discovered, was love! God is love!

My next move came more naturally than breathing the pristine air around me. I asked whether I might give myself to him, as broken as I was. I told him I could no longer bear the weight of all the sins, wrong living, purposefully hurtful actions, all the baggage that came with my alcoholism, the inability to accept my paralysis, and more.

The answer came immediately: “Is it not already lifted from you?” And indeed it had been!

So it was on bended knee (figuratively), I gave my life to Christ, devoting myself to serving him in any way the indwelling Holy Spirit should guide me. I have woken up each day happy, and I go to bed each night with my inner void filled by the love and beautiful truth that comes to the broken, once saved.

Since that time I have been hospitalized over 30 times due to various infections and other paralysis-related issues. My life as a paraplegic hasn’t been an easy one, but it was my suffering that caused me to seek him diligently. In return, he has given me a foretaste of Heaven, and I am now living in the warm, loving light and peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

PJW- AFW Thrashers Casino Night 2010 Peter and Adele Wenzell

 

Alice’s Story: Graveside Epiphany

My friend Alice Wisler lost her four-year-old son to cancer treatments in 1997. Though she wrestled with deep grief, it was divine grace that kept her from losing faith in a loving God. Jesus is able to hold together all the pieces of a mother’s broken heart, and to give meaning to even the briefest of lives. Here is Alice’s story…

Daniel'sPlaceOakTree The cemetery was decorated in fog that morning when I pulled my Jeep to the usual parking place under the oak. Some think cemeteries, especially when foggy, are spooky spots. For me, the cemetery is a classroom. Revelations happen there.

When my son died at age four, I wasn’t interested in much of anything, especially not a lawn with buried bodies. It seemed strange and empty to honor a grave that held what was left of Daniel. I wanted him with me. Four years was not enough time.

While Daniel was going through cancer treatment, I had hoped for a normal family life again.  For healing, health, and kindergarten.  More trips to the park for picnics, and pausing to hear train whistles. More hours of reading Maurice Sendak’s books and laughter over wild things.

I had prayed, clung to Bible verses, and had faith that Daniel would beat the malignant tumor in his neck.

After his death, I cringed at the platitudes neighbors and friends offered.  “He’s in a better place.”  “You’ll see him again.”  “Don’t cry, don’t cry, Alice. Daniel’s with Jesus.”

Time passed, the platitudes continued, but, surprisingly, the cemetery changed for me. Instead of a place of sorrow, it became a setting for family traditions. My husband, three children and I had picnics on the grassy slopes, tossed Frisbees—even played softball. On Daniel’s birthday we let go of helium balloons with messages attached to the strings. They sailed beyond our reach into the August sky.

Now, on an October morning 21 years after Daniel’s death, I came to the cemetery alone. Once I parked by Daniel’s grave, I did my usual mothering—brushing away twigs and wiping bird droppings off his marker with a wet toilette.

The cemetery hawk circled overhead—most likely looking for a critter to surprise—but I rather liked to think he was protecting the gravestones. As he showed off his wing span, I continued with my ritual of walking around the grounds, pausing at markers to read the familiar epitaphs. There was Audrey who lived one day. Taylor, another infant, was just steps away. According to his stone, his parents were so glad he had come into their lives, however briefly. Peregrina, who had been a beloved mother and grandmother, had an armload of red roses in the vase on her stone. I continued my trek, breathing in the morning air.

Solomon’s grave was new to me. The scripture on his epitaph was well-known, but it was the first time I’d seen his gravestone. I took in the words written in bronze: I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.  II Timothy: 4:7.

My first response to this stranger’s epitaph was, Well, Solomon, you had 75 years, so the passage makes sense to put on your resting place.

Daniel?  He had four.

I thought of how Daniel wore a Jesus Loves You pin he got in church. I remembered how he wanted me to read to him about the vine and the branches in the book of John. He told me that you give gifts to your friends. He recited jokes from a book, memorizing all the punch lines, because he didn’t know how to read.  When we crossed the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain he held my hand because I am afraid of heights.

He had lived.

It was much too short a life.

But my mind didn’t stop there. I don’t know if it was something in the morning air or in the wispy patches of fog, but God got my attention.

Daniel’s life had a purpose and he fulfilled it. He ran his race with bravery, becoming a Brave Cookie to us. He had cherished his faith in God.

It was the first time in 21 years that I could apply this passage from II Timothy to the life of my boy. And from memory I recalled the rest of the passage found in that verse: I have fought the good fight.

It fit Daniel perfectly. As a cancer patient, he had fought hard through chemo, surgeries, radiation treatments, infections, and invasive needles.

I walked back toward Daniel’s grave as Jesus’ love weaved into my broken mother’s heart.

“You were created for a purpose and you lived it,” I said in the way mamas talk to their child’s grave. “I don’t know why you had to go so soon, but your life was every bit as profound as someone who got to live to see 75 or 85 or 92.”

The fog still hovered; there was no burst of sunlight, no sound of angel wings or trumpets, absolutely no physical indication that I had had an epiphany.

But my spirit knew. I think that it’s in these moments that Jesus’ love wraps us tightly. He gives us what we need, and it comes right when we are able to comprehend it, absorb it, and be thankful.

AliceWisler-2  Alice Wisler

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