I am filled with joyous praise of our Heavenly Father today as Lea and I celebrate the miraculous healing He has provided her over the past four years, and the opportunities given us to witness to others of His workings in our lives. Yesterday, almost exactly four years after Lea was stricken with sudden and near fatal necrotizing pancreatitis, her doctor feels she has achieved sufficient medical and mental recovery to assume a more normal lifestyle. He has cleared her to begin driving a car again, and even to accept appointment to jury duty.
These are huge steps in her return from a crippling disease that claimed her life four times, handicapped her physically and mentally, and created major changes in our lives, including a complete uprooting from our comfortable lifestyle and superficial comforts, and a homecoming to the values that are truly important.
Many Chrisitans continue to misunderstand what our relationship to Father God should be. We often believe that it is simply our acceptance that Jesus, lived, died, and rose again, and then avoiding doing bad things until we appear in front of God’s throne to be judged and rewarded according to our deeds. Not so. The real account of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out to service, takes him on a journey, and gives him true purpose.
God created us to be Christ-like, and to carry the word of salvation to all parts of the world. If we aren’t serving Him in that manner, He will, like any good father, try to nudge us in the right direction. If that gentle nudge doesn’t work, He will try a new strategy . . . perhaps a little more forceful. If those attempts don’t work, He may have to take even more drastic action to bring us back into line. I am one of those believers God had to severely discipline, and pray for His continual guidance as I try to serve Him to the best of my abilities.
Scripture is clear that you cannot accept Christ and then just live any way you please. And, God takes our obligation to serve Him seriously. He will often let us stray a bit to test the boundaries, as children will do. Eventually, though, He will bring us back into line by taking us to the woodshed for a good, corrective, spanking if necessary.
I got one of His woodshed spankings that shook my faith to the core. God led me through six months of hell in the form of unrelenting horrors in 2005 while Lea was in the hospital. Her pancreas had suddenly, without warning, ruptured and began dissolving all her internal organs with stomach acid. The surgeons had quickly placed her in a drug induced coma to begin her treatment and said she had a 15% chance of surviving.
She was in that coma for 78 days. She had eighteen IVs delivering medications, plus hookups for Dialysis and Plasma Phoresis. She had cuffs on her legs that would squeeze and release to circulate her blood, and a respirator to breathe for her, because her internal functions has ceased to work normally. During her hospitalization she had over 30 surgeries. Her cardiac and pulmonary systems failed four times, requiring emergency procedures to restore them. The medical team wasn’t even sure her brain was working after the first two weeks, or that she could recover from the trauma caused by the pancreas. This was truly Hell.
I believe this illness was God’s way of getting my attention. I had always been independent, prideful; self reliant. I ignored His calls to service, although I recognized that’s what they were. He had tried easier, more subtle ways to being me back into the church I had disregarded so long, but those efforts didn’t work. Lea and I were busy at our careers, and running a bed and breakfast that we used as an excuse to be “too busy” to get back to church. That’s why God had to take more drastic measures.
The Floating Vision
Six weeks before we drove from Indiana to Maine for vacation with some dear friends, God gave me a forewarning in the form of a vision. At the time, I was building a number of wooden replacement storm windows in the basement of our Bed & Breakfast. We had no guests that night, and I had kissed Lea goodnight as she headed upstairs to bed, then went downstairs to work for an hour or two.
Perhaps half an hour later, as I started brushing paint on one of the window frames, I heard Lea call softly from the top of the basement stairs, “Larry.” I was a little surprised she wasn’t already asleep, and responded, “What?” She didn’t reply. Sometimes when she was looking for me she wouldn’t realize that I was in the basement, and would go on into the rest of the house looking for me.
But, that night, since we had no guests, I had turned all the lights off when I went down to the basement, and had even left the door open, which would spill light out into the dark kitchen.
“Larry,” she called softly. “I’m in the basement, hon,” I replied a little louder than before. Again, no reply.
I wondered if I should go find her, but I was almost done, and didn’t want to leave the painting unfinished. “Larry,” she called softly again. I put my paint brush down, a little alarmed, that she didn’t answer me. I hurried up the stairs and saw her standing in the doorway in a simple white nightgown.
“What is it, honey?” I asked.
She said, “I died!” almost as though surprised.
“What!?” I said, thinking I must have misunderstood her.
“I died,” she repeated, and started to fade away. Just as she vanished, I noticed she was floating above the floor, her feet dangling below the gown.
I ran up to our bedroom, where I found her laying on her side toward the center of the bed. I reached out to place my hand on her arm, while praying silently that she was still warm. As I touched her, she turned slowly to me, nearly asleep, and asked, “What’s wrong?” All I could get out, was, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you.” She smiled faintly, turned back, and went to sleep.
I stood there for several minutes, unable to make myself leave her side. How confused I felt! The horror I felt just ran up and down my limbs and my mind raced seeking some logical explanation for what I had seen. Over the next two days, the vision was constantly in my thoughts, and I shared it with Lea and other family members over the next couple of days. Although puzzled by it, I didn’t put enough importance on it. It was just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen. Later that same week, however, I had another incident.
The Casket Vision
Lea had again gone on to bed while I finished up some things downstairs. When I entered our bedroom, dimly lit by the nightlight across the room, I saw Lea lying on her back, the covers thrown back, with her hands folded on her chest. And, just for an instant, I thought I saw her lying in an open casket.
The vision nearly brought me to my knees. I was really shaken. I didn’t wake Lea, but lay down beside her, and wept silently as I prayed for clarity. I know how final death is. There is no second chance to say the things you wish you had told them. There is no “Do over.” If you haven’t said it, or shared it before they pass, it’s just too late, and, you have to live with that regret.
I really understood, for the first time, how horribly I would miss Lea if I no longer had her at my side. I knew that I was being given a message to spend more quality time with Lea. To make sure that all those things that needed to be said between us were said. We had many warm, loving, friend-to-friend conversations over the next few weeks, and I felt closer to her than ever.
Less than 2 months later she lay in that coma, practically dead. Certainly her body had given up, and her spirit, the soul that makes her who she is, was not present. The body was being kept alive by machines. I kept thinking about the visions, and now, I feared, the Lord was now taking her away from me. I prayed constantly, silently talking to God as though He were physically at my side.
Over the first few days in the hospital, it was revealed to me that if I wanted God to listen to my prayers for miraculous healing, I was going to have to get right with Him. I had been out of fellowship with the church for decades, and I was going to have to change my heart. I prayed earnestly for forgiveness, and I promised God that if He allowed her to stay with me, I would make this chapter of our lives about her, and our lives about His service.
But, God knows my pride, and that I struggle with being submissive, so He had to keep working on me to break through my resistance. During one particularly tough day, Lea’s lungs stopped functioning for the second time. She was still in a coma, but the medical team had been trying to wean her off the ventilator. But, fluid buildup in the chest cavity created so much pressure the lungs simply collapsed, and breathing stopped.
A doctor and a respiratory therapist quickly responded, and had me roll Lea up on her side and hold her while the doctor inserted a large needle through her back into her chest cavity to drain the fluid, and got her lungs started again. As I stood there holding the comatose body of the person I have so dearly loved in this life, I realized that what I loved about her wasn’t there in that bed. Her spirit . . . the essence of who she is . . . was somewhere else . . . maybe already in heaven.
The horrors just kept coming. I was emotionally exhausted, with no relief in sight.
I prostrated myself before Him that night in my bedroom, praying for strength. I knew that my faith was being tested, that I was being disciplined to get me back into the role set out for me. I also knew that God’s will was going to be served, regardless, and that my test of faith could include Lea’s death. Once I recognized and accepted those realities, I began praying a little differently, asking to be given strength to accept His will for my life and bring honor to Him regardless what challenges were placed before me.
As I lay there, He brought the book of James to mind. James 1:3 – “The testing of your faith develops perseverance.” I re-read the Book of James the next day while sitting with Lea in the ICU, and the Lord revealed several other things to me. One piece of scripture that really hit home was James 1:5-8 5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; 8 they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.” I resolved to be single minded and stable.
James 4:15 – “If it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.” I gave myself up to our Father, submitted to His will, and told Him I knew that He had control. If He chose to take Lea home, I prayed that He would grant me the wisdom and depth of faith to deal with my loss in such a way that I could be a sound witness and demonstrate the peace He gives His children.
It’s difficult to think of trouble as being a blessing when you’re going through such a difficult trial, but we know that it is true. We grow much more in faith through dealing with difficulties, than we do just cruising through life. James 5:11 teaches, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.”
James 4:10 – “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Pride has always been one of my biggest challenges, and I realized that pride was at the root of my separation from the church years ago. I began working hard to let it go, and confessed to God that I needed His help in casting that demon out. I continue working on humbling myself every day to bring my pride under control.
James 2:18; “Faith without works is dead.” I had not been working for the Lord for a long time, because I let the devil, through my pride, turn me away from the church. God was showing me that He wanted me back in fellowship, and He and I were talking constantly during those days as He strengthened my faith.
James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed.” I am confessing to you that I am a work in progress, flawed, but with hope eternal through salvation made possible by the blood and resurrection of Jesus.
I thank the Lord for bringing me back into the fold, and for restoring Lea to a healthful state. I know that each and every day is a very special gift from my loving Father. I try to care for Lea as though she is really special to God, because I believe she is. Lea and I feel that sharing our story is the ministry God our Father has set before us, and we are blessed through that testimony to be a blessing to others!
I suppose perhaps the main lesson to be taken from our experience is to recognize that you have a special role to play in God’s plan, and you must guard against Satan turning you from that role. Satan never takes a vacation. He is always present, always looking for a way to turn us from God. Be alert! “Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)
Strengthen yourself in the Lord, putting on His full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:11). That means, among other things, to remember and believe that as a Christian you have received the righteousness of Jesus. It’s a defense against the ongoing accusations that the enemy tries to speak into your life. Stand confident that the Father loves YOU and in the fact that He does have good plans for you!
Please continue to pray for Lea and me as we continue our walk with God; that we can stand firm against the devil’s wiles and schemes, and that our life’s story can be a blessing to others and bring them into the light of this world, our savior, Jesus Christ.