He was a man of action–self-sufficient, proactive–but a stranger's prayer changed him.
- Posted on Apr 17, 2014
I could feel her staring at me, the woman sitting next to me in the waiting area. Do I know her? I wondered. This is getting uncomfortable. I glanced over. Like me, she was getting tests done. X-rays, blood, whatever. “Have we met before?” I asked.
“No,” she said, and paused. “I’m actually very shy. I’ve never done this before. But God is telling me to pray a healing prayer for you.”
I must really look sick for some random stranger to want to pray for me, I thought. Or maybe this woman just went around to different hospitals praying for sick people. Maybe she was just crazy. I almost hoped so. I felt myself edge away from her. “Are you sure he meant me?” I asked.
“Sure, go ahead and say a prayer,” I said. It couldn’t hurt and at least then she’d leave me alone.
The woman reached out and put her right hand on my left shoulder. “God, please be with this man and give him the healing he needs.”
She pulled her hand away. “Thanks,” I said, trying to sound sincere. The fact was I didn’t feel a bit different. Still angry, still confused, still frightened.
A nurse came out the door and called the woman’s name. The woman got up, nodded to me and followed the nurse into the back.
I shook my head. It’s okay; she meant well. Still, why would God want to heal me? I had no use for God. Why would he have any use for me?
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d prayed. Other than the occasional Christmas and Easter services, my wife, Traci, and I had rarely been to church since the kids were little. It would be hypocritical if I prayed for myself now. Yes, even now.
I’d just come from my dermatologist, who had delivered the bad news. “You have melanoma, stage three, maybe stage four,” he said. “It’s serious, Jeff.” He sent me here immediately for additional tests.
My wife was out in the hallway, calling a few family members. Traci knew I was a fighter. I knew how to deal with a challenge. Life throws you a curveball, you work harder. You adjust.
When I got home I’d get on the computer, find the best cancer specialist. Get the tumor removed. Probably have to change my diet. Exercise more. It couldn’t be that serious. I just hoped it wouldn’t mean missing a lot of work.
The nurse came into the waiting room again. “Jeff, you’re next. This way, please.” The lab tech took several vials of blood. After my chest X-ray I found Traci in the hallway. “You’re never going to guess what happened,” I said. I told her about my encounter with the woman.
Traci looked at me quizzically. “I’m surprised you’d agree to have someone pray for you,” she said. “But I’m glad. We’re going to need all the help we can get.”
The minute we got home, I got on the phone, calling friends, customers, anyone I could think of. I had to find the very best oncologist. That was crucial. Almost every conversation ended the same way: “I’ll be praying for you.”
“I appreciate that,” I’d say. I didn’t want to be rude, but it wasn’t the information I was looking for. I was looking for a doctor, not God.
My father-in-law did some research and found the best melanoma doctor in the Midwest. I made an appointment for the next week. In the meantime, I researched melanoma on the internet, clicking on article after article, each one more grim than the last.
The reality began to sink in. The odds were stacked against me. Big time. My doctor’s words came back to me. “This is serious, Jeff.”
I got to the specialist early the following week. He explained how cutting out the tumor meant removing a chunk of my back five inches wide and two inches deep. He would also take lymph nodes for testing to see if the cancer had spread.
“It will be out-patient,” he said. “You’ll definitely be home that night. Best-case scenario, you’re looking at follow-up surgery and chemo. Let’s hope the cancer hasn’t spread.”
Traci and I drove to Chicago early in the morning for the surgery, scheduled for noon. Traci squeezed my hand and kissed my forehead before they wheeled me away.
When I awoke in the recovery room my stomach was churning. I had never in my life felt so nauseated. I pushed the call button for a nurse. “This happens occasionally after surgery,” she said. “It’s a reaction to the anesthesia. You’ll feel better.”
But I got sicker by the hour. I’d had surgeries in the past and never had a reaction like this. I never knew I could feel this sick. Was this the cancer telling me it hadn’t been vanquished? That it was more serious about killing me than I was about killing it?
Finally the nurse said I would be admitted for the night, and moved me to a new room. I was too nauseous to argue. Traci stayed until visiting hours ended. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow,” she said. Another squeeze of the hand, another kiss.
Sometime in the early-morning hours I was awakened by a nurse. “I need to get your blood pressure,” she said, cuffing my arm. She left, and I closed my eyes. I tried to get back to sleep, my mind drifting over the day.
I was so frightened. The doctor had been sure I’d be able to go home. “I wonder why I got so sick,” I mumbled into the quiet dark around me.
Then, out of nowhere, I heard the softest, sweetest voice in my right ear, a voice I’d never heard before but yet sounded so familiar.
“Jeff, the reason why you’re here is because I want to talk to you.”
My eyes flew wide open. “Well...why didn’t you just wait until I got home to talk to me?” I answered. I fully expected to see someone standing next to my hospital bed. But, no, I was alone.
“You’re always so busy,” the voice said. “I can never get your attention.” Was I losing my mind? Where was this voice coming from?
“What did you want to talk to me about?” I asked.
“I want you to know that I have healed you for a reason.”
Healed. The word echoed in my mind. For a moment I was overwhelmed with joy, but then an incredible sense of guilt set in. I know now who the voice was. “Why would you want to heal me?”
Immediately, without any hesitation, the voice said, “Jeff, I never turned my back on you.”
As soon as those words were spoken, the most incredible feeling of warmth encompassed my entire body, so intense it almost lifted me out of the bed. I didn’t know what to call it. Suddenly it came to me: love. Total and complete love. The love only God could give. A love that conquered even our greatest fears.
“I want you to do three things,” the voice continued. “Love me with all your heart and soul. Love everyone here on earth. And tell your story.”
“Who’s going to believe me?” I said. I wasn’t sure I believed it.
“Just tell the story exactly the way it happened. I’ll take care of how it affects people and who believes it.”
“But who should I tell? How long do you want me to tell it? What will I be doing in the future?” But that was it. The conversation was over.
Was it just a dream? I wondered the next morning. My nurse came in to check on me, and I asked her what kind of drugs they were pumping into me. She explained that my IV was putting fluids back into my system, but I wasn’t on any drugs.
When I got home from the hospital, I dusted off a Bible we had at the house. I opened it up at random.
Matthew 22, verse 36. “‘Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I was astounded. The same information the voice had given to me.
A week later I went back to the doctor. “This is a very unusual case,” he said in a perplexed tone. “There’s no trace of melanoma in your body. I wish I could tell you how. But some things even medical science can’t explain.”
Three years have passed since that strange and wonderful night in the hospital. I remain cancer-free. I still think about that woman in the waiting room and the gentle touch of her hand on my shoulder. Did she know the chain of events she was about to start and where it would lead?
Medical science can’t explain it, but I know what can. Faith and love. We might turn our backs on God, but he never does on us. I’m no longer afraid to die. I am overjoyed to be alive.
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