She asked God over and over for one specific thing... to be with her ailing son.
Jun 5, 2017
The waiting was the worst. Waiting in an exam room at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base hospital in Ohio, where I’d finished chemotherapy for Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma a year earlier. Waiting for the oncologist to come in with my lab results. Waiting to see if the little bumps by my collarbone were just residual scar tissue.
Waiting, holding my wife Gretchen’s hand, praying we would be given the all clear to live our lives. I was 24 and Gretchen was 23. We’d been married for five years. We had so much ahead of us, didn’t we? Filling the home we’d just built in Michigan with children, making a lifetime of memories together.
But one glance at the oncologist’s face as he walked into the room told me that we’d have to put our dreams on hold again.“Your biopsy came back positive for Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” he said. “I’m very sorry.”
Gretchen squeezed my hand so hard, I could tell she was struggling to keep it together. I couldn’t look at her or I would break down. I had to be strong. Her mother had died of lung cancer not long after our wedding. Gretchen wouldn’t be able to bear losing someone else she loved. Not now. Not to cancer again.
The oncologist explained that since my cancer was resistant to the chemotherapy I’d already had, I would need a bone-marrow transplant. But the procedure had such a high risk of complications that I would have only a 20-percent chance of surviving it.
“When can we start?” I asked. The oncologist thought I didn’t realize how grave my situation was. I knew. But I didn’t believe in percentages. I believed in God. I would do my best to fight the cancer. The rest was in the Lord’s hands.
Gretchen and I went back to our room at the base hotel. It was hard calling our family and friends to break the news. My mother burst into tears when I told her. The stress of the day took its toll. Gretchen and I went to bed exhausted. I fell asleep almost immediately.
Something woke me in the middle of the night. A touch. A hand gently brushing my cheek. Gretchen? Was she getting up for some water? I opened my eyes. It wasn’t my wife leaning over me. She was sound asleep. It was Jesus, gazing at me with such love in his eyes—more love than I had ever felt before, than I had even thought was possible.
“I am with you.” His lips didn’t move, but I heard him as clearly as if he had spoken. And in a way, he had, through his touch. Then he lifted his hand from my cheek and left, and it seemed as if my worries and my cancer were lifted from me too. I went back to sleep confident that I had a lot more life to live.
First thing in the morning, I told Gretchen all about my encounter. “I saw Jesus!” I said excitedly. “He actually touched my face!” I showed her the exact spot on my right cheekbone where I’d felt the brush of his hand.
She thought I’d simply had an awesome dream. We went to a Bob Evans restaurant for breakfast. I asked Gretchen to grab us a table. I couldn’t keep what had happened to myself. I ran to the pay phones to call my mom.
“Chris?” Mom sounded frightened, and no wonder, considering the last news she’d heard from me. “You’ll never believe what happened last night!” I said. I told her about Jesus coming to me in the night. His caress. His parting words.
Silence. Then Mom started sobbing. “Why are you crying?” I asked. “I’m going to be fine.”
Finally she composed herself. “Chris, you don’t understand,” she said.“Last night, after you called, I asked God over and over for one specific thing. I asked him to be with you.” Jesus didn’t just come to comfort me, he came to answer my mother’s prayer.
There was one more thing I didn’t understand at the time—not until Gretchen and I had the first of our three sons. Late one night he woke up with a fever. I held my baby and tried to comfort him. If only I could transfer his sickness to me and suffer for him, I thought, stroking his cheek with my fingers.
Suddenly I was brought back to the night that Jesus had touched me. At last I recognized the love I’d seen in his eyes. It was the love a parent has for his children. A love that healed me.
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