1. seizing an opportunity
Worry and deep concern for a loved one does not demonstrate a lack of faith in God. They are actually the very emotions that can serve to draw us to Him at critical hours of need. Have you ever been worried sick you were about to lose someone close? If so, you know, as Phil Callaway's story demonstrates, that when you're at the end of answers, love--and faith--sometimes find a way.
"Daddy, is Mama going to die?"
Five-year-old Stephen asked the question that Phil Callaway for years had dismissed far too casually. The woman he loved deeply had warned him of the trouble that could lie ahead.
When Phil and Ramona were in the "serious dating mode," they talked about marriage and kids and where they were going to live and what they wanted to do with their lives. At one point, Ramona had stood and paced the floor.
"What's wrong?" Phil asked.
"There's something you should know," Ramona replied anxiously. "I may have a rare disease called Huntington's. My dad had it, and I've been told that I have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it. Huntington's causes mental and physical deterioration and seizures, and if you get it, you usually die young. I just thought before we get too much further along . . ."
"I'd like to marry you someday, Ramona. I love you."
Phil never gave Huntington's disease much more thought. They were young. Invincible. And fertile. Three children were born in thirty-six months, which caused Phil to quip one day:
"Ramona, sure, we have three kids, but do you know why we're far more satisfied than the guy who has three million dollars?"
"Well, the guy with three million wants more!"
Before long, however, life wasn't so funny. Ramona began waking up and pacing the floor in the middle of the night.
"What's wrong?" Phil asked through half-open eyes.
"I'm fine. I just can't sleep."
By that time, three of Ramona's six siblings had been diagnosed with Huntington's, and she was convinced she was next. The symptoms were there: lack of sleep, irritability, occasional clumsiness, even a craving for sweets.
A few weeks later Phil, the editor of Servant magazine in Alberta, Canada, took a phone call at his desk.
Silence for five seconds.
"H-h-h-elp me, please help me," Ramona cried. "I don't know what's happening."
Phil drove home in record time and burst through the door. He found his preschool children sitting on the kitchen floor, pouring cereal into bowls. "Is Mama going to die?" asked Stephen, the oldest.
Ramona lay on the living room sofa, an ugly gash on her left leg--the result of her sudden fall against a wooden bed frame--dripping blood on the carpet.
Staring with vacant eyes, she asked, "What day is it? Monday."
It's Friday, Phil thought.
"She's making funny noises," Stephen said. "She thinks I'm her dad."
Phil gathered the three children and held them close. "Maybe we should tell Jesus," said Rachael, who was three. "Maybe He can do something."
Squeezing them tightly, Phil prayed out loud: "Dear God, help Mommy to be okay. And thank you that you're right here with us all the time."
After Phil wrapped his wife's leg and called his parents, he was searching for the doctor's phone number when Ramona let out an agonized moan. Phil watched in horror as her back arched and her head snapped back. Her face turned gray, and she slumped to the floor.
Ramona's arms and legs thrashed as Phil tried to calm her and keep her from biting her tongue. Ramona's mother, who had just arrived, called for paramedics. While Phil rode in the ambulance and held his wife's hand, he recalled reading an interview with singer Linda Ronstadt, in which she said, "I'll never get married. There's too much potential for pain."
I guess I finally understand what she meant.
The battery of tests began. CAT scans. EEGs. No clear diagnosis could be given, and Ramona returned home as doctors sorted out the conflicting signals. Meanwhile, over the next eighteen months, Ramona experienced dozens of seizures. Then some good news: doctors said a test had been developed to isolate the Huntington's gene.
On February 14, 1994, Phil and Ramona stood in the doctor's office while a doctor opened an envelope that held the test results.
"Ramona, you have the normal gene."
"We don't have Huntington's?" Phil asked.
"You don't have it."
The Callaways hugged the doctor. Ramona was clear. The disease would not be passed on to their children.
As the months dragged on, however, the seizures worsened. Ramona's weight slipped to ninety pounds, and people barely recognized her. Phil wondered if she would make it past her thirtieth birthday.
One day as they drove to visit Ramona's sister, another seizure laid Ramona out in the front seat. The children cowered in the back seat, crying.
"Is Mama going to die?" asked Rachael.
"I don't know," her father said. "But you know what? God says He'll always be with us. And He's never broken a promise. We can tell Him we're scared."
Yet late at night, it was Phil who could not sleep. A sense of panic built within him. "What do I do now, Lord? Where do we go from here?"
Bible verses memorized long ago offered comfort. "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear . . ." (Psalm 46:1-2).
By the fall of 1996, the seizures were occurring daily, sometimes hourly. Phil rarely left Ramona's side. Once, when she was finally asleep, he paced their dark backyard, then fell to his knees. "God!" he cried out. "I can't take it anymore. Please do something!"
As he stood, a doctor's name came to mind. Although this man attended the same church as the Callaways, Phil had never thought to ask him his opinion. Within minutes, Phil had him on the phone and was describing Ramona's symptoms.
"It sounds like something I've seen before," the doctor said. "Bring her first thing in the morning."
Phil hadn't really believed in miracles before. But within a week, Ramona was a different person. The doctor diagnosed a rare chemical deficiency and prescribed an antiseizure medication. The seizures ended. Ramona's eyes lit up with the sparkle that had first attracted him to her. Their children don't have to worry anymore that their mom will black out; that she could die at any moment. Instead, there is normalcy. So much normalcy, it brings tears to Phil's eyes to realize where they'd been . . . and where they are. Miracles do happen.
"God gave me back my wife."
Praise the Lord, [who] heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies (Psalm 103:2-4).
2. the water filter
If you look for them, you'll find that "love letters" come in all shapes and sizes. A picture drawn by a preschooler, a surprise check in the mail, and a clean house after a long day at work all say the same thing: I love you. The time after a loved one leaves--for whatever reason--is often the time when we need a love note the most; something tangible to hold on to. Be ready for that note, because such "God things" are everywhere!
This is not shaping up to be a cheery holiday season, Susan Wilkinson thought as she flipped through a thick stack of mail. Three months earlier, her husband, Marty, had lost a valiant fight against cancerous melanoma. He drew his final breath on August 2, 1995, at the age of forty-nine; an obituary in the Houston Chronicle noted that he was survived by his wife, Susan, and three children under the age of eleven.
Susan continued to sort through the mail. Nothing stopped the reminder of the crowning blow of the last three months: just five weeks after Marty's death, her mother had succumbed to lung cancer.
Lord, how am I going to get through this holiday season without Marty and Mom? Susan felt sick to her stomach as she contemplated seeing the empty seats on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas morning.
Susan opened a few bills, then held up a notice from Sterling Springs, a water filtration company. Like many Texas families, the Wilkinsons used a canister that filtered impurities from their kitchen tap water--and improved its taste. "It's time to change your filter!" said the notice, listing a phone number customers could call to order one.
The thought of ordering a simple filter was almost too much for Susan to bear. Marty had been the do-it-yourself guy around the house, the man's man who mowed the lawn, changed the sprinkler heads, fixed leaky plumbing, and had even made their son's wooden cradle in his workshop in the garage.
The thought of her "honey-do" list falling on her own shoulders greatly discouraged Susan. With a sigh, she ordered the new water filter. Three weeks after it arrived, she still had no idea what to do with it. One Saturday morning, however, Susan decided to tackle the project. Their water was tasting pretty bad.
She turned the canister over and saw a label. Something was written in her husband's script: "November 4, 1994." Hmm. Marty had changed that filter. But right after the date was another inscription: "I love you."
When Susan saw the message, she stepped back and blinked hard, then drew a large breath. Such a simple message felt like a kiss from heaven, a tangible reminder of Marty's love for her months after he was gone.
Susan thought it through. Marty had learned on October 28, 1994, that his melanoma was malignant and incurable. "Two percent live five years," one of his doctors said. "But you're young, and we'll give it everything we've got."
It wouldn't be enough. Both Marty and Susan knew that his chances for surviving another year were slim, because the October biopsy revealed that the cancer was "very aggressive."
Two weeks after learning his condition was terminal, Marty changed the water filter. Knowing that the odds were poor that he would be around to change the filter again, he penned a short missive of love to his wife, knowing that she would find it.
Susan peeled off the label and tucked it into her prayer journal. After drying her eyes, she thanked God for giving Marty the idea to make a profound yet bittersweet expression of love after his death.
. . . the sorrows of widowhood will be remembered no more, for your Creator is your husband. The Lord Almighty is his name! (Isaiah 54:4-5).
3. letters to a stranger
Many think God wants to do only "big things" through them, that the "little things" don't matter all that much. In God's economy, the littlest things often become big things. Availability is like yeast in the hand of God. He makes your smallest bit of concern grow to make an impact in this life . . . and often for eternity. Do you want to see "God things" around you? Then tell Him you're available.
"Lord, I have so little to give back to you," Susan Morin prayed one Sunday at church. "It seems like I'm always asking you to meet my needs or answer my prayers. But Lord, what can I do for you?"
Susan, a single mom of three teenagers, was finding it hard to cope with her children's emotional needs and her precarious financial situation. Nevertheless, she longed to serve God in a way that made a difference for eternity, even though she had so little spare time to give.
The answer seemed so simple. She could pray. Susan committed to pray during her forty-five-minute commute from New Hampshire to her workplace in Vermont.
"Lord, will you give me some people to pray for?" she asked the next day as she drove to work. "I don't even have to know their needs. Just let me know who they are."
Susan arrived at the Mary Meyer Corporation, a company that makes stuffed animals. She was in charge of accounts receivable, a job that included opening the mail and preparing the bank deposits. She opened an envelope and found a note attached to a check. "I'm sorry this payment is late. I have been seriously ill. Thank you, Beverly Thompson."*
You want me to pray for her, don't you, Lord?
So began Susan's journey of praying for Beverly Thompson. At first she found it awkward to pray for someone she didn't know. She knew that Beverly owned a bookstore in Presque Isle, Maine, from where she ordered the company's plush animals to sell. But how old was she? Was she married? Did she have any children? Was her illness terminal?
Sometimes, as Susan prayed for Beverly, she found herself in tears. She prayed that Jesus would give Beverly comfort for whatever she had to endure. She pleaded for Beverly to find strength and courage to accept things that she might find hard to face.
A month or two passed, and Susan considered sending Beverly a card. This was risky--she could lose her job if Beverly was offended and complained to the company.
"Lord, I've grown to love Beverly Thompson," Susan prayed one morning. "I know you'll take care of me no matter what happens."
In her first card, Susan told Beverly a little about herself and how she had asked the Lord for specific people to pray for. Then she mentioned how she came across her name. She also said that God knew what Beverly was going through and loved her deeply.
Beverly never answered that letter, nor did she respond to the subsequent notes and cards Susan mailed that summer. But Susan never stopped praying for Beverly and even told her Tuesday night Bible study group about her.
Susan really was hoping Beverly would respond. She was curious what Beverly thought about this stranger and her stream of notes. Did Beverly think she was completely crazy? Did she hope that Susan would stop?From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from It's a God Thing by Luis Palau. Copyright © 2001 by Luis Palau. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.