A quick flashback.
It’s January 16, 2013, in Houston – two days after Jenny’s second surgery, when they removed 23 lymph nodes and ensured there was no cancer left in her body.
The day wasn’t good. It was Wednesday of that week. We were supposed to be driving back to Edmond early that day, getting back in the afternoon and relieving my parents who were taking care of the children and all the activities at home.
Jenny’s recovery from the surgery was going well, but she became concerned about an odd rash that came on Tuesday, spread overnight and seemed to be getting worse as we packed on Wednesday morning. We didn’t want to leave Houston if there were post-surgical complications. We called the surgeon. She advised us to stay in Houston and see some specialists that day at MD Anderson.
As I wrote in the blog post about that day …
“One unplanned appointment? That’s and all-day thing, and we knew it.”
Basically, we were going to have to wait in the hospital for a good portion of the day, waiting for a phone call to get an appointment with Infectious Disease. By mid-morning, we settled in one of the beautiful common areas at the hospital to have coffee and relax.
That’s when Jenny, sitting in her wheelchair, took a phone call from our pastor — Rev. Mark Foster of Acts 2 United Methodist Church.
Mark felt compelled to call at that moment to relay the story from the previous Sunday. He shared the story with Jenny, who shared it with me after she got off the phone.
I haven’t forgotten the story. We’ve talked about it on several occasions. But it’s been on my mind more in recent weeks.
I asked Mark to tell me the same story a couple weeks ago. And then I asked Rev. Charla Gwartney about the details as she remembered them. Not surprisingly, they relayed the details exactly the same as he shared with Jenny more than six months ago.
Here’s how it goes.
During the 8:30 a.m. service at Acts 2 on Jan. 13, a man came into the front area of the church. He was dressed about like anyone coming to Acts 2 would look like. Nothing unusual — not in a suit, but not in shabby attire.
He was met by Chantelle Foster, Mark’s wife. He asked to speak to the pastor of the church.
Mark, Acts 2’s founding pastor, was in the middle of service. So Chantelle went into the sanctuary to get Charla Gwartney, the executive pastor.
When Charla greeted him, the man proceeded to tell her that he had a message for the church — a message from God.
Sounds strange, right? These stories always sound strange until they are told to you by someone you deeply trust.
He said he had a dream the night before with specific images of the cross and flame (a Methodist symbol).
And then the Holy Spirit woke him up and told him to go to a place called Acts 2.
But there’s a problem. He didn’t know of a church by that name, he thought (or said aloud? I don’t know, but I wonder).
“Just go,” he was told.
Me? I’m pretty sure I would have thought a moment about the weird dream before having a cup of coffee and turning on the TV. It’s probably hard to hear the Holy Spirit with football highlights blaring from the TV.
But this guy took action.
Apparently, from what he told Charla, it was not unusual for this man to get directions from God.
Well … he gets missions from God. Not necessarily directions. In this case, he didn’t know where exactly he should go.
But he went anyway.
After all, as Mark often says …
“When God gives a vision, God also gives provision.”
So, the man called the pastor of his own church to tell him of his vision and his mission. He told his pastor he wouldn’t be at his normal church service that morning. He was going for a drive — and he wasn’t sure where he’d end up.
He left his home in Yukon and started driving.
I’m not really sure how this works — how can you drive with no direction, but with specific instructions. Turn here. Turn there. Exit here. Go this way.
But he ended up in Edmond. At Covell and Penn in Edmond, he saw signs for Acts 2.
And he saw the cross and flames.
That’s what he was looking for. This man, remember, goes on missions for God often, so he knew he’d see the church eventually.
That’s faith — like you read about in the Bible.
When he was speaking with Charla, the man said that God told him to give a message to the Acts 2 church. He said that he can tell that the Holy Spirit is strong at Acts 2. And he said that in 2013, there would be healing within the church.
That was it. That’s what God wanted us to know that day.
He wasn’t specific about what or who would be healed. Just that there would be healing. Oh … and that it would be “blood healing” — not your everyday ailment. That term is new to me, but it sounds serious.
We weren’t there. At the time of that service, right at about 9 a.m., Jenny and I were heading out of town, driving south on I-35 to Houston. She would have surgery the next day.
She had the surgery on Monday. We went to stay at the hotel in Houston on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, we were back at the hospital. Waiting.
Mark’s call to Jenny that Wednesday came at the right time for us. We were tired and cranky. We don’t like to be behind schedule. We didn’t know if we were actually going to go home that night or not. We didn’t know if Jenny would be admitted into the hospital again. We didn’t know if the rash was a sign of a serious complication.
And we had to wait for hours to find out anything.
On top of everything else, Jenny was just 48 hours removed from a significant surgery. She should really not have been awake or sitting upright for long periods of time. She should have been on her pain meds and resting.
But we also knew why we made so many inconvenient trips to Houston. We knew why so many people had helped us in so many ways.
We were doing all that for the healing.
On Jan. 16, the healing wasn’t really in sight yet. We had been through frustrating complications and delays over the past four months.
We had to get through this surgery and the recovery.
We had to drain the drains, count the output, have the drains pulled and hope there’s no infection.
We had to worry about lymphedema.
We had to worry about getting her range of motion back.
We still had chemo and then radiation. And then more surgeries. And then more recovery.
And then we pray that she never goes through this again.
But Jenny believes she will be healed. I believe she is healed.
I don’t know if this man was really carrying a message from God. Frankly, if most people told me that story, I’d probably listen politely with much skepticism. I’d probably wonder why he didn’t just Google ‘Acts 2’ and get directions.
I mean, that’s what I would do.
But then again, I don’t hear God quite that clearly. I wish I did. And I guess if you hear the Holy Spirit that clearly on a regular basis, you probably don’t feel like you need a Google search to get where you are being told to go.
Like I said, if most people told me that story, I’d be skeptical. But most people didn’t tell me. Mark, Chantelle and Charla told me that story.
I believe it.
Charla and Chantelle asked him to worship with them at the 9:45 a.m. service. He declined, saying he had a home church and that he had done what he came to do.
He left. His message was delivered.
Mark called Jenny because he was on her mind a lot at that time. Her disease has been quite public in the church, what with the blog and (eventually) the bald head. The church had been collectively praying for her.
But there are certainly plenty of other people in our church who need healing. Maybe God had other, more hidden, illnesses in mind.
Or maybe he had the overall stability of the Acts 2 church body in mind.
Who knows for sure?
But Mark said he thought of us (among others). And I think it was a cool coincidence — or ‘God incident’ as Mark puts it — that Mark called us when we were the most frustrated.
Remember, post-surgical complications had bitten us before. And it looked like it was going to get us again. That’s why we weren’t on our way home. We were at the hospital waiting to hear a diagnosis on the growing rash.
We needed a reminder of the healing that was in store. We needed a reminder that this was temporary.
It’s strange. I forgot about the call quickly that day. I left our coffee break with a more positive outlook. I wasn’t worried about the drive home or the rash. I wasn’t worried about work the next day or how late we would get in that night – if we got to leave at all.
My attitude changed. I rolled Jenny to get a sandwich at the cafeteria. A nice man with brain cancer paid Jenny a nice compliment.
I thought my positive attitude was the result of the break, the coffee and the fact that while we waited, the specialist’s office called, and we finally had a scheduled appointment for a doctor that afternoon.
But when I look back, I can’t help but think I missed a message — or a voice … or a power.
Was it just a coincidence that my attitude and outlook changed shortly after my family took a phone call from our pastor telling us about a message from God that he thinks was meant for us to hear?
Surely not, right?