During Lent this year we’re talking about TURNING POINTS at my church. They are the times in your life when you are at a crossroads, you choose a path and life is never the same again. Sometimes you go down a road on faith alone; other times options, begin to close, and you plunge headlong into the remaining one, not knowing why or what to expect. A great question came up during our discussion last week: “Are all TURNING POINTS mountaintop experiences?”
I’d say definitely, “No.” In fact many of my TURNING POINTS seemed small when they were occurring but loomed larger as I reflect on them years later. But I’ve had a MOUNTAIN TOP experience, too when I felt God’s presence. I’d like to share that story with you today.
Here's a 14 minute video and the transcript is below.
I was raised Roman Catholic, spent 11 years in a Southern Baptist Church post-College and for the past 5 years have come to enjoy the rich traditions and Scriptural roots of the Episcopal denomination. Throughout, prayer has been the cornerstone of my private faith since I was a small child.
In 2003, I transferred with hospital company HCA to Nashville from San Antonio. My husband and I visited many Catholic churches and finally settled on one close to where we lived. It was a tough transition waiting for a house in San Antonio to be sold and a job for my husband. We had only been in Nashville 8 months when we had grim news: a dear friend and co-worker at HCA had found out that his 17-year-old son, Jason, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and would start treatment before Christmas. They are a wonderful family with four children with faithful attendance in a Southern Baptist Church. Jason was the oldest of the three boys and their youngest, a daughter.
Immediately I began to pray in earnest that Jason would be cured. It looked like my prayers were answered as the CT scans after surgery and chemotherapy showed no signs of cancer. It had been a tough six months but it looked like the battle had been won. Our joy was short-lived when he discovered that only 4 months later the tumors had returned. Different chemotherapy and lots more prayer. It wasn’t just me, but thousands of people who were praying at churches and in homes throughout the world. I had confidence that God wouldn’t ignore all that noise.
The see-saw of cancer; no evidence one day, 12 weeks later a return and then thankfulness for remission. It seemed like constant waiting and constant prayer.
I’d gotten busy and hadn’t checked on Jason in a while when I got the news: Jason had just died in his father’s arms. It was August of 2005 and 21 months after the original diagnosis. Jason was 19.
We attended the service where a soloist sang MERCYME’s “I CAN ONLY IMAGINE”; there wasn’t a dry eye. But his parents said that he was in a better place, finally pain-free.
Up until that point in my life, I didn’t know anyone who had died who wasn’t old or deserved to die. Jason definitely didn’t fit in either of those categories. A few days after the funeral, my shock turned to anger; I was angry at God because he let Jason die. Not only did God not answer my prayers but He didn’t answer the prayers of all those other faithful people either. For months my prayers were accusations, “How could You let this happen?”
I spent the next year pretty angry with God. I was still going to church most Sundays, but I wasn’t reading the Bible much and I certainly wasn’t interested in having a dialogue with Him through prayer. I quit demanding that he give me an explanation about why Jason had to die. After so many months of grief, I just wasn’t interested in being God’s friend anymore. He had disappointed me too much.
My non-relationship with God was spilling over into my other relationships too. I was short-tempered with my husband and step-children and had trouble settling into some new assignments at work. I’d never felt so out of place in the world before.
The next Summer I wasn’t feeling well on the Fourth of July. My doctor insisted that I have a surgery on my left breast just to make sure nothing was wrong. I’d had a negative mammogram three months before, so surgery was a precaution. She referred me to a good friend who is a general surgeon and he assured me that it was less than a 5% chance I had cancer. And he was right! After surgery, he called to say that there was no cancer, but just some pre-cancerous cells. He needed to do another surgery to make sure that they got all the pre-cancerous cells and then I’d get a clean bill of health.
Three weeks later I was recovering at home from my second surgery and realized that it was the one-year anniversary of Jason’s death. I sent a quick note to his Dad to tell him that I was thinking about him and his family and learned that they were on the way to visit Jason’s gravesite in North Carolina. I was still on pain medication from the surgery and was taking a nap when my phone rang. “Please hold for Dr. Cooper.”
Here was the discussion:
“Hi. How are you feeling? Is the pain getting better?”
“Yes, but still pretty sore.”
“Well, I want to assure you that I’ve called the lab because I thought they sent me the wrong pathology results. But these just came to my desk and I knew you’d want to know right away. We found a 1.7 cm invasive tumor so that means you do have cancer after all. Although the sentinel node was negative during surgery, they’ve examined it further and it’s cancerous too, along with one other lymph node of the 21 I removed. I’ll need to see you in the office Monday at 1pm to talk about another surgery that you will need. We still didn’t get all the cancerous cells. I am so sorry. Rest this weekend and we’ll talk more on Monday.
I wanted to cry but decided the best approach was another pain pill and to stay in bed. I dozed off but it was an uneasy sleep. All I could think of was that it was one year to the day since Jason’s death, and now I had cancer.
It wasn’t long before I was awakened by a voice in the room, gently calling my name. I looked out from under the covers but didn’t see anyone. But the voice said my name again.
“Who are you?” I asked.
The voice spoke clearly, “Jason was willing to die for me, are you?”
I was completely awake, but I had no answer.
Again, the same question, “Jason was willing to die for me, are you?”
I knew then that I was in the presence of the Lord, but I was still angry with God over Jason’s death. Why would I be willing to do anything for Him?
So, in a flippant tone I responded, “Can I think about it and get back with you on that?”
After a few moments the Spirit disappeared.
I tried to fall back asleep, thinking that if it were all a dream, I’d just pick it back up again. But after 2 hours of tossing and turning, I awoke and summoned the Lord so that I could give Him my clear answer, “Yes I am willing to die for you.”
I guess that sounds like the mountaintop experience, but that isn’t the end of my story.
Over the next few weeks, I underwent test after test to determine the extent of my cancer, convinced that I had less than 6 months to live. Why else would the Lord have asked me that question?
The day before my third surgery, I went to see my oncologist to hear the news from all the tests. I was shocked but overjoyed to hear that there was no other evidence of cancer and although I still needed to have surgery the next day, I had an excellent chance to be cured and live a long, cancer-free life
Praying before surgery that night, I summoned the Lord, this time not so much in the anger that I had felt the past 12 months, but instead in confusion. When the Lord appeared, I asked, “Well, It seems that I may live much longer than six months. Are the doctors wrong? Why did you come to visit me and ask if I was willing to die for you?”
The Lord answered, “I needed to know if you were for me or against me. Now that I know that you believe in your heart that you are willing to give up your life for me at any time, you will not die in the next few months because I have work for you to do on my behalf. I need you on Earth to be my eyes, my hands, my feet and my heart.”
“Really? You need me to do something for you? Just tell me; what is it you need me to do?”
The Lord answered, “Do not be impatient. Right now, I need you to heal and get well. Love me and feel my healing power. I’ll let you know when I need you to do something for me.”
It hasn’t been all easy since that vision in 2006. I experienced an 8 week dry spell in 2008 when God said, “You have some issues that you need to deal with. I will be protecting you, but you need to work through them on your own. Let me know when you’ve thought through them.”
But here in 2013, my life is easy because I learned to trust my Lord. Each day I get up and say, “God, what do you need me to do for you today?” Some days it is to write a note of encouragement to a friend, other days it is to make sure that I am a good Christian example in my workplace, and some days, God says, “Take the day off! Go have fun with your friends!”
All God wanted all along was me: For me to be willing to die for him and to trust Him in everything.
This was a TURNING POINT in my life of the mountaintop variety: the day when I said “yes” to His question:, “Are you willing to die for me?” It’s the same question He asks each one of us every day.
Thanks for letting me share my TURNING POINT story with you.