28 October 2021
As a youngster growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, my life was blessed in many ways I did not understand. My dad was a physician, so we grew up in an upper middle-class home, went to the best public schools in the area, and attended a highly respected, mainline denominational church. God’s frozen chosen I would later hear that denomination called. Frozen, indeed, in hindsight.
You see, the reverend in charge was highly educated, an outstanding orator, but sadly lacking in teaching the actual Bible. By the time I was a teen, I’d had enough. There was no real life in that church, and I saw it mainly as my parents’ social group. Good people. Moral people. Yet, something was missing. We stopped going to church when I hit high school.
By the time I entered college, I was saturated with the Big Bang, evolution, and all the scientific explanations for the earth and man. I guess I had become something of a Deist. I felt there was a God, or some higher power, out there. Somewhere. We were a Christian culture, so, of course, we were Christians. I didn’t come to understand the difference between cultural Christianity and Biblical Christianity until many years later.
In college, evolution was still taught as a theory, not as fact like it is today. I saw the theory’s many shortcomings and became skeptical of it, too, but I wasn’t ready to take claim of the idea of a divine creation. However, in medical school studying embryology and biochemistry, I realized that the complexity of life far surpassed anything that random, accidental atomic collisions could ever produce. The idea of circular logic hit hard. After all, if proteins are required to produce enzymes but enzymes are required to produce proteins, how did that ever come about? The old chicken and the egg conundrum.
Then came marriage, residency, the military, children, and finally . . . the summer from hell. I had just received orders to a new duty station as a research flight surgeon at Ft. Rucker, AL when my wife found a small lump in her right biceps. With multiple colleagues assuring us it was nothing, we went to the Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Georgia for the lump to be removed. Again, with assurances it was nothing, we went on to visit family, put our home in Kentucky on sale, and prepare to move to Alabama.
A week later at my parents’ home, we got the call. The lump was cancer—rhabdomyosarcoma—and we needed to come back to the medical center right away. My mom followed us to Kentucky where she stayed to watch our toddlers and assist with our home’s sale. My wife and I packed it up and drove back to Georgia where she underwent urgent surgery that took half of her right biceps and triceps. She felt fortunate with that. A year earlier, the recommended treatment was amputation. But worse, she was told she wouldn’t live to see our children go to school.
At the time, I didn’t ask why, or question God. I was an agnostic at that point. What good would such questions do? And yet, as I sat on her bed next to her just after her return from the recovery room, I felt a warmth, like warm oil, hit the top of my head and flow down across my shoulders. And I heard a voice say, “This takes care of it. You don’t need to worry about this anymore.” Freaked me out, needless to say, and yet I let it pass me by.
I had two days to sign into my new duty station. I was concerned for Paula, my kids, selling a house, moving, finding a home in Alabama, etc. Would my new commander give me leave (time off) to handle some of these things? Right before leaving for Alabama, we found another lump in her right neck. Out of caution, they took her back to surgery to take it out. However, in doing so, they injured her spinal accessory nerve which controls muscles around the neck, upper back, and shoulder blade. The result? She could no longer lift her right arm. She could still use her hand and flex at the elbow, but the loss of biceps and triceps tissue limited even that. Under orders, off I went to Alabama, while my wife was in the hospital in Georgia, my kids were in Kentucky, and my mind was somewhere it didn’t want to be. Yes, it was a summer from hell.
A month later, we were all together and somewhat settled into a rental home in Enterprise, AL. Well, as settled as we could be with Paula now getting chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We had to count on the kindness of strangers to take her to therapy, help shop for groceries, watch the kids at times, etc. Fortunately, the military sees itself as family, and we had plenty of offers for help. And I worked with her daily on physical therapy, hoping to regain some function of that right arm.
By Christmas that year, her treatments had ended, and her white blood count had rebounded to a point where we felt comfortable with her being around other people. We continued her physical therapy (PT), but she still could not lift her right arm. She would grab her toothbrush in her right hand and then use her left arm to lift it to her mouth and brush her teeth. The PT did not seem to be helping much.
Early on, we had agreed as a couple that we should raise our kids in a church environment to get the moral underpinnings offered by such. My desire was to find a church that, well, wasn’t like the one I’d left as a teen. We tried several denominational churches, but nothing seemed right. In the meantime, the wife of Paula’s male chemotherapy nurse had started a small women’s Bible study and had invited Paula to join. After a few weeks, she invited Paula to join her for a mid-week church service at the small church they attended. Paula agreed to go, and I watched the kids.
That next morning, as I prepared to go to work, she approached me and told me something had happened the night before. The pastor had told her things about herself that he had no way of knowing, and he prayed for her “cancer” and recovery. With tears in her eyes, she then proceeded to raise her right arm fully over her head. With tears in my eyes, I’m not sure that even today I can describe my feelings. After all, I was a physician and I’d just witnessed a medical miracle. Yes, God got my attention.
The next Sunday, Paula wanted to go to that church, but I still wasn’t sure about that. We got into such a fight that we didn’t go to church anywhere. Yet, I promised her we would attend that church the next Sunday. That next Sunday I awoke with nausea, vomited once, and felt lightheaded. The last thing I wanted to do was go to church, but I had promised. We sat in the last row, near a door, in case I needed to make an urgent exit.
After the singing, a woman stood up in the middle of the congregation and began to speak in some foreign language, which she then translated: “You woke up sick to your stomach and vomiting, and you’re not sure you want to be here. But I want you here.” I then heard an audible voice, so clear, I thought an usher was talking to me from behind the row. I turned to see who it was. No one was there. God poked His finger in my chest and said, “This is where you need to be. Consider this home.”
It had taken three times, but God finally got my full attention. That small Liberty Church became our home church for the next year before I left the Army. We’ve been a part of several charismatic, Bible-believing churches since then. I’d like to say it’s been all smooth sailing, but there were aspects of my old life I stubbornly held on to for years. Today, I’ve given God all of me. I’m His to do His bidding, and I firmly believe that writing is what He expects of me in this season. As for my wife, she’s about to turn 75 (as I write this), has seen not only her children but her three oldest grandchildren attend school, is the doting Nana to our fourth grandchild (almost 3 y.o.), and is looking forward to grandchild #5 next spring.
God was right. We need not have worried about that cancer any further.