15 Feet of God
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My wife, Kara, was sick recently. Really sick. The kind of sick where she literally said to me, “I am in hell,” just before bursting into sobs.
I sat just inches away from her, and yet in that moment she was utterly, completely alone. I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read and heard about hell, that’s the very definition of it. Alone. Isolated. Absent from the Grace of God.
Only she wasn’t. God’s grace is endless and boundless, I’ve read. We have it, even though we haven’t earned it. So it was a conundrum to me, as one who is just recently starting to reach out to hold the hand of my Lord as I walk through this kind of wacked-out life. If God’s grace is endless and boundless, why does Kara feel so isolated from it?
That’s a question only she can answer. I’m not qualified to ponder her personal feelings. The important part for me, at that moment, was to keep asking myself and God, “What do I do?”
All I knew to do was pray. It’s pretty much my one trick, my one trump card. It’s my hammer, and every solution is a spiritual nail. You know … kind of like those nails that pierced the flesh of Christ and pinned him to a cross, all because 2000 years later I would be incapable of getting my act together and being obedient.
So on a particularly bad night for Kara she was sleeping on our sofa, because it’s the only place where she could sit up and be comfortable enough to sleep without going into a coughing fit would agitate the thousand other medical issues she was having. I had work the next morning, and it was already somewhat late, so I told her I loved her, I hoped she’d feel better, and I turned in.
But before I got into bed I knelt on the floor, like a toddler before bedtime, and I prayed. “God, please heal her. I know that you could do it with just a word. Christ healed the sick with a word, with touch of the hem of his robe, with just the most casual bit of attention. I know you can heal Kara, whole, with just a glance. Please heal her.”
I turned in, still hoping and praying that God would answer my prayer and deliver my wife from the hell she was suffering.
A word about sleep for me.
These days, it involves a complex apparatus known as a CPAP (Constant Positive Air Pressure) machine, which goes over my nose and straps around the back of my head. This gizmo keeps me from snoring loudly through the night, and keeps me breathing uniformly and continuously. I started wearing it at the insistence of my lovely bride, so that she, too, could sleep through the night. So now it has become a habit, and I wear it even if I don’t have to. So there is some complexity to sleep for me these days.
Also, I don’t handle sudden wakeup calls very well. In fact, when it comes to sleep I’m the grumpiest bear in the cave. If I’m tired and something is preventing me from going to bed, I get downright snippy. If I’m asleep and something suddenly and unexpectedly wakes me up … well, the polite way to say it is “I get angry.”
About 30 minutes after I dropped off into dreamland, Kara came in and woke me up. “I think we need to go to the hospital,” she said. “I’m having trouble breathing.”
And it was true. I could see it. Her chest was heaving, her throat looked swollen, and her eyes were wide with fear and brimming with tears. I didn’t hesitate, I stumbled out of bed, feeling like I had battery acid for blood, and I pulled on pants, grabbed my wallet, and was ready to hit the road. And I was not happy.
On the drive to the hospital I prayed, and it wasn’t a nice prayer. “God, why didn’t you heal her? I prayed in the name of Jesus! I asked, just like you told me to! Aren’t I supposed to receive? What went wrong, Lord?”
The whole drive, I was ticked off at the creator of everything. I was mad because even though I had prayed as earnestly as I knew how, nothing had happened. God had ignored me. Was He even listening? Worse, was He even there?
We got to the ER and I walked Kara in through the sliding glass doors. We were in Methodist Hospital in Sugar Land, a place I’ve driven by many times and mostly hoped I’d never see the inside of. We checked in, and Kara actually filled out the forms (I felt a little guilty about that, but she insisted).
There wasn’t much of a wait. In fact, within minutes we were led back to a room where Kara was put on a comfortable table and given an IV. Soon after, several nurses came in, administered tests, gave her something to drink, and generally just made sure she was being looked after. I sat in one of the side chairs, drowsy and maybe a little grumpy, trying to figure everything out.
Eventually the doctor came in with some of Kara’s test results. “They’re … interesting,” he said.
In the history of language, at no time, in any part of the world, at any moment of modern history, has the word “interesting” meant something good when you were hearing it in a hospital emergency room.
“We don’t know what’s causing your allergic reaction just yet, but your white blood cell count is unusually high.”
In that moment, I felt my own blood go ice cold. And silently I willed this guy to shut up. I knew what was coming next, and I frankly just didn’t want to hear it. Worse, I didn’t want Kara to hear it.
You see, about 15 years ago a doctor came out of a room occupied by my Granny, the dearest woman on earth to me, and said, “Do you have any idea why her white blood cell count would be so high?”
I shrugged. “She’s on blood pressure meds, would that have anything to do with it?”
“No, not really,” he said, exchanging glances with his colleague. Which, by the way, is the universal sign for, “Bad. Bad. Bad.”
The result of that conversation, fifteen years ago, was a diagnosis that changed my life and the lives of everyone who loved Granny. Within a couple of weeks Granny passed away, tearing me apart with grieve. And one word become an all encompassing nightmare for me.
I was praying, screaming inside my head, “No! Do not say that word! Don’t you say it!”
“It could be leukemia,” he said.
I could have killed him with my bare hands. But we were in an ER, and they’d probably just bring him back to life again.
There it was, hanging out there for me and Kara to dwell on. And suddenly I was right back at my Granny’s bedside, fifteen years ago, crying my guts out and laying my hand on her unconscious forehead, praying for everything I had that God would please, please, OH PLEASE JUST TAKE ME INSTEAD heal her. Just bring her back. Just don’t take my Granny away!
And now that word, most vile, most hated, most dreaded, hung in the air over my wife’s head, and it was all starting again.
And God wasn’t listening.
That’s what it felt like. I sat there in cold fear that was turning slowly to rage. How dare God do this to me again? How dare He put me through this one more time? I lost my world when Granny died. Was it going to happen again? Why would He do that to me?
And then …
Calm. Peace. Comfort. I prayed, and it was a prayer without words but full of heart and meaning. I stood and put a hand on Kara’s shoulder as they took yet more blood from her. I rubbed her shoulder as she cried. I said kind words to her. I loved her, even in silence, and I just kept that up. And that was my prayer.
It didn’t hit me until later, when I was catnapping off and on in her hospital room, slugging down coffee and a turkey sandwich. God heard me. Better yet, He answered me.
Kara’s spirits were slowly picking up as nurses and doctors came in to care for her. She could suddenly breath again thanks to the medication they’d given her. She suddenly could lay there with no fear, in more comfort than she’d felt in weeks. She was at peace. And so was I.
I realized then that God was listening, and doing exactly as I asked. Instead of a miraculous healing, all at once, he was using those doctors and nurses. He was reaching out to Kara in a way that she would understand. In a way, actually, that I could understand, and that others could see.
You know, we spend a lot of our time asking God for tangible signs. We say, “Just show me you’re there, God! Just show me something solid! Show me something I can see and touch and feel!” But that’s not really what we want. What we really want is for God to appear in a ball of light in front of us, let us touch Him, let us be miraculously healed. We want the extraordinary, but all we’re asking for is the ordinary. We want miracles, but we’re asking for everyday stuff.
God heard my prayer and answered it. He didn’t heal her with a glance, but with the ministrations of the medical staff at Methodist. Why? Because that was the best way to reach me, Kara, you … that was going to have more impact.
Think about it.
If I wrote this and told you, “There was a sudden burst of light, and when I came into the living room Kara was healed!” What would you think? Would you believe me? Would I be able to point to any proof? The miracle would be real, but its reach would extend to, oh, about fifteen feet in every direction. It would be for the benefit of me, Kara and our cats.
Instead, we went to the hospital, where the doctors still don’t know what caused her issue. They have no idea, but they were able to help her anyway. She was healed, even though no one even knows what’s wrong with her. Kind of sounds like a healing of Faith to me.
I was angry with God because He didn’t do as I said. I was even more angry when suddenly I was faced with the possibility that I might lose Kara the same way I lost one of the other women I cared most about in this world. I was mad because God didn’t climb into the box I wanted Him to be in, and do what I commanded Him to do.
He sure showed me.
By the way, Kara doesn’t have leukemia. Her white blood cells were high because of the steroids she was given to help with the allergic reaction. We weren’t told that until nearly 18 hours after she was admitted to the hospital, but by then it was no longer something we worried about. God had our back.
So now I tell this story and the range goes more than 15 feet. God used what was there to answer the prayer. Could He have done it without the hospitals or doctors or nurses? Yes. But sometimes everyday miracles have more impact. And God … well, He likes to make as big an impact as possible.
I’ve already apologized to God for the way I behaved. And He was cool about it. “I took care of it 2000 years ago, don’t worry,” He said. “Now, try to remember this next time. And Kevin …”
“There will be a next time. And I’ve already forgiven you for that one, too.”
J. Kevin Tumlinson is an author and copywriter living near Houston, Texas. You can read more of his work, including his novels, by visiting him online at www.kevintumlinson.com.
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