On August 1, 2014, I found myself in a hospital bed, suffering from a pulmonary embolism in each lung. That first night, I was in a lot of pain, my breathing was labored, and the medications were making me nauseous. I was really scared. Add to the mix a parade of nurses and hospital technicians coming in every few hours to take vitals and do blood work, and the result was a pretty sleepless night.
Laying in the dark, I prayed, “God, where are you? Please help me.” But honestly, no God moment happened right away. It was a long night. Sometime after the 4 a.m. nurse visit, I finally fell asleep. When I awoke, the first thing I saw was the sunrise. I have seen the sunrise while hiking to the peak of a Colorado mountain and while gazing across the waters of the Caribbean, but this view of daybreak through a smudgy hospital window was the most beautiful I had ever experienced. In that moment, I felt God say, “I am here. I didn’t leave you.”
Looking back, I must say that I was surprised to not to feel some sort of peace right after my prayer. My “go to” prayer for people in crisis is a paraphrase of Philippians 4:7––Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus–that God would surround them with the peace that surpasses every ounce of their understanding. Yet in the early hours of this health scare, I didn’t feel even a hint of peace surrounding me and I certainly did not understand what was going on.
Somehow I think I equated God’s peace with a spiritual warm fuzzy; not in a shallow way, but in a manner that peace would transcend the pain and fear. But the pain and fear were just as real after my prayer. It wasn’t until the first light of dawn that I sensed God’s presence with me.The collision of my faith and reality that night was unsettling, but the tension it created has been a humble and gracious guest in my spiritual reflections.
God sustained me even though he felt far away. He worked through my friend, Dr. Abshere, and his team to diagnose the blood clots before someone sent me home thinking I had pneumonia. That would not have ended well. He worked through 2 hospital nurses who saw the fear in my eyes and who gave me their best care on a very busy night. He sustained my lungs and breathing until the blood thinners could start dissolving the clots. There was real work to be done in getting me through that night, and I later realized that he was very much present and very much in charge.
It dawned on me that Philippians 4:7 may not always be about feeling better or the situation improving. It might sometimes be about protection in the midst of the pain, the battle, and the struggle. If you read that verse in the Greek, it would evoke imagery of a guard standing at his post. That’s the kind of peace I experienced that night, and finally felt the next morning. So, when they started discussing possible causes of the blood clots and someone mentioned checking for lung cancer the next day, that peace gave me a “no matter what” kind of confidence; that whatever the doctors discovered, and even though I was still scared, I was able to gradually rest in God through the unknowns.
I guess God actually answered my “go to” prayer that night. Peace was there in stealth mode. And because it was way beyond my understanding, God allowed me to live into the reality of the words I’ve prayed over others.