Reminded of God - a bishop's testimony
A tidal wave of cards, e-mails, text messages, letters, phone calls, flowers and a few handmade prayer shawls deluged my home and office before, during and after my major surgery on July 11, 2011. In all of them, I was REMINDED OF GOD. Three hymns of the church captured their basic message; For you I am Praying, Precious Lord, take my hand and God will take care of you. Where my surgery took place, I was REMINDED OF GOD as well. Detroit, a city known for governmental scandals, a bankrupt auto industry, unemployment, poor school systems, illegal drug use, violence and crime provided the place for my physical restoration. In Detroit, at Henry Ford Hospital, GOD SHOWED UP; the same One known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Mary, Elizabeth and Jesus, Paul and Silas, all persons of faith and me, the patient. Henry Ford Hospital lived into the reality that it is a symbol of God’s presence in the world not the embodiment of Detroit’s negative image. How could I not be REMINDED OF GOD?
The Day of Surgery, I woke before dawn. My mind asked God “What will happen to me today?” All I heard was silence. To a flurry of questions that followed; the sounds of silence continued. Quite frankly, God had already provided one answer, presence. My wife and one of my daughters were with me. We reported to the 4th floor Surgical Lounge around 5 am. And the waiting began. Suddenly, my best friend and his wife appeared. We greeted them. Then, a retired district superintendent called me on my cell phone. He and his compatriots had entered the wrong Surgical Lounge. When they found us, our number grew to nine. More greetings and conversation followed. Shortly thereafter, my clergy assistant arrived. Ten of us talked profusely until the retired district superintendent called for a prayer circle. He asked all of us to pray as other patients and their families arrived for surgery. Prayer turned that Lounge into a Bethel (Gen. 28: 10-22). “Surely the presence of the Lord was in that place.” And we knew it.
Then, my wife escorted me to the prep room. Just before surgery, the prep staff allowed a time for prayer. By God’s amazing grace, the group of ten now grown to fourteen prayed for me via two pray-ers, my clergy assistant and my best friend. What my eyes beheld and my ears heard got translated into the mindset of the prophet Isaiah in 43:1-2. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through the waters, I will be with you…” The presence of praying folk in the “prep room” answered my question, “What will happen to me today?” Their presence had EMMANUEL written all over it. How so? I did not ask them to come. God did. I did not weep then; but later after the reality of God’s presence sank deep into my deepest consciousness. Bathed in prayer, they wheeled me to the operating room. Staff helped me onto the operating table. Attendants on both sides grabbed one arm laid it straight and fastened them down as if I were being laid on a medical cross!! Thoughts of a crucifixion instead of an operation flashed across my mind. But words that I uttered earlier to a friend stayed on my mind!!! “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take.” My thoughts were interrupted by a mask being placed over my nose. In a breath or two, I lost consciousness. Two plus hours later, I awakened to new life assisted greatly by a skilled and God enabled medical team. This I know. In Detroit, at Henry Ford Hospital, I was REMINDED OF GOD.
As your cards, e-mails, text messages, phone calls, flowers, plants, prayer shawls etc. poured into my office and home, they functioned like a tsunami. The surging sea of prayers that washed over me and left the bishop dripping in thanksgiving was a response of God’s people learning about my impending surgery. A major portion of that wave carried petitions like “thinking of you, get well, take time to heal, praying for a speedy recovery and you’re remembered in prayer.” It represented prayer ministry at its best. You functioned as prayer warriors and advocates for the bishop at the throne of God. As 1 John 2:1-2 noted that “sinners have an advocate with the Father, none other than Jesus Christ the righteous” so the bishop experienced the people of God advocating with the Father and the Son for his healing. If I had a thousand tongues, I’d praise God with all of them. With the one tongue I have, I do so praise Him, loudly and unashamedly, right now. Healing has occurred because of your prayer advocacy. In that, I am REMINDED OF GOD.
Some get well cards emphasized divine activity not prayer advocacy. “God restores health, loves you, feeds you (spiritually and physically), is your shepherd,” some said. Other cards suggested that “God will direct my path, God is doing a new thing, can you not perceive it, that God is your rock, deliverer and shield, that God’s compassions they fail not, great is thy faithfulness.” Others remarked that “God had chosen me to lead United Methodists in Michigan-that God can do anything.” All of these cards came with a specific passage of scripture. I have interpreted these scriptures as thoughts sent from God to get me through surgery and its aftermath. Also, they were sent to serve me for the rest of my Episcopacy and life.
I’ve said constantly upon hearing this earthshaking diagnosis regarding my health, “I’m not mad at God or upset with God.” Yet, the bishop has not escaped life’s questions such as why Lord? Why now? What is the meaning of all this for my life and work? Neither have I escaped the inquiry of Job’s detractors made crystal clear in the questions directed to Jesus concerning the man born blind in John 9:2; “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents; that he was born blind?” Is my medical dilemma a question of theodicy or sins committed? “O Lord, thou knowest.” It’s a wonder that the “God of my weary years, the God of my silent tears” didn’t say to me, “my child, you ask too many questions. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13). Thus, I am REMINDED OF GOD in the very act of thinking about God. The late Philip Watson, a professor at Garrett Theological Seminary when I entered in 1968 gave me an answer to my quandary and reflection in the title of his book Let God Be God.
One or two get well cards assumed that I was praying too. I was. However, my prayers mirrored the sentiment of “Precious Lord, take my hand” versus “let this cup pass from me.” In other words, my prayers were about acceptance, discernment and thanksgiving. With God’s help, I accepted my new reality. I believed the doctor’s and the test results. Even more, I believed the God of my old reality resided in the new. Regardless of the medical storm and the pitch darkness of the unknown, God would “lead me on to the light.” So, I launched out on a new walk of faith engendered by a startling diagnosis. What to do, how much to read, who to talk too, what to ask God had endless twists, turns, questions and seemingly no clear answers. In the final analysis, the decision was mine alone. Aided by God and the support of my wife and family, I made a decision. In the struggle, I have been blessed beyond measure. There isn’t enough memory in the mind to record all the blessings unleashed by this major surgery. All these things have put me in closer touch with a testimony from the writer of Lamentations. “His compassions they fail not, they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness.”
My wife and I returned home July 19th. To catch up, we checked the answering machine. One of many touching messages stood out. It came the morning of my surgery on July 11th. The caller was Rev. Marvin King of Atlanta, Georgia. Rev. King prayed for the doctors, nurses and hospital staff, my family and me. King focused on what God could do while he cited Is. 43:1-3, Ph. 4:13, Exodus 14:13 and Jesus’ call to “follow me.” He greeted the family and spoke other words of encouragement and comfort until the tape cut him off. At the heart of the call was his purpose statement. Rev. Marvin King said he was calling on behalf of the King family and especially on behalf of his brother, the late Rev. Maurice King. “If Maurice were living,” he said, “Maurice would have been at my bedside or made the number of calls and prayers to prepare me for surgery.” Rev. W. Maurice King functioned as the unofficial ombudsman and caretaker for every Episcopal family and anybody else in East Ohio Conference for roughly 25 years. He began with the late Bishop Thomas (12 years), continued with the late Bishop Boulton (8 years) and finished his course with me (8 years). His skills as an ombudsman, family aide, chauffeur, counselor and agent of pastoral care were legendary. Rev. King and I developed a close and supportive relationship. It was so close that he put the following question to me one day; “Will you do my Eulogy?” “Yes,” I responded. December 28, 2009, I followed through on my commitment to Rev. W. Maurice King in Memphis, Tennessee. When Rev. Marvin King called my house July 11, he made another powerful witness. Marvin intimated that his brother, the late W. Maurice King was part of a “cloud of witnesses” looking down from the portals of heaven into the Operating Room and praying on my behalf (Hebrews 12: 1ff) Over that possibility, I wept. Now, I truly rejoice in the spirit of David’s 100th division of Psalms, verse 5. “For the Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations.”
This testimony is a praise offering for your prayers and concerns extended to me and the family during my hospitalization and recovery.