- Reflect on this passage alone or with a small group.
Instead of a standard weekly devotional, I decided to share my testimony this week. For those of you out there looking for signs that God exists and that He cares, I encourage you to read this. I never thought I’d be worth an encounter of this magnitude, but God does as He wills for reasons beyond our understanding. This story is a bit of a lengthy deposition, but, believe it or not, this is as short as I could get it. Also, due to patient confidentiality, specific names have been changed, and locations omitted. Enjoy the read!
Growing up, I involved myself with a local Lutheran church in Eagle Grove, Iowa, and always felt this tug to go into ministry. Upon high school graduation, I became a Chaplain Assistant through the U.S. Army and deployed to Afghanistan from 2011-2012. After I came home, I fell away from the church, God, and my overall self-care. The tug remained, and I didn’t want it anymore, so I shrugged off religion and ran. I wasn’t worthy of that tug. God was wrong, or God didn’t exist. The tug faded away.
I fell into a rabbit hole, made terrible decisions, and lied to people I love. Eventually, I came to my senses, got help, and discovered a hidden passion for healthcare. Despite my new love and professional mental health help, I felt something was still off, and I wasn’t the same person before the deployment. This offsetting feeling clung to me as I entered my new career and new marriage with the gal’ of my dreams (and high school sweetheart). I may have had a fresh spring in my step, but something was still off, and I never could shake the feeling that a part of me was missing in the mountains of Afghanistan. I felt that I had to go back and find it if I ever wanted to feel whole again. Perversely, I wasn’t the only one noticing that.
One night I recall my wife telling me that the deployment forever changed the man I was, and the person she had initially fallen in love with wasn’t there. She was upset because my passion for being a paramedic had become everything to me, and, deep down, I knew her words were valid. Before I left for work, I remember her saying that when I came home from my deployment, there was a spark in my eyes that was gone and hasn’t returned.
Those final words stuck to me as I arrived at the hospital, where our ambulance service sits. I dejectedly went to my sleep room and cried. I believed I was doing everything I could to create a happy life and marriage. I fought to regain order in my life. I got help, but it wasn’t enough. I was confused, angry, and sad at my current situation in life. Then I remembered something—the story of the bleeding woman from Matthew and Luke subtly popped into my head. I remember the woman in the story had told herself, “if I can just touch the cloak of Jesus, I will heal.” I lamented into my pillow saying, “like the bleeding woman, if I start reading Scripture, any scripture, my life will be healed! If I touch the bible, God will make things right again. I have to believe this; I’m out of options.” So, I started reading Scripture; first, Mark 5: 25-34, and then Genesis 1.
Around the same time these things played out, my wife and I were exploring churches in the Cedar Valley area. Her choice, not necessarily my own because I felt unworthy and done with it it all. After visiting several churches, Nazareth Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls Iowa felt the most right. With that sense of unworthiness, guilt, and sadness, I begrudgingly went with my wife to a Nazareth Lutheran Church Belongs Class (an orientation class for new or potential members). Through Belong, I discovered Work as Worship, a video series that teaches us to use work as worship to God. I also began to feel something familiar, something distant and uncertain. It was like a tug. I snuffled it out before leaving the class; I knew what it was, and that was not me anymore.
Curious and bored the following day, I began to watch the Work As Worship videos. The videos expressed the notion that all work is a calling by God, and all good work should glorify God. The next morning, I considered the principles of this series and prayed for my work as I drove to the hospital. It was the first time in 9 years that I had prayed. Right as I walked through the ED entrance, I was informed of an interfacility transfer going to another hospital. The crew from the previous shift offered to stay on 911 backup if we took the transfer. This transfer changed my life; this call was when I met Jenny.
A middle-aged woman, Jenny had been diagnosed with vaginal hemorrhaging due to a suspected malignant tumor. More advanced treatment and Oncology at a higher care facility was needed. A woman of intense faith, she wanted to pray with anyone and everyone that entered her ER room. Most of the ER staff snickered at her uncanny calls for someone to pray with her. We all, including me, thought it strange…you don’t get people desperately asking you to pray with them often in these times. Jenny’s world flipped upside down overnight, and she openly turned to God for help. We loaded her onto the ambulance and took off.
We bounced a lot in the back of the ambulance as I sat next to Jenny, and she laid on the cot. She softly prayed with her wooden cross necklace clenched in one of her hands. I held her other hand and reassured her of her future. Understandably, she was in a state of shock. After all, most people don’t respond to the words “you have cancer” with feelings of rainbows and butterflies. Even with the traumatic experience, her faith was insane! She kept calling out to God and telling me how she’d be okay, she’d pray for healing, pray for her family, and God would handle it all. The sincerity behind her voice wasn’t open for debate; she meant every word she said! Then, within the reeds of her devotion to God, she turned to look at me and said, “you’re a Godly man, I can tell from the look in your eyes.”
I vehemently denied it. “You’ve got the wrong guy. I’m far from Godly.” I said. I thought to myself she doesn’t know anything. I’m not that man anymore. That man is gone and stuck somewhere overseas.
“No, no,” she laughed, “that’s not true. I can see the spark in your eyes.”
I don’t know what it’s like to have a brick smack you in the face. If I had to guess, I felt something close to that. I told Jenny I had to check on something, then sat behind her to get my tears under control. The remainder of the transfer went by like a blur. We talked about God, our families, and our futures, and the power of her faith overwhelmed me. Then, before pulling into the receiving hospital, Jenny challenged me to a prayer pact; I’d pray for her healing body, and she’d pray for my relationship with my wife and family. And for the second time in 9 years, I prayed, with Jenny, in the back of the ambulance. As we prayed, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time: whole. My undying urge to return to the mountains and find my missing pieces was gone entirely. We eventually said our goodbyes, and my partner and I returned home. I knew something was different now. My life was going to be different from here on out.
Confused, wanting clarification for how I felt and left wanting to share this story with someone of faith, I went to visit my new Pastor at Naz, Brain King. He chuckled a little after I told him the story and said, “You prayed to be given the faith of the bleeding woman, and He literally gave you the bleeding woman.” I’m not sure what stunned me more, Pastor Brian’s insight or the resounding tug feeling that occurred at his revelation. A tugging feeling I couldn’t snuffle out or run from anymore. God is calling me into a ministry. A ministry my high school self never would have imagined. Like Jonah running from Nineveh, God threw me into the belly of a whale and dragged me to where He wants me.
I know that I’m at the beginning of a life long ministry to help Law, Fire, EMS, and Healthcare personnel come to know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This story was the beginning of Emerge and other opportunities to help a lot of lost sheep. It was also the reemergence of my relationship with a God I only thought I knew. It was the beginning of everlasting hope for all things in my life.
Thanks for listening, and I hope my story brings light into these dark times. I hope it brings glory to the God of everything. Amen.