Writer’s Note: This is part of a much longer post, titled Changes.
Jehovah Jireh: The Dinner and the Dollar
Last night, I attended an annual “Ladies Dinner” with my mom, that is hosted by several local churches, including my mom’s. It was my third time attending with her, and, despite my discomfort with any organized religion based event, it is a great chance to spend quality one on one time with her, as well as reconnect with many people who attended my old church, which closed several years ago. Given that I always feel like the black sheep, or more accurately, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, every time I go to a church function, I always look forward to this annual dinner with a combination of pleasurable anticipation, and dread. It’s always been a mixed bag for me.
The past two times I went, I enjoyed myself, despite any blemishes during the course of the evening where I felt awkward or knew I was being judged. Generally, I just kind of keep my mask on and try to survive the evening without being stoned to death for being a heathen.
This time was different. I overslept and had to rush through getting ready. I was a bit more anxious going in than I usually would be. We got there about 15 minutes late, and people were already well into the socializing portion of the night. As I looked around, I was pleasantly surprised to see several familiar faces that hadn’t attended the past two dinners, and who I hadn’t seen in years, as well as lots of long-known ladies who had come to previous dinners.
There was one face in particular that I was surprised and happy to see. A woman who we will call Cheryl, from the church I grew up in. She suffers from some rare disorder (I never knew the actual name of her diagnosis), and has spent her entire life on oxygen, with limited mobility. Even when I was a child and she was in her twenties, I knew that it was common knowledge that she was not expected to make it far into her thirties. She had been declining rapidly for a long time, until, when I was quite young, she went through something that drastically improved her health and prognosis, which I only learned of years later.
I am, as a Christian and a human being, an eternal skeptic. I’m the Doubting Thomas, and I was the kid who asked the difficult theological questions that made pastors stumble all over themselves before landing on a vague brush off like “God works in mysterious ways” or “There’s a reason for everything”. I make no claims to be right about anything, or to have a special corner on truth, particularly because I am always questioning and testing everything, including my own beliefs. My Dad, despite teaching me many negative and incorrect things, passed his critical thinking on to me, and he was the OG Doubting Thomas that I believe helped build me into one myself.
With my ingrained skepticism in mind, I’m sure you can imagine how, even as a Christian, I put no stock in claims of faith healing. It’s not that I don’t believe that God is capable of such things, it’s more a belief that if He does intervene in such a drastic way, it would be an exceedingly rare occurrence, and that in 99.99999999% of cases of supposed faith healing, claims of improvement could be chalked up to the placebo effect, not anything supernatural or a case of divine intervention. I also consider many aspects of faith healing to be dangerous, in that there is so much potential for faith to cause someone to not seek medical treatment, on the premise that God will save them (despite Him giving us the inquisitive nature to develop such treatments in the first place). I had never seen any evidence that disproved my beliefs regarding it, and so, they continued to stand.
I had seen the radical improvement in Cheryl’s health that had occurred in my childhood, but having not heard the story, I assumed for years that she had found some new treatment for her condition, or had been put on a different/better medication. When I finally asked my mom, in my teens, about what happened with her, I was shocked to hear the story.
My Dad (aka, the OG Doubting Thomas), had never believed in faith healing either. If anything, he was much less open to changing his mind on the matter than I have ever been. Apparently, he started having recurring dreams of walking up to Cheryl, putting a hand on her shoulder, and saying “In the name of Jesus Christ you are healed.”. The first few times, he thought it was a weird dream, particularly because he barely knew Cheryl, so he brushed it off. Soon, he was having the dream every single night, and it distressed him immensely. He went to our pastor, a man with an incredible heart for God, who also was generally able to answer even our annoyingly frequent, previously unanswerable questions. I’ll call him Sheldon. My Dad told Sheldon of the dreams, and of how frightened he was. Sheldon did not want to jump to the conclusion that the dreams were God inspired (which I will always respect), and he and my Dad prayed together, asking for a cessation of any influence other than God’s, and asking that if the dream was in fact a message from Him, that He would make it completely and abundantly clear that was the case.
That night, my Dad had the dream again, but it was different. It began the same way, but this time, after he said the words, she hugged him, and ran off. When he awoke from the dream, instead of the panic and confusion that he had felt in the past, he felt a clear sense of calm, and an underlying knowledge that it was something he was supposed to do. Cheryl was able to walk with assistance, but had never been able to run, even as a child. He believed that, even with the dream feeling like a message from God, her running in the dream was probably symbolic. After all, even with his new calm, he couldn’t bring himself to believe that he could do anything so powerful as that, even as an instrument of God. He and Sheldon discussed it, and agreed that if Cheryl was willing to try it, they should move forward with it, trusting that God had some plan for it, even if the specifics of the dream were symbolic. As soon as the choice had been made, the dreams stopped, but my Dad still felt (almost uncomfortably) comfortable and calm about it. Cheryl was told of the dream, but not about the running, because both Sheldon and my Dad were concerned about both the placebo effect, and the possibility of giving false hope.
They held a private service one evening at the church, and my Dad, afraid and feeling incredibly awkward and on the spot, humbly did what he had seen himself do in the dream: he put one hand on her shoulder, as she sat in her wheelchair, and he said “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are healed.” He leaned down and she hugged him, and that seemed to be that. He felt okay about it, though a bit confused and self conscious.
Over the following few months, Cheryl seemed to blossom. Her skin became less sallow, her breathing less labored. Soon she was walking with assistance more and more, instead of relying on the wheelchair. Then, she didn’t need assistance, and was walking on her own for the first time in years. Eventually, with incredible delight, Cheryl actually ran for the first time in her life, and she no longer needed to be on oxygen. No one was more shocked than my Dad. He still didn’t know what he believed or how faith healing could be possible, and he couldn’t believe that a sinner like him would be God’s choice to use as an instrument in the first place. But he couldn’t deny what he had seen, either. The dichotomy of doubt and evidence never fully resolved itself in him, and so I didn’t press him to talk about it (something that now, after his passing, I deeply regret).
I was stunned when I looked across the room at the ladies dinner and saw Cheryl sitting there. She had a backpack with an oxygen tube for her nose, but she was laughing and talking and, I noticed with almost childlike delight, when she got up, she walked on her own, confident and steady on her feet.
When I walked up to her, nervous and with no idea what I was going to say, it took her a moment to realize who I was, and she was thrilled when it clicked in her head that I was my Dad’s daughter, just looking much different after 20+ years had passed. My awkwardness passed quickly as I began to get to know her as a peer, since all our previous interactions had occurred when I was a kid and she was an adult. We clicked instantly, and spent most of the night talking and laughing, and she told me all about the healing with my Dad and how her doctor’s still don’t have an explanation for how she is up and walking around, in her fifties, when she was never expected to reach her 35th birthday. Seeing her was all the confirmation of a miracle I think I will ever need, and it gives me strange comfort knowing that, at this rate, she will have a longer life than my Dad did, because I know that he would be so happy for her were he here to see it.
Seeing Cheryl was only one of the things God had in store for me at the ladies dinner, though it would have been more than enough by itself. If I wrote about each interaction that felt like a “God appointment”, this entry would really be a novel. But there was one particular appointment that needs to be here.
The sermon and music for the night were provided by a couple, Terrance and Alyssa (again, fake names), a couple I had known and loved for years. Terrance had been my piano teacher when I was in elementary school, and Alyssa had directed several plays or pageants I was in at church during the same time. They sang together and while Terrance played the piano, and they were, as always, incredible. Then Alyssa gave a short sermon (that word feels too formal, but it is the closest word I have). The sermon was all about how God provides, and about the concept of going “All In” with trusting Him to provide for us and our material needs. My mom and I kept eyeballing each other throughout the sermon, both thinking “Sheesh, have they been spying on us or something?” because of how frighteningly spot-on the message was regarding our current financial circumstances and how we have wrestled with God about them. (I wrote about this previously, in an entry about Possibilities that can be found in my Christianity and Faith folder/category). At the end of the service, a pastor I don’t know personally got up and thanked Terrance and Alyssa for everything, and asked for an offering to help them continue with their ministry.
For the past few months, in the back zippered pocket of my wallet, there has been a single, one dollar bill; the very last of the profit I made when I sold/closed my business. I haven’t been able to bring myself to spend it. I didn’t know what I was going to use it for, but even when we had been returning bottles and cans to scrape up change, it never felt right to spend it. I had considered framing it, as I tried to hold on to the last piece of my business, but even that didn’t feel quite right, so there it stayed, tucked in a small pocket in my wallet.
Suddenly I knew why I hadn’t spent it, why I hadn’t framed it, and why it had been sitting in my wallet all this time. It was meant for this.
I pulled Alyssa aside when she had a free moment, and I told her about my business closing, and about the dollar. And I gave it to her, and told her I thought that God had a plan for it in their ministry, even though I don’t know what that plan is, and I wanted them to have it.
She cried and hugged me and thanked me, and I walked away a few minutes later, finally having gone “All In”, and completely content having parted with the last piece of my business. I’m glad that I could put it toward what God wanted, and I am confident He will use it for good.
I’ll leave you with a song by a man with a heart for God that I will always aspire to: I am a Servant by Larry Norman.