Late one night my phone rang. Doris' son was on the phone. She had been found unconscious and was in the hospital in the ICU. The outlook was grim. Could I please come?
You can't say "no" to that kind of request. I tried to dress quickly in the dark, made my way down the stairs and eased my truck out of the driveway. The hospital was a few minutes away, and I tried to shake the sleepy cobwebs out of my mind.
I knew the hospital well, including which doors were unlocked at 2 a.m. The family was gathered in the ICU waiting area: son, daughter, in-laws, grandchildren. The son told me he had talked to his mother earlier in the day, and she seemed fine. Then she didn't answer the phone. He went over there and found her lying on the kitchen floor, nonresponsive. He called 911, and the ambulance delivered her to the hospital. They had spent anxious hours in the ER waiting room when the doctor came out and told them Doris had a stroke, her heartbeat was irregular, and things did not look good. They would move her to the ICU and try to keep her comfortable.
The family had not yet seen Doris in the ICU; they were doing that most difficult work of waiting. I gathered them all together and said a prayer for Doris. I asked God to be with her, to comfort her and to comfort this family. To tell the truth, I was trying to prepare the family for the worst. Though pastors are people of faith, we are around death so often we assume death is coming. I know that night I was sure that Doris would be passing from this life into eternity.
It was four in the morning when a nurse came out into the waiting room and invited us to go back to see Doris, two at a time. Her son and daughter rose and then looked at me. "Let the preacher go first," said the son. Her daughter nodded, and I walked with her out of the waiting room.
We went through the heavy doors that separated the ICU from the rest of the hospital. This was not my first rodeo, as they say. I wasn't surprised to see Doris with a tube down in her mouth, a Christmas tree of IV pumps and tubes around her bed and her eyes closed. I looked at the monitor and noticed the irregular rhythm traced in green lines. Her daughter stood on one side of the bed and took her mother's hand. I stood by the other side and took the other hand. The only sound was the soft hiss of the ventilator and the far-off chime of IV pumps in other rooms. Death felt close.
I said to the daughter, "Let's pray." I prayed for Doris to feel God's peace and grace. Words were forming on my lips to ask God to prepare the family, but I felt a check in my heart. A small voice whispered inside of me, "You haven't asked me to heal Doris."
It's amazing how fast you can argue with God. In the middle of my prayer, I felt myself telling God this woman was not going to make it, and the family needed comfort more than anything. Thankfully none of this conversation was audible - it was going on in my soul. I heard the whisper again, "Pray for her healing." I did. Not very enthusiastically. Not with much faith. Just a simple, "Lord, according to your will, please heal Doris."
I said "Amen" and left the room. I told the son I was going back home but asked him to please call me if anything happened. I went back home to grab sleep in what remained of the night, expecting any minute for the phone to ring with the news that Doris had died.
My wife was gracious enough to take care of the kids and let me sleep in. It was 10 a.m. when I made my way back to the hospital. I stopped by the ICU waiting room, but none of the family was there. I thought that was a little strange. I buzzed the nurses' station and asked to come back, and they let me in.
I walked into Doris' room, and she was sitting up in her bed, no tubes, no ventilator, right as rain. She was eating breakfast. She called out, "Clay, it's so good to see you! I heard you had to come up here last night and prayed for me."
I stammered out a yes, still in shock. Doris said, "My daughter told me you prayed the sweetest prayer over me. She said as soon as you left, my heart got better, and I started breathing better. They took me off that machine, and I bounced right back."
I told Doris how bad everything looked last night and that God had done a miracle. She grinned and said, "I guess I am your miracle."
I served that church for two more years until I came to Sumter. Every Sunday Doris would see me at the door and tell me, "Good message! Remember, I am your miracle."
I've never forgotten Doris. She wasn't my miracle; she was God's.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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