I lay alone in the hospital room and thought, We don’t know a soul here! We’re seven hours from our home; half a continent away from our kids in California. No one except God even knows we’re here.
The previous day had dawned as “normally” as any other Sabbath when my husband, Jim, and I were on the road for a weekend to speak in a church district on behalf of Adventist World Radio (as volunteers). The day before we’d spoken at the Biloxi Gulf Coast Seventh-day Adventist Church in the morning, then in the afternoon at the Bay St. Louis Seventh-day Adventist Church 30 miles away.
Saturday night, tired from a full day of ministry, we fell into bed early, hoping for a good night’s sleep.
Around midnight, I awoke with chest pains so severe I could scarcely breathe. Trying not to wake up Jim, I slipped out to the car to look for a bottle of aspirin should I be having a heart attack. The creaking hotel room door woke Jim when, hunched over in pain, I slipped back into the room.
Fifteen minutes later a fully engaged ambulance, lights flashing and sirens screaming, rushed me to a nearby hospital. Medical personnel ran all manner of tests for possible issues of the heart, gallbladder, and lungs. My severe pain continued, though paramedics had ruled out a heart attack as soon as they’d run tests on me in the ambulance.
Jim left me briefly to return to the hotel to shower, put on fresh clothes, and grab a bite to eat. Scared and hurting, I lay alone in that hospital room with our immediate future and my malady looming like big question marks in my mind.
Just then an early-morning phlebotomist pushed open the door to my room.
“Good morning,” she said in a quiet yet cheery voice. “I’m here to draw some blood—Carolyn?” She stopped short. “Carolyn, is that you? Didn’t you and your husband speak at our church yesterday?”
Through my pain I stared at her an instant before remembering. “Bay St. Louis? Second pew on the right? Melinda?”
Melinda put down her equipment and slipped off her latex gloves before taking my hand. Her warm, caring, flesh-and-blood touch meant everything to me at that moment. “I don’t know why you’re here,” she continued calmly, “but before I do anything more, let me pray for you.” I relaxed into the comfort of her words, “Dear Father in heaven . . .”
Within the next few hours Jim and I learned that we were not alone after all. We had a loving family right there, where we “didn’t know a soul.”
Almost as soon as Jim returned from the hotel, the hospital room telephone rang. The caller was Sonny, the jovial praise team leader from the Gulf Coast church we’d met the day before.
“Mr. Sutton?” he asked when Jim answered the phone, “I just heard that your wife is in the hospital. May I pray with you over the phone? First, though, I want to remind you that God already has this. Second, I wonder if I could drop by and get any dirty laundry you might have. We’ll wash it and return it. In fact, if you’d like to move out of the hotel, you could stay in our guest bedroom.”
Jim was wiping tears from his eyes by the time he hung up the phone.
That afternoon Gloria, whom we’d also met at the Gulf Coast church, dropped by asking if we followed a vegan diet. If so, could she cook some healthful dishes and bring them to the hospital for us? She chatted briefly and prayed before she left.
The next day Tammie, with whom we’d prayed in the Gulf Coast church’s early Sabbath morning prayer circle, sat by my bedside, offering her help before praying over me.
By now, despite ongoing chest pain, fever, and headaches, I had the distinct impression that angels were entering my hospital room every time another church member arrived to share concern, care, and offers to meet our very real needs. The next evening Alice, the hospital ministries leader from the Gulf Coast church, showed up after a long day at work in another nearby medical facility.
Throughout the next few days, several other church members dropped in and “loved on” us. Some shared a favorite Bible promise before prayerfully claiming it for our unresolved situation.
Most of these new friends—all total strangers to us just a day or two previously—were among the thousands who had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and were still struggling emotionally and financially. At least two of our visitors had adult special-needs children living with them at home in addition to working full-time themselves.
Near midnight the third night of hospitalization my Middle Eastern cardiologist quietly approached my bedside. With quiet joy he exclaimed, “I say thank You to my God, who, too, is answering my prayers for you. I am also praying, like your many friends.” Our many new church-family visitors, whom the doctor had noticed praying, now gave him the freedom to reveal his faith in God as well.
The eventual medical findings on my second day of hospitalization revealed I had experienced a sudden, severe onset of pneumonia and pleurisy. Both, in the reassuring words of a doctor, were “resolvable.”
We returned home from our four-day “vacation” to the Gulf Shores with two reminders from our new family.
First, when lay members pitch in, not expecting the pastor to do everything, it has a powerful “Welcome to our family!” impact. As one of those visiting members explained: “As a church we finally got it. We realized that the text doesn’t read ‘I was sick, and the pastor visited Me.’ It reads ‘I was sick, and you visited Me.’ We let our pastor train us in hospital ministry, then we took it from there.”
Second, we are saved to serve. The members of this church district (a wonderful mix of ethnicities) had not allowed Hurricane Katrina, resulting financial uncertainty, nor any other personal loss to steal God’s purposes for their lives. Not the loss of home; not the loss of money (when in one case Katrina’s toxic flood waters literally ruined a large sum of paper currency the family was saving); not the challenges of single-parenting; not special-needs adult children living at home; not full-time jobs; not the continual needs of toddlers; not concern over their own family members; nothing kept these church members from ministering to us. God had saved them; now they were serving others in His name.
We felt as if angels were visiting with us. They were, for real, coming through the door with each church visitor. Jesus was there as well.
Today somebody within your sphere of influence—whether inside or outside the church—needs a visit from a heavenly guest. Why not ask Jesus where He wants you to go to comfort and encourage? Then let Him use your feet, your phone, your offers of help, your resources, your prayers. People who walk with Jesus are the real encouragers, not just cards and helium balloons.
Carolyn Sutton writes from northwest Alabama, where she lives with her husband, Jim.