I almost died when I was seven-years-old.
We were on a “Great American Winnebago Road Trip” through the Wild West — at the mercy of my scenic route-loving father. (Link to that tale here.) One day, we stopped for a picnic in a park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. To get to the shaded area and playground, we had to walk across a four-lane thoroughfare. Off my sisters went, along with Mom, then I followed. Pop took the rear.
Maybe it was the anticipation of new, unexplored play equipment or maybe I was just an impatient kid, but I took off like a rocket, eager to explore the unknown. I zoomed through each lane until my toe nearly collided with the white dotted lines of the last lane. Suddenly from behind, I heard Pop yell, “Annie! STOP!” And I did. I stopped right there in the third lane just as a white pick up truck sped past me in the fourth lane, blowing my strawberry blonde hair over my flushed cheeks.
To this day, I’m surprised that I listened to Pop. I wasn’t exactly a contrary child, but typical seven-year-old Annie would have kept running, hollering back, “Why?” But that day I didn’t question, and my life was spared.
I’ve wondered whether an angel held its hand before me, preventing me from crossing the lane. Others might say it was just good luck or that it simply wasn’t my time to go. While I do believe in angels, I don’t think it was an angel or fate that prevented me from being crushed by a truck that day.
I think it was a messenger.
Thirty-three years later, Pop scheduled meetings with three oncologists for his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. He had only been diagnosed three days when we walked into the office of a tiny, slender woman with a youthful, kind face. We met with her for half an hour, me rattling off a list of questions, and Pop quietly sizing her answers. She was sharp, yet sensitive, and told us the truth about Pop’s situation without adding any additional fears to those already wrestling inside us.
When we left, I asked Pop what he thought.
“She was good,” he said. “I like her.”
“Well, we have two other appointments to go to,” I reminded him.
“No,” he said. “We don’t need to bother with the others. Let’s just stick with her.”
“Why?” I asked. “What if the other doctors are better?”
“Because,” he said as I wheeled him to the car. By then, Pop’s mobility had already begun to deteriorate. “I think God sent her to us.”
I couldn’t argue with that. He was the patient, after all, and also, I was accustomed to Pop proclaiming such prophecies. A deeply religious man, Pop often delivered bold messages to anyone, never concerned with whether they were a believer or not. If you had a headache, he’d place his hand on your forehead and say, “In Jesus’s name, be healed.” He talked openly about the Holy Spirit and how its power was the same as that which raised Jesus from the dead. To him, if we have the Holy Spirit within us, why can’t we pray over someone who is sick or proclaim that God sent us a doctor?
Still, his quick decision bothered me. Then, when just a little over two months later, he passed away, his body never strong enough to receive any treatment but a couple of “last hope” surgeries (brought on by other doctors) and hospice, I really questioned the whole “God sent her to us” statement. How could God have sent us someone who did basically nothing?
It was just two days after my cancer diagnosis when, while exercising on the elliptical, I heard my husband calling me from our bedroom.
“I have the hospital on the phone,” he hollered. “They gave us two names to choose from for oncologists.”
The first name belonged to a male doctor I’d never heard of before. But the other belonged to a tiny, slender woman with a youthful, kind face, a doctor who was sharp, yet sensitive. I figured these were the top two oncologists at the hospital because my husband was on the phone with the CEO. (In what can only be divine intervention, he happens to know the hospital CEO.) I also knew that I had never come to terms with Pop’s prophecy about his oncologist. It had haunted me for two years because never before had my father been so wrong about God. I simply could not see how she was “sent to us” if she was so useless in his case.
My first reaction was to go with the name I didn’t recognize. It would be a clean start. I wouldn’t be haunted by ghosts of Pop’s cancer. And as I started to say as such to my husband, I heard Pop, as boldly as the day he hollered, “Annie! STOP!” Only this time I heard from behind, “I think God sent her to us.” So, I stopped. I got off the elliptical, which I never do mid-workout, and ran to my husband. My eyes glistened as I told him what Pop had said two and a half years earlier.
“What if God sent her to us for me? What if Pop unknowingly said those words because I would need her one day?”
So we chose her. And when she walked into her office two days later for my first appointment, she looked me square in the eyes and gently said, “What you need to know is that you are not your father. His cancer was bad -- as bad as it gets. Yours is not. Any fear you have because of him, you need to let go.”
I cried. No, I wept. She handed me Kleenex, and I snotted right there beside her -- ugly, ugly tears. Tears of relief. For the last week I had been tangled in a ball of anxiety because all my thoughts were of my father’s cancer -- the pain, the suffering, and mostly, the hopelessness that cast a sinister shadow on our hearts. My fears had shook me to my core, making me unable to see clearly how much better I had it, how much earlier I was diagnosed, and how promising my prospects were. In that visit, she rescued me from the first tangle.
I see this doctor every two weeks. We are becoming fast friends. She is just as kind and sensitive with me as she was with Pop -- an empathy cancer patients need. But that’s not why I now believe Pop’s prophecy.
One visit was maybe only seven minutes -- the shortest visit I’ve ever had with her. The entire time she talked about my children, their sports and dance and what they were up to. She didn’t mention me at all.
“Doctor,” I finally cut in. “What about me? My labs? My progress?”
“Oh you?” she smiled. “You’re fine.” And she practically waved me off. “I’m not worried about you.”
So I said, “Well, if you’re not worried, then I guess I shouldn’t be.”
When I shared that account with my sisters, one of them said, “Oh! If we could only learn to say that to God every day!”
The next visit I told her that my mother-in-law was in town and that she wept as she dropped me off for chemo.
“Why?” my doctor asked.
“Well, I guess because it’s overwhelming to send your daughter-in-law off to chemo,” I answered.
She stopped what she was doing and said, “She knows your chemotherapy is curative, right? You’ve told her this?”
“I think so,” I said, but of course I hadn’t told my mother-in-law that. How could I, when as strong as my faith is, I’m still attacked by enough doubt that I’m afraid to be so bold with my prognosis? What if I’m wrong?
My doctor leaned in closer. “Do you know that what we’re doing is curative?”
“Yes,” I lied.
In the last conversation we had, we went over what happens in August when chemotherapy ends -- what the next five years of tumor marker tests, CT scans, and MRIs will look like.
“How do you feel about it all?” I asked her nervously.
“Oh about you? I’m not worried. You’re going to be fine,” she said.
There it was again. Another bold, promising statement from her, delivered with the utmost peace. I had been running toward the fourth lane since my diagnosis, disregarding any promising messages, but I finally stopped. It had sunk in why God absolutely did send us this doctor.
The Bible’s pages are filled with prophecies from God’s messengers -- Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul. But did I ever consider what happened after the Bible was finished and sent off to the Random House of early Christianity for publishing? Did God suddenly stop sending His messages through others because, well, the book is done and we can all just refer back to it if we have any questions -- the end?
If God sent His only Son to earth, not just to save us from our sins, but because He knew how difficult it was for humans to believe in something we cannot see, why wouldn’t He still use that tactic today? Knowing our vulnerabilities, understanding us the way a parent understands their child, why wouldn’t God send us messages through people we trust? And why wouldn’t that message come from the lips of a tiny, slender woman with a youthful, kind face, a doctor who is sharp, yet sensitive?
I know enough to know that there are angels among us, miracles are real, and sometimes when we can’t hear God, we hear Him through someone we can see and hear. “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) Pop was God’s messenger thirty-five years ago in Albuquerque. And God, knowing the worry and fear I battle today, has sent me another messenger to silence that doubt, allowing me to once and for all trust God unconditionally and follow Him where He’s leading me. He sends messengers to you too. Maybe you are His messenger today.
I recently read that prophets were once referred to as “Man of God.” Pop wasn’t a prophet on paper, but I think he came pretty close. Unknowingly, we chose the words, “Man of God” for his gravestone.