December 21, 2020
By Carol Joseph
“Your brother is in the hospital and the doctors don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
That was the call I received from my sister-in-law while decorating our Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving more than 10 years ago.
My family and I were living in Florida at the time, 1,300 miles away from the hospital bed where my brother Bill lay, his condition–suspected pneumonia–worsening by the hour. Unsure of what was happening and unable to be at his side, fear took hold of my heart. The youngest of three siblings, I had lost my second eldest brother unexpectedly two years earlier. And there I was, facing the very real possibility that I could lose my last remaining sibling.
A middle of the night phone call about Bill’s rapidly declining condition prompted me to catch the first flight to Michigan. By the time my plane landed, he had been diagnosed with H1N1 (Swine Flu) and was being airlifted to the University of Michigan Hospital. He was put into an induced coma and hooked up to a ventilator that pumped massive amounts of oxygen into his lungs. His wife, two kids and I spent the next two weeks listening to the steady whoosh-thump-thump, whoosh-thump-thump of that ventilator as we kept 24-hour vigil over his immobile body.
During that time, we sequestered ourselves inside the hospital, leaving only to take turns sleeping and showering at a nearby hotel. To keep up with the steady flow of calls from concerned family and friends, I started a blog to post updates of Bill’s condition. That blog became our lifeline to the outside world and a tangible reminder to focus on something positive each day, no matter how small the victory.
Free from the responsibilities of everyday life, I spent countless hours sitting at my brother’s bedside with the lights dimmed low, reading, praying and writing. During one of my shifts, I felt an overwhelming need to pray over my brother for healing. While this may have been an instinctual action for some people, for me, it was completely unexpected and out of the ordinary. Much like everything else that was happening at the time.
In the semi-darkness of the hospital room with a nurse quietly attending to her charts in the corner, I stood next to my brother, hands held over his comatose body, and prayed for God to heal his lungs, heart and other vital organs. In that moment, I felt the presence of God, not just in spirit, but physically behind me. A presence that was as real to me as the bed my brother was lying in and the machines that were keeping him alive.
A few days later, the doctors deemed Bill well enough to be taken off the ventilator and awakened from his coma. We were all elated at his miraculous recovery and the reality that, unlike some of the other patients with the same condition, we would all be going home soon.
As I made plans to return to Florida, I felt an inexplicable twinge of sadness. It could have been because I was physically exhausted and overwhelmed with emotion. Or perhaps it was because something extraordinary had occurred and I was hesitant to leave the place where I had experienced firsthand the presence, peace and healing power of God.
Afterward, people told me how much they appreciated and looked forward to our blog posts. They said our messages touched their hearts and gave them hope. And even though I had done the writing, I knew with absolute certainty that it was God who had provided the words. Just like he provided so many other things for us throughout our ordeal.
God doesn’t promise that our lives will be without trials, pain or suffering. But He does promise to be with us through it all. Just like He was with us as a community of friends and strangers prayed for my brother; and when my sister-in-law and I formed a new and everlasting bond over coffee and bagels each morning in the hospital cafeteria. He was with us when my brother took his first breath without the aid of a ventilator; and when he opened his eyes to see his family for the first time in weeks. And God was there with me on my drive to the airport when I got the unmistakable message that I needed to start writing again.
If you’re in the midst of a hard or challenging situation, remember that you’re not alone.
God is there beside you, behind you and before you. Holding you up, walking with you, carrying you through your pain and, quite possibly, creating a new path for you to follow.
After that experience, I did start writing again. And while I wrote all types of stories, I could never put this particular story into words. Until I read this verse from the book of John:
“Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”John 12:1
Here was a miracle beyond imagination told in one short and powerful sentence. A sentence that might easily be overlooked while reading the rest of the passage. It made me realize that the miracle I had witnessed could no longer be overlooked or tucked away. It was time for my story to be told – to glorify God and share the message of hope that He offers to all of us.