November 2002 brought many changes to my life. Following a series of weekly visits to my doctor because of severe leg pain, I was diagnosed with a sciatica nerve problem. I was unable to lie down, sit, or walk without pain. Prescription pain killers did not help. Finally I asked a friend to drive me to the nearest emergency room with hopes of getting a shot to manage the pain. Three months later I was dismissed from the hospital with a new diagnosis—a blood clot in my leg.
I had recently completed months of chemotherapy to combat cancer. It may be that the chemotherapy treatments weakened my heart, producing a clot that broke off and settled in my leg. The emergency room doctor noticed that my leg was discolored. He explained that I had disseminated intravascular coagulation. Two things were going on simultaneously. I had many blood clots in my body and at the same time I was bleeding internally. To fix one issue would cause the other to worsen. To medical people DIC means “Death Is Coming.” My leg was amputated to reverse the DIC. The amputation helped with the pain but did not reverse the DIC. I was told I had only a few days to live. Nightly the medical staff reviewed my living will and my preferences for being resuscitated.
Preparing to Die
In early December I moved to a hospice facility to prepare to die. The transfer took a long time because the attendants were fearful that any sudden movement would release a clot and lead to death. I was critically ill. On full oxygen, I was unable to turn over and unaware of my surroundings.
Hospice was a wonderful experience for me and my family. Visiting hours brought a steady flow of visitors to say goodbye. A friend coordinated care for me. Each evening as the family left, a friend would come to sit with me through the night. Each evening I asked if they were okay with the thought of my dying that night. If not, they were free to leave. Each one stayed. Friends brought a small refrigerator and stocked it with food for the family.
We moved into full preparation for my funeral. My car was sold, my clothes were donated to a clothing drive, and my dishes were given away. Mom had her hair done, my brother bought a new suit, the pall bearers were selected, a casket and flowers were chosen, and funeral music was prepared. It was a time of waiting.
I knew my life was loaned from God. I knew how to live for him. I did not know how to die. I prayed and began to look forward to leaving this world and its troubles. I would be in Heaven. I wondered if I was looking forward to the reward of Heaven more than being with God. What would I do in Heaven? I knew I would praise God. I needed to practice! I pretended to be sleepy, asked a friend to play worship music, and then spent quiet time praising God. Before long I started to yearn to be with him.
I was totally unaware of how my family and friends were dealing with this. They were grieving deeply, but I was too wrapped up in my own excitement of being with God to understand their pain.
God Had Other Plans
As the days passed my health improved so I could move more in bed. With that improvement came the realization that my family was wondering what to do about Christmas. When I was alone with the nurse, I asked her what dying would be like and whether she thought it would be soon. Her guess was that I would live through Christmas. I announced that Christmas would be at Hospice. There was a Christmas tree in the lounge so the family gathered there. For the first time I was able to leave my room—in my hospital bed with oxygen. Everyone gave me a nightgown.
Because of my work in missions, hundreds of believers around the world fervently prayed for my healing. I learned that people who normally did not pray began to do so daily on my behalf. My church family was extremely involved in prayer and care. A missionary came by weekly to pray for me and assured Mom I would live. She believed him. I called a couple of people to minister to Mom because she was in denial. I even had counselors talk with her.
I knew about the prayers for healing from many. I don’t recall ever praying that for myself. I prayed for release of pain, but it never entered my mind to seek healing. I was on the path to death and happy for it! My prayers centered around how to prepare to meet God.
Shortly after Christmas it was apparent that I was greatly improving. The doctors agreed it was time to leave hospice to enter a hospital for tests. I was one of hospice’s unusual cases—leaving to live. This was a real crisis for me.
I encountered a flood of emotions in the hospital on New Year’s Eve. Tests were revealing that I had been cured of DIC and nothing else was showing up. Friends and family were thrilled. I was distraught. I knew God’s plan was for me to be with him in Heaven. Why the change? I cried, prayed, and questioned God for four agonizing days. “God, what is the purpose of my life now? Have You made a mistake?” I envisioned a future without employment, existing in a run-down nursing home, welcoming visitors who brought plastic flowers. “Why God?” After I asked the question so many times, I realized my purpose in life was to bring glory to God. Yes, I could still fulfill my purpose in that nursing home. It felt good to accept God’s plan.
Beginning to Live Again
Representatives from a local rehab facility visited me in the hospital to see if I qualified for admission. I was surprised. They believed I could drive a car, work, and live a normal life. This had never entered my mind. I began a month-long transition toward a normal life. I learned how, as an amputee, I could care for myself, handle a wheelchair, balance on one leg, clean, cook, and take steps with a walker.
Once again my friends came to the rescue. They moved me into a ground floor apartment. Mom came to live with me the first month as I learned to live again. I opened a bank account and bought a car. My dishes and clothes were returned. We cancelled my funeral plans and the deposit was returned.
In March I got acquainted with my new life. In April Mom returned to her home. I returned to work full-time at the church. In May God allowed me travel to Bosnia with a mission team. August saw me in Ukraine with another team. In the fall I was able to travel twice to Bosnia by myself in a wheelchair.
Living for God, Awaiting Heaven
God has blessed my life incredibly. I prayed that I would glorify him in my death while others prayed for healing. In his wisdom and care, God brought healing which resulted in increased faith in him and a great lesson in prayer for all of us. He was glorified. I learned to have a deeper understanding of God’s plan. While my deepest desire is to live with God, I am content to live for him here on earth. And I have learned that the next time it looks like I will die, I will pay more attention to that impact on family and friends!
When I retired from the church as missions minister, God opened an opportunity to serve as a substitute teacher. I loved being the hands of feet of Christ to the students. Being with students and teachers brought joy to me and I believe a service to them.
Then came time to fully retire. I am getting older and life in a wheelchair is more challenging. I get tired easily and my hearing is impaired, but God has not called me home yet. So I continue to serve him. I assist a family whose parents work. I am on call as a taxi driver, babysitter, and for other needs that come up. One day a week I tutor a child through a Christian organization. Another day a week I teach English to refugees in our city. I love teaching kids on Sunday. I serve on the board of a mission ministry and help specifically in short term mission trips preparation.
I still yearn for home and for God. Until that time comes, though, I am content with the life God has loaned me. In fact, I am more than content. I am happy. I am full of joy. I love God and life even as I eagerly await the next life.
Judy Johnson is retired missions minister for LifeSpring (formerly Clovernook) Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.