Celebrating Precious' 95th birthday, not knowing each of has COVID-19
But the one who rules in heaven laughs. - Psalm 2:4
My brother had us all in tears - tears of joys as we laughed and laughed, while celebrating The Matriarch. She is the last of 13 children from Woodville, Mississippi, born in 1925. It was her birthday, March 15, 2020. She turned 95 years old and wanted all of her children with her. So, I flew in from Maryland and my brother came in from California. We joined my two sisters in New Orleans and had a wonderful time celebrating Precious Hunter Clark.
Precious wanted to go the Ruth Chris Steakhouse. The Matriarch, deservedly, gets what she wants - we went to Ruth Chris Steakhouse. She said it and that settled it. She has earned any such request and so much more. (The Precious Chronicles is a story to be told another day.) After tender medium-well steaks, lagniapped by other New Orleans dishes, we gleefully left the restaurant and decided to take a photo. As the photo above reveals, my brother had us "cracking up" and the joy on Precious' face is priceless. Our mission to make this birthday special was accomplished. But, lurking behind the scenes, like the glass images hanging in the photo, was a silent enemy.
We spend another day with my mom and returned to our respective homes. On my return flight from New Orleans, I am in a center seat and uncomfortable. The kind flight attendant honored my request to move to an exit row and I feel more comfortable, but also not. My thought is something like, "perhaps I ate too much in NOLA or allergies are flaring. Well, my lovely wife is at the airport waiting for me and I will be OK by the time I see her."
Happy to see my wife Stephanie, I smile but get in the car like a man who had too much to drink. Slouching in the seat, with not much energy, I don't recall ever feeling this way. Stephanie knows something is wrong and tolerates my expressions of discomfort through an unusually quiet ride home. I internally rebuke the thought of having the virus.
The rebuke did not work.
Over the next couple of days, the calls start coming in. My sister, Kathie, who didn't want to go to the doctor started feeling weak and unable to taste, got tested - positive. Later she would say " Literally thought I was going to be with Jesus.....but God!" My sister, Barbara, went to the hospital after testing positive and was having trouble breathing. But the hospital would not admit her because "there was nothing they could do." My nephew in California called, "Dad is in the hospital. He is on a ventilator." Barbara, "I have tested positive and am going into the hospital." Kathie called, "Mom has tested positive and is in the hospital. " Things began to spiral out of human control.
Meanwhile, I am resisting the virus but feeling worse every day with back aches and am having difficulty breathing normally. It did not feel good and I had a couple of days of sleepless nights, but it was bearable. I lay in bed praying for and wondering about the rest of my family.
Kathie, 68 years old, never checked in the hospital; Barbara, 70 years old, went to hospital but didn't stay. They fought through at home, but my mother and brother, well they were different stories.
My brother, Minister Johnnie Clark, was rushed to the hospital via ambulance after hallucinating in his sleep. His story is a profound testimony of the power of Jesus. Addicted to heroin for over thirty years, and having been free for thirty years, he has a number of health issues, including cardiovascular disease. He was put on oxygen and then a ventilator for 12 days. After being taken off the ventilator, to see if he could breathe on his own, his oxygen level was still low. With the ventilator affecting his organs, two options were offered - put him back on the ventilator for 7 days and "he may come out in a vegetative state" or don't, and let him go peacefully. We rejected both options.
My mother has several medical opportunities for improvement: high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, and more. She carries it well, by the grace of God, but the virus put her down. Kathie wanted to bring mom to the hospital but was too weak to get out of bed. Mom, fought through the virus as much as possible for over a week and then was rushed to the ER. She was tested and immediately hospitalized and given oxygen. During that time doctors told Barbara there was nothing else they could do. (Mom told us weeks after she was released that they wanted to put her on the ventilator but she said no.) The reports for her were not good. We kept hearing things like, "Your mother's condition is not good." Among most people, there was a sense she was not going to make it through.
As we were all going through this dramatic trauma and as I am quarantined in the room, I am praying. I reminding God of His Word. Seeking to know what to pray for and how to believe, the constant thing in my mind and prayer is "Lord remember your Name. Don't let a virus take out this woman, my mom, after she has served you all these years. Lord, for your Name sake, deliver my brother off of that ventilator. You know he will testify of you when You deliver Him. Remember your Name."
I made sure my stuff was in order as the thought of death lurked, albeit very briefly. But, I was convinced that "my time was not yet." Spiritually flatfooted and emotionally shoulders-back, I was confident this was not the end for any of us. Praying and asking for a Word, this is what I received:
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
- John 9:1-3
At that point, I settled that God allowed this for His purposes. "So, take the hit for the glory of God, Bruce." More fervently, I prayed "Lord, don't let a virus take out this 95-year old woman who has served you. Seeking God through the drama of this virus, I knew there was more revelation to be received as I prayed that prayer. Then like the random emergence of the sun on a cloudy day, I heard this:
"Your mom is still a witness for me."
Phew!!!! There was no more need to pray for the healing of mom, now it's time to declare that she is healed. Momma is still a witness for God. She cannot die yet. Faith emerged. The battle is won. Circumstances do not matter.
Soon afterwards, I get a call from my sister saying, the doctor said "Momma, has taken a turn for the worst." I told her to ignore those words. The doctor meant well, but he was not listening to same news Source. "Your mom is still a witness for me."
The days went on and each of us had to "endure hardness as a good solider of Jesus Christ." After about five days, I was starting to feel better. My sisters were calling. "I no longer have a fever and am on the mend". The matriarch was touched by the hand of God and after 13 days emerged from the hospital having a few fervent words. This made it clear that she was coming through this. My brother was in the most difficult battle of us all. With no ventilator, eventually he begins breathing on his own and then is placed in a rehab facility to help with his speech and walking. After 32 days in the hospital, he is seen on video, walking, nearly running to his porch steps so He could honor God with prayer and thanksgiving.
To God be the Glory!
Who's got the last laugh now?
While the virus is not laughable, that it could destroy the purpose of God for your life is laughable. This is small for God. He laughs at the threats against His people. By the grace of God, I have learned to laugh with God at the enemy's plan. Here are a few of the lessons I have learned which could allow you to have the last laugh:
- This battle against COVID is spiritual. The virus is demonic. It comes to steal, kill, and destroy. You will not defeat it naturally. You must defeat it, and the associated fear of death, in your heart.
- Fear not. Fear not. Fear not.
- Express words of thanksgiving and praise to God, not words of complaint or murmuring.
- Read enough news to be informed, and then stop. Let revelation be your primary source of knowledge.
- "Grace is brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ". In moments of crisis, ask God for revelation. Be relentless in prayer and meditation until you are confident about what God is saying through the situation. The Word of God spoken in your heart will give hope to anchor your soul. The revealed Word carries grace to empower you through.
- The purposes of God could not be stopped by the death of Jesus on a cross. Certainly, a virus will not stop the purposes of God. In fact, like the cross, this virus is an accelerator of the purposes of God, for the faithful. Stay in faith.
We are all back to our not-so-normal lives. The siblings are busy again serving God in various ways. The Matriarch is running things with the sharpest mind in the room. Each of us is thankful for the journey. We all have the same fundamental story: "God is faithful. God is able. And we trust Him." We live to rescue the souls of men from the darkness of sin. We still believe that "if God's not through, we are not through", and nothing can change that. So, we continue to love and laugh with God.
God has the last laugh, and so do we. Keep laughing. Laugh with God at the trials of life.