(All photos below taken in my yard)
I’ve always loved the story of Gideon in the Old Testament. Gideon was the unlikely hero that God chose to lead an army to deliver the Israelites from the terrible oppression of the Midianites. (The Israelites were so afraid of the Midianites that they were hiding from them in caves in the mountains). When the angel of the Lord first appeared to Gideon and told him that he was chosen to “save Israel from the hand of the Midianites,” Gideon’s response was incredulity. “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor and I am the least in my father’s house!”
But God persisted, so Gideon asked for a sign. First, a sign that it was really an angel of God talking to him (instead of some imposter angel). Gideon brought bread and meat as an offering, put them on a rock, then watched as the angel of the Lord touched them with a staff. A great fire arose from the rock and consumed the bread and meat. So he was satisfied that it was the Lord alright, but that wasn’t enough for Gideon. No indeed. He then wanted a sign that God would not only lead him to battle, but give him victory. He asked that a woolen fleece that he put out would be drenched the next day with dew, but the ground around it dry. The next morning, Gideon wrung an entire bowl of water out of the fleece, while the ground around it was bone-dry.
So, at this point, Gideon (1) had an angel appear to him as he worked in the wheat field, (2) had said angel cause a mighty flame to arise from a rock, and (3)had gotten the Lord to perform Gideon’s own personal magic fleece trick. But was that enough for Gideon? No sirree. Gideon, though he was shaking in his sandals, had the nerve to ask for one more miracle! This time, he asked that the fleece be dry, while the ground was wet. By now, I imagine God sighing and rolling His eyes, but, again, He complied and made the fleece dry, while the ground about was soaked. And, at last, Gideon was satisfied.
I love this story, in part, because I identify so strongly with Gideon. It’s so hard sometimes to keep the faith, especially when you feel that you’ve had far more than your share of hardship. Especially when you see so many bad things happening to good people. Especially when you have Midianites in your own life, making you want to hide in a cave, like the Israelites did. But what I love most is the fact that God, although He must have been somewhat vexed at Gideon’s lack of faith, still had the compassion and mercy to give him the sign that he asked for, not just once but three times!. I think that means that God understands our doubts and recognizes that we are only human. The story of Gideon has given me solace the past couple of weeks while we’ve been going through a difficult time and I’ve been struggling with my own faith. Because, during that time, we thought for certain that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, my husband Tom, had cancer.
It all started when Tom was referred to a urologist because of very high PSA levels. His PSA was 40—-a normal one is 4 or less. Not a good sign. Some of the information I found on the internet suggested that almost all men with a PSA over 20 have cancer, and PSA’s much higher (like 40) probably were advanced cancer. So I was anxious to start with, but became even more so after the urologist said that Tom’s prostate on examination was very hard and lumpy, and he scheduled an immediate biopsy.
After the biopsy, the doctor (who was a very kind and straightforward sort) showed Tom the ultrasound pictures of his prostate, comparing them to an ultrasound of a “normal” prostate. He pointed out the dark shadows on Tom’s, which he indicated was not good. What it boiled down to was this: he was trying to tell Tom, in so many words, that he was almost certain that he had cancer. With the extremely high PSA, the hard lumpiness of the prostate, and the suspicious mass on the ultrasound, cancer was almost a sure thing. The doctor also began to talk about having bone scans, which are done to check whether cancer has spread to your bones. Obviously, the doctor was trying to prepare us for the worst.
It’s funny how the mind, when confronted with a hard reality, begins immediately to search for signs of hope and reassurance, for signs that God is near. At least, that’s the way it is with me. That day, after Tom told me all the doctor had said, I immediately thought of how we had seen five rainbows that week from our porch. Those of a more scientific bent might say, “Well, yeah…you had rain every single afternoon. Rainbows are a pretty good bet!” But, for me, every rainbow is a wonderment, a marvel, a symbol of hope. And we saw Tom’s favorite airplane—the B-17—fly over our house that day, too. You don’t see that everyday. Plus, we won two dollars with the lottery ticket we picked up that day. We never win the lottery.
Some might call this grasping at straws. But who’s to say what’s random and what’s not? Who’s to say whether signs and wonders and messages from our greater power really are? Even if most of us haven’t been lucky enough, like Gideon, to have an angel visit us in the wheat field, I believe that God sends us messages all the time. I guess sometimes, we just don’t notice, and He has to knock us upside the head to get us to pay attention, to get us to listen, to get us to see.
We got the results of the biopsy two days ago. Since Tom, as a maintenance man, has to work in the field, I was the one to call the doctor’s office for the results. I had my questions about prostate cancer and its treatment all written out, ready to hear Tom’s Gleason Score and the staging of his cancer. I already had sort of come to terms with the idea of his having cancer and was ready to talk about how to fight it. But I was still a nervous wreck. It took a while to get the results because everyone I spoke to—the receptionist, the nurse, the doctor’s secretary—told me, after looking at Tom’s record, that I needed to talk to the doctor. They all sounded rather grave when they said this, which further heightened my anxiety. Then, I was put on hold with some sort of Britney Spears-type pop music playing. Now I don’t care for that kind of music under the best of circumstances, but this time it made me want to tear my hair out and run screaming from the room. But I couldn’t. Because, in a few minutes, a doctor was going to tell me something that would either make me the happiest woman in the world or one of the saddest.
I heard someone pick up the receiver. “Hi, Mrs. _______?” My heart quickened and I began to shake.
“Yes sir.” I could hardly breathe.
Thank God, he got straight to the point. “The biopsy showed no sign of cancer.”
I gasped and very nearly hollered in his ear, but managed (with great effort) to restrain myself. He went on to tell me that Tom had a somewhat rare condition called granulomatous prostatitis which apparently mimics prostate cancer in every way, causing an elevated PSA level, a hardened prostate, and areas on an ultrasound that are indistinguishable from cancer. Only a pathological analysis of the biopsy samples revealed what it actually was. Tom was fortunate, in more ways than one. In some cases, men with this condition have had their prostates removed because of a mistaken diagnosis of cancer.
After I hung up the phone, Benjamin and I began to jump and holler and whoop and giggle and dance around the room like utter fools. We were actually afraid we might break something—we were much too giddy to be inside. So we went for a walk. When I stepped out into the sunlight that day, I felt like someone who had been in a cave. Everything looked especially bright—our big purple-pink coneflowers, the daisies dancing dazzling white in the field, and the ferny, lacey red and pink yarrow. The world looked so fresh and new and beautiful that day.
You know, I’d never have the nerve to ask the Lord for a special sign like Gideon did, especially not three times. But I’m quite sure God sends them, just the same. Remember the heart in the grass? Well, it’s still there. I looked. It looks a little different now, but that’s okay. My heart’s a little different, too.
That day, as Benjamin and I walked around, still giggling with pure joy, we saw even more signs and wonders. The butterflies were here at last. They’ve been scarce this year, and I’ve missed them, but the Great Spangled Fritillaries are flittering now in great numbers to my coreopsis. And the bee balm that wouldn’t flower last year is just now showing its first blooms. Soon, it will be covered with pink and red flowers that the hummingbirds especially adore. And the morning glories have begun climbing up the porch lattice again, with those heart-shaped leaves that seem to convey a divine message of their own, apart from their luminous glory blossom. Natural events, sure…but signs and wonders just the same.
But the greatest sign and wonder came later that day when Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man stepped out of his work truck whole and healthy and happy and alive. And wet. The sky had opened up that evening and it was pouring rain. Tom got drenched as he ran up to the porch, so I got wet too when I threw my arms around him and held him close. I laid my cheek against his damp hair and closed my eyes and thanked God for rain and sun and fritillaries and bee balm and morning glories and hearts in the grass.
And for giving me, despite my doubts, despite my wavering faith, despite my fear, the sweet miracle of Tom.