#245. COVID Lessons About the Faithfulness of God

Photo by Tammy Warren

My wife Dee Dee and I will never forget Christmas Day 2020. That’s when we believe we were both exposed to coronavirus, while visiting with family. 

We developed symptoms that led us to be tested on Dec. 27, and within 24 hours we learned we were both positive for COVID-19. While Dee Dee had a milder case of the virus, I had the full gamut. I was sick to my stomach and had fever, aches, pains — everything a person could have, I had it.

Dee Dee drove me to the emergency room on Dec. 28 or 29, I am unclear about the date. I was advised to go home and take over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers, like Tylenol or Advil. It was suggested we purchase a pulse oximeter to keep check of my oxygen level. 

I just kept getting sicker and my oxygen level kept plummeting, so within days we were back at the emergency room. This time, they gave me fluids and called in some prescription meds for me. They told me to go directly to the facility across the street to have an infusion of monoclonal antibodies. They said they’d set it up for us.

“All you have to do is walk across the street,” they said. “They’re waiting on you, and they’re going to give you the antibodies. You should feel better in three or four days.”

They told us the antibody infusion would take a couple hours, but that Dee Dee would not be able to go in the facility with me. So, she dropped me off at the entrance and then headed to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions the ER doctor had called in for me.

I walked into the facility with my mask on, noticing it was a cancer care facility.

“What are you here for?” they asked me. I explained that the emergency room staff set me up to receive antibodies. They didn’t know what I was talking about.

I explained again: “I just left the emergency room. They said for me to come over here to receive antibodies.”

“Do you have COVID?” they asked me.

“Yes, I do, that’s why I’m here to get the antibody thing,” I said.

They replied, “You’ve got to get out of the building immediately.”

So, I left the building. It was very cold outside. I sat on a bench as I called Dee Dee to come back and get me. “They didn’t know anything about this stuff I’m supposed to get,” I told her. “They said I have to make an appointment and that it could be a week or two.”

As I waited for Dee Dee to return, someone came out of the facility to tell me that I couldn’t even sit on the bench.

“You’ve got to get off our property,” they said.

Dee Dee returned to pick me up. She somehow got an appointment for me to return to this facility in three days for an antibody infusion. In the meantime, the ER doctor prescribed oxygen around the clock at home.

Three days later we showed up for the antibody infusion appointment. I walked in all hooked up to my portable oxygen. They took one look at me and stated the obvious, “You’re on oxygen.” 

“Well, yes, I am,” I said. 

“We can’t give you antibodies if you’re on oxygen,” they told me.

At this point, I was so sick, a lot sicker than I was three days prior. Dee Dee was waiting in the car. They brought me back out, nothing accomplished.

Dee Dee immediately took me back across the street to the emergency room. On that short trip, I was crying out, “God, why? Why me? Why all of these roadblocks? Why? Why? Why?”

As a pastor, I tell people, “You don’t know how you’re going to react to anything until you are in that situation.”

We were both upset and discouraged. Once we got back over to the emergency room we couldn’t even find a parking spot. The emergency room was full, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do now?”

Dee Dee said, “We’re going in.”

So, Dee Dee wheeled me and my oxygen tank into the emergency room waiting area. A nurse spotted us and asked, “Does he have COVID?”

“Yes, he does,” Dee Dee said. This nurse wasted no time and took me back immediately. In my crying out to the Lord between the two buildings, I believe that God ordained this direct route to the emergency room physician through this nurse. 

I remember being in the emergency room with Dee Dee waiting in the car. My oxygen level was low and they told me they would have to intubate me right now. I texted Dee Dee these words: “I’m scared.” 

The next thing I knew, I was out — and I was out until March.

“I’m sitting there and sitting there,” Dee Dee remembered. “Friends came by to check on me, since they know I’m sitting in the parking lot. Then Steve texts me, “I’m scared.” I was like, “I am too.”

“I was thinking he’d go into the emergency room and they would do something, fix him and send him back out, but after I dropped him off, I didn’t get to see him again until sometime the middle of January.

“I knew God had Steve in His hands, I believed and didn’t believe at the same time. I was just so scared. We’ve been together since I was 13 years old, married when I was 18. The thought came to me that I may never get to see him and talk to him again. It was terrifying.”

Dee Dee’s mom came to stay with her while Steve was hospitalized. Their youngest son also flew in from Texas. Pastor Barry, his wife, Gay, as well as other church friends, provided ongoing support and encouragement. One friend, Marilyn, began texting an encouraging scripture to Dee Dee every day, and she continues doing so to this very day. 

Everyone kept telling Dee Dee, “When you get to see him, it will be so much better.”

“That was the worst moment of my life,” recalled Dee Dee of seeing Steve in the hospital for the first time. “His kidneys had shut down two days after he was hospitalized, and he had to go on full-time dialysis. His blood pressure, which had always been high, was now low. Just to watch COVID destroy his body was so fearful to me. I knew God was in control, but I had to be reminded of that every single day.”

As the weeks and months passed, Dee Dee became so upset that she could no longer listen to online sermons or Christian music. “It wasn’t that I lost faith,” she said. “I was just so scared to live my life without him. I never in my wildest dreams thought there would be a time when I would not be able to listen to Christian music or Pastor Barry’s sermons, but that was my experience. It seemed the words hurt me instead of helping me at the time.”

Even though Dee Dee didn’t see any improvement in Steve’s condition, he was moved from the hospital to the intensive care unit of a rehab facility, where he was gradually taken off sedation and the three paralytic medications that he’d been given to prevent movement.

“When I began to wake up, it was a scary time for me,” Steve remembered. “It was also a scary time for Dee Dee and my family. If you haven’t, you will at some point, come face to face with death. If there’s any source of encouragement that I could say to you, it’s okay to be frightened — but hopeful — if you belong to the Lord.”

When Steve was able to text, he texted Pastor Barry, “Man, I am struggling. Just struggling.” 

“In what way?” Pastor Barry asked.

“In every way, in every way,” Steve replied.

Looking back, Steve can see his battle was both physical and spiritual. “No matter how physically, emotionally or spiritually strong you think you are, you are still vulnerable. There’s nobody who is exempt from spiritual warfare. And, I believe a lot of what I experienced was spiritual,” Steve said.

“There was a turning point in my recovery — a time when things moved from hopeless to hopeful. Pastor Barry visited and asked me if I had been in the Word. At that point I couldn’t even lift a Bible. So, we figured out a way and got people to prop up the Bible for me.

“Physical therapy began before I could feel my legs. I was able to sit on the side of the bed and, after a few days was able to semi stand, not straightening up. They worked with me diligently, and I had strong determination.

“I got a firm talking-to by my pastor. I kept thinking, ‘Man, why is he so hard on me?’”

Pastor Barry wanted me to get better, telling me, “I don’t care what they tell you. If they tell you to sit there and wiggle your finger for two or three minutes a day — you wiggle that finger.”

“As much as we can talk about everything that we went through, and how frightening and horrible it was — the entire time we weren’t alone,” Steve recalled. “God was with us every step of the way, even when we thought He wasn’t.

“If God had chosen not to heal me, it would not have made Him any lesser God. He would have still been glorified as a result, but I do believe that for whatever reason God chose to reveal himself again as a miracle worker through my life.

“I think I told Pastor Barry as soon as I could talk, ‘I’m a miracle.’ I don’t say that in a boastful way, but I truly believe that I’m a miracle. I even coded once. Things looked bleak. I have had so many conversations, you know, when my doctor said, “You should have died five or six times and you’re still here.”

The director of the respiratory department said, “When they bring someone in on a ventilator, my job is to assess whether that person will come off the ventilator. I told them you would not come off it.”

She, the director, walked into my room nearly every morning and just cry, saying, “I just can’t believe it.”

“And I’d reply, ‘I can’t believe it either, but to God be the glory.’”

After 101 days in the hospital recovering from COVID-19, Steve was discharged on April 15, 2021. He came home in a wheelchair, then moved to a walker, then to a cane, then to a sort of a little limp every now and again. “I can’t stand on my feet very long, but I’m standing,” he said. “Thanks be to God.” 

#36 “Against All Odds” God

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Infallible and strong. A superman daddy, in her eyes. He’d been in the marines too—but that was before she was born. He was a giant not only in his work—he successfully ran his own businesses—but also in his faith.

The man lived and loved and breathed Jesus. He wanted anyone and everyone to know the Provider like he did—as an “against all odds” God. Prayers and Psalms decked his storefront; they were on his lips just as much. He led hundreds, maybe thousands, of people to Christ. Tom even spent time with addicts and DUI offenders, bringing Sunday services or Bible studies to jail. He loved people who were sometimes called “unlovable.”

His exemplary efforts weren’t out of pride or spiritual self-acknowledgement, but out of a plain and ordinary calling to bring others into the family of Christ.

And that’s how he thought of himself—ordinary. Not the sort of ordinary that is self-deprecating, but the kind that is humble through the honest knowing of one’s self. He liked to build things and people—to restore them.

Yes, he was strong. He was healthy. He was able. He didn’t just live life, but brought it with him to anyone who would take it.

When she got the call, the sorrow hit deep and sharp. The news took the very center of her heart and snapped it half. There was an immediate chasm where the future should have lived.

You see, it was too soon. He had “crunching lungs,” she said. It was pulmonary fibrosis—a fatal disease.

He stopped building. He stopped visiting his grown children and his little grandchildren. He stopped because he couldn’t make it up a few steps or down a slope.

He stopped being superman.

He stopped restoring old things.

And they lived that way—between hope and death, prayer and mortality, future and finitude.  Their whole family was caught there. The intervals of life stood quite still—yearning, perhaps, to gasp breath into an oxygen-less reality. They existed within a ceaseless liturgy of last rights where death was imminent.

And then there was a glimmer. It was like the sliver of light you’d see under your parents’ door when nightmares struck as a little child. You knew you could go in and feel cozy and safe and loved.

For them it was the promise of a new pair of lungs—working, breathing.

But, you see, it wasn’t a door wide open. It wasn’t jumping-up-and-down-on-the-bed. He was old—73. Not old enough for memorial but not young enough for a new organ. So, there was hope, yes! That hope, though, was held with kid gloves.

Not for his little girl, though. No. She knew a set of lungs would be his. She took heart in faith.  Not the kind of faith that says everything will be rainbows, unicorns, and tutus. It was the kind that looks to Jesus, the Provider, and waits with hope—and anticipation.

There were complications. All the antibodies in the new lungs had to match every disease his old lungs had faced. And he had lived a long life of health and sickness, like anyone. The doctors would have to clean out his old antibodies to make a match, which meant a long process of pumping blood out, filtering it, and pumping it back in. He was already weak.

Because of his age and height, it was a challenge to find lungs that would be a right fit. To open the possibilities, they were asked if he might accept lungs from an overdose patient. The answer, of course, was yes. Their dad had already lived among and ministered to them—of course he would accept. They were like family to him and there was no fear there. The risk, however, of contracting HIV from the new organs was high.

So they waited. And he grew thin. Gaunt, maybe. Not like her super-dad. And so, not like himself. The breath was slowly leaving his body. The odds were against him. But faith hoped in Provision.

Like a shiver of excitement, the phone rang. And she just wept. There were lungs! But her stomach was twisting and nauseous, and her emotions confused. Life for her dad meant death for someone else. And they knew it was probably a young person—who most likely died from an overdose.

So the tears were of relief and sadness, joy and pain, hope and heartbreak.

But, against all odds, he would get his lungs. Against all odds they would remove machines and he would breathe again. Against all odds, the Provider—Jehovah Jireh—would take the last offering of an addict and exchange it for life, for wholeness. Restoration would be inserted between life and death because of an “Against All Odds” God.

Author’s note: I love this story because it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder if one of the addicts whom Tom saved in prison could have been his lung donor. It makes me wonder how Tom’s family will someday minister to the family that lost their loved one—and I am sure they will. Or, perhaps the drug addict’s family will minister to them. It makes me wonder what goodness the future holds.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.