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A true story from one of the chief of sinners

by John Fahnestock (WordAlone Regional Network (WARN))

Date Unknown

[Editors note: John Fahnestock is a lawyer who lives in East Amherst, NY. He is also a leader in the WordAlone chapter in upstate NY, WordAlone Regional Network (WARN). He gave us permission to post his story with these words, “ . . . you may post it, send it, email it, snail mail it, shout it from the mountain tops. Just be sure that all know that this is a story about our awesome, gracious God, not me.”]

Ever wonder whether God is really there? Well read this and then search your heart about what you think. It happened to me on the most brutal night of my life.

It was on a Saturday in June, 2003. I received from my church (Zion Lutheran in Clarence Center, NY) a printout of the reading of the Scripture lesson I was to read the next weekend at the 10:45 service. As one of many “lectors” or “readers” at Zion, a reading comes to me about twice each year.

The reading happened to be the opening verses to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. It was a nice but fairly dry greeting without really any sharp point to it for congregational consumption for them to take home with them. So I read it over to make sure there weren’t any tough words or phrases that I would stumble over. There weren’t any, so I threw it away without any further thought, knowing I could read it easily at next weekend’s service.

The following Thursday I received a call from my doctor telling me that I had a fatal and incurable disease, a form of ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—that could take my life in as few as 12 months. So at around 11:00 p.m. I went to bed and I guarantee you that I did not go to bed thinking about the upcoming reading (which is never a nervous or upsetting thing for me). I had other things on my mind, as you might imagine.

At 3:53 a.m., I woke as if I had slept till noon the following day. I was rested and ready to get up, truly on some kind of a mental and physical “high.” In my 52 years of life I have NEVER before or since woken up at or near that time doing what I next did. Always, I was tired and would roll over and try to go back to sleep, which is fairly easy to do at 3:53 in the dark morning. But not that day. What I was soon to find out was that this was to be the most amazing and special day of my life.

You see, to my amazement, I awoke with a full-blown idea of how to present the reading on Sunday! Don’t ask me why—I hadn’t thought of it even once since I put it away 5 days earlier. The idea was that I would make it in to a real letter! A letter, not just to the church at Thessalonica, but a real letter forwarded by that church to Zion Lutheran “the New World” Clarence Center, NY. I would print the verses in a large, old-looking script from my computer. And then to give the old letter, an old and authentic look, I would brush it with lemon juice, bake it in a slow oven, and then burn its edges. You see the “theological” point I woke up with, was that this was, in fact and like the entire Bible, a real letter to us today, not just a letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, but also to Christians in 21st Century Clarence Center. In fact, to make the letter more authentic, I would also make an aged envelope that would be originally addressed to the “Church at Thessalonica” but literally, marked as “Please forward to the Church at Clarence Center NY, New World”. The return address on the letter and envelope would be from “Paul - In prison somewhere near the Mediterranean.” All this “letter stuff” flashed through my mind in about 2 minutes.

Without any idea of where I was going at that hour, I bounded out of bed at 3:54 a.m., still on that “high,” and headed for the bathroom to shave, shower, etc. as I normally do around 6:30 a.m. It is also my habit to turn on my trusty portable radio, which I keep set to one of the National Public Radio stations in Buffalo. This night, it was set to WNED 970 AM, which carries the BBC overnight. Without any thought or control of what I was doing or where I was going at that hour, but as is my habit, at 3:55 a.m. I pushed the “ON” button on my radio. This is what I heard-----nothing more or less:

  • (Beatles sing): “As I write this letter, send my love to you”
  • (BBC announcer says): “The lost art of letter writing, no better way to express love for someone”
  • (Beatles sing): “I love you…I love you”
  • (Followed by about 20 or 30 seconds of total silence.)

If you don’t or can’t believe that was Holy God speaking to me on this brutal night, then ask yourself:

  1. Why was I assigned the reading for that week?
  2. Why was the reading from a letter of Paul’s?
  3. Why did I consider it dry?
  4. Why and how did I awaken with this full-blown thought of turning this into a “real” letter when I had much more to think about?
  5. Why and how did I wake up at 3:53 a.m. as refreshed as if it was 9 or 10 in the morning?
  6. Why did I bound out of bed and go into my “get ready for work” routine at a time that I had never done that before?
  7. Why did I even awake at precisely that hour?
  8. Why did I lay in bed thinking for a few minutes knowing I was going to get up when I normally go back to sleep or get right up (if it is 7 or even 6 a.m.)? In other words, I was not trying to go back to sleep—I was thinking about this letter, this letter, this letter!
  9. Why at the exact and only right moment did I bolt to the bathroom and hit that button on the radio at the one and only instant I could have done so to hear the first and only words I heard (and that I needed so much just then)?
  10. Is it not most interesting that the “love you” words were on the air in a form that I could not possibly miss? Spoken words could have been missed, but to one who grew up in the ’60s, the words sung in a tune burned into the soundtrack of my youth could not possibly be missed.
  11. Why did all the things (mostly strange and abnormal even when considered each alone), 1-10, all happen in perfect sequence and timing?

I think the only conclusion is that God was speaking clearly, plainly, and directly to me the words I so desperately needed right then. Wow—God speaking to me!! What an awesome and humbling thought.

What an awesome God!

Yes, He is there—caring for sinners such as you and I, right now, in this life and into the next.

I hope that hearing this true story will help you on your journey to finding out who God is, what kind of a God we have, and even indeed, that there is a loving and caring God. I can further report that He has even turned my sickness into countless blessings to me. In short, I have been completely healed by God (that is, my spirit, the more important part of me and you). Whether or not a bodily cure is in God’s plan for me, I do not know. After all, we know that God did not create a giant video game here on earth for himself, when he created nature, physical things and beings and even gave human’s free will. Thus, he graciously does not control every natural or physical thing that happens here with the click of a mouse, even though he could. But I can tell you for sure that I would never in a million years exchange my spiritual healing for a bodily cure. Praise and thank God with me—I have been healed, completely and immediately (that same night I learned of my disease). What an awesome God.

Finally, please remember that I am a bit player in this wonderful story. Truly it is about God and the wonderful way He cares for all of you and even me, one of the chief of sinners.