May 9, 1996, St. Simons Island, GA
A dozen years … that’s quite a long time. It’s 11:11 PM EST right now as I type this, and I can tell you exactly what I was doing 12 years ago.
I’d just laid down in my bed over in Apt. W-16 of what was then called “Windsong Apartments” on St. Simons Island. It was a normal night, a normal day – but something changed all of a sudden.
As I began to relax and settle in for a great night’s sleep, my room got darker. It was as if someone covered a window – it was already dark, but now it was blacker than any black I’ve ever seen … or felt. Felt – that’s right, I could feel it. Now I’m short of breath. It’s as if I’m being choked. My heart is racing.
In my mind’s eye, I see death. I see it everywhere. I am afraid to close my eyes, because with each time I close my eyes I see mental images of those I love, but they are dead.
I’ve already been a Christian for quite some time … and by God’s Holy Spirit, living in me, I realize that this is the most horrific spiritual encounter I’ve ever been a part of. Still to this day, I’ve never experienced anything like this.
Not knowing what else to do, I just pray. I find my Bible and begin to read the Scripture aloud. I hope I don’t wake up Edward, my roommate in the next room over. Maybe I should? I fear if I lose focus even for a moment, it could be all over.
Minutes pass. Thirty minutes pass. Hours pass. I pace the floor of my small bedroom overlooking the back pool. I pray in the natural. I pray in the Spirit. I read the Word aloud. I declare the Psalms. I battle like I’ve never battled before.
May 10, 1996, St. Simons Island, GA
It’s now around 1:00 AM. This has been going on for quite some time. Just now, my phone rings.
The phone rings ….
Only one time. How could the phone only ring one time when it would’ve taken days to download the wave of thoughts and emotions coming over me and rushing through my mind as I look at that phone. Nobody calls me at 1:00 AM. This is the call. Someone I love has passed.
A quiet voice on the other side seems excited that I’d answered. It was my former Pastor and boss, Craig Walker.
(Craig) Fred, you answered on the first ring, I knew it – what’s going on?
(Me, voice shaking) Um, Craig … hey, man, I dunno, something’s up, and it’s big, I’m praying.
(Craig) Fred, the Holy Spirit woke Lezli and I up, and told us to CALL YOU and PRAY.
(Me, somewhat encouraged) Craig, I’m literally pacing the floor in my bedroom in my underwear!
(Craig) let’s pray.
And pray we did. For another 15-30 minutes. Finally, we both sensed a peace. The heaviness lifted. It was as if I’d been visited by the very Angel of Death. Or maybe I’d been given a glimpse into the heavenly realm where demonic and angelic battles happen daily, witnessing this Messenger of Death carrying out attempting to carry out his deed.
I write in my little journal, “May 10th, something is happening, and all I know to do is pray and rebuke death. Something is going on out there”. (paraphrased, sadly, I can’t find that journal now).
Sometime early 1998:
So this incredible gal named Joy has moved to St. Simons Island. Although I knew her in college, we were only casual acquaintances who attended the same college ministry. She went to Virginia. I went to Mississippi. Now she’s in my arms, we are dating, and I’m thoroughly convinced that I’m holding the woman that God has destined to be my wife.
I don’t remember what sparked the conversation, but I share this story with her. Something inside of her won’t accept this as just another one of “fred’s stories”, and oh, there are many. This one seems special. In a cautious reaching out, Joy says “it would be cool if that prayer was for me”.
I’ll never forget my response – probably too bold and premature for a woman who’s been hurt and disappointed by love. I said “yes, maybe I was warring in the Spirit for the life of my future wife without even realizing it”.
The next day I searched and found this journal that so easily escapes me. I can’t wait to call …
(Me) Joy, what was the date … can you look up your insurance records, can you ask your mom and dad …”?
(Joy, rather quickly) Oh, I don’t have to look it up. I’ll never forget it. It was May 9.
May 9-10, 1996, Richmond, VA
Joy, living in Virginia, far away from me, from my mind, from my heart, separated from a heart breaking, broken marriage, gets that phone call.
“Joy, we’ve just gotten your blood lab results back. You are very sick. You have acute leukemia, and you may not live. You need to be in Atlanta at Emory University Hospital tomorrow. Pack your bags. Leave immediately.”
Joy’s prognosis was bleak. She had just been diagnosed with a disease that the statistics say will kill her at any time. If the disease doesn’t kill her, the treatment is just as bad.
491 miles away … and nearly 2 full years before I’d even set eyes on the woman of my dreams … God moved. He rallied. Prayers were shot into the heavenly realm like bullets. God won. Jesus won.
“by His stripes, we are Healed”. (1 Peter 2:24b, YouVersion.Com)
I praise God for that night. I praise God for the backup support of my eternal friend and brother in Christ, Craig Walker. I praise God for the Wilbanks’ family who never wavered in their faith. I praise God for my own parents and family who heard of my encounter the next morning and continued praying.
And most of all, I praise God for my wife, Joy.
For her tenacity.
I was never there in her hospital room. I never held her during nearly 6+ mos of in-and-out chemo treatments, as she wasn’t mine. I didn’t share her tears. I didn’t share her pain. I couldn’t be there to comfort her after bone marrow biopsies, losing her hair, and fighting the doubts everytime one of the people in the rooms down the hall passed on into eternity.
I’ve heard all of the stories, though. Of how she refused to be negative. Of how she had God’s healing Word taped on index cards all over her IV pole and chemo caths. Of how her Dad would preach “sunday service” in the hall for the other patients. Of how no crying or sadness was allowed in that room – only faith, confidence, joy, and belief.
Nearly (10) years of marriage and (4) beautiful kids later, I will never forget how blessed we are.
God is Good. All the time.
The next time you feel compelled to pray, will you do it?