I took up the scrap of paper that had been left on the kitchen bench and read the words written by my husband: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).
For some reason, George, who was attending meetings a couple of hours’ drive away, had come home to leave a message at a time he knew I wouldn’t be there. He must have thought it important to do so.
I thought the Bible verse he shared was a good promise, and kept the paper. At the time, I was not feeling too well. There were no specific symptoms that could be diagnosed—just a melancholy feeling. My doctor had prescribed anti-depressant tablets, but these only made me feel worse.
The crunch came one morning when I was on my way to meet with three of my girlfriends. (We met every month in each other’s homes to study the Bible and pray for one another.) I was already in my car, about to drive off when I was halted by a strong inner urge to “get Fay’s telephone number.” This was back in 1985, when we didn’t have mobile phones with contact lists stored in them.
Reluctantly, I turned off the engine of my car, returned to the house, scribbled her number on a piece of paper, stuffed it in my jacket pocket, then got back in my car and drove off. A few minutes later, I was halted by some lights at a busy intersection—and blacked out.
“Mrs O’Neill, you’re at the hospital,” a nurse said as I regained consciousness. In front of me stood a police officer, who had come to run a blood alcohol test on me!
“What happened?” I asked him.
“You seem to have had some kind of a car accident,” he told me.
“Have I hurt anyone?” I asked.
The relief I felt was enormous.
I then asked for a telephone so that I could tell my friends who had been expecting me where I was. I took Fay’s telephone number from my jacket pocket (was this the reason I had to go back to my house?), called her and explained my dilemma.
“We’ve been wondering why you hadn’t come,” she told me. “We’ll pray for you.”
Next, I phoned my husband, who by this time had returned home, and told him what had happened. He said, “I’ll come at once!”
In the hospital, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. For the first time, I faced my mortality. I knew that if the tumour was malignant, there would be little hope of survival. But surgery was scheduled and the surgeon came to see me.
After talking to my husband and me, he looked at me and said, “Mrs O’Neill, my wife and I have shared your teaching.”
He then told me that his wife had been a member of a women’s Bible study group that I had led at one time. In the evenings, his wife would tell him about the group and what she had learned.
I knew that he was an excellent surgeon. Now I knew he was deeply spiritual as well. My confidence soared. Surgery followed and I came through just fine. The tumour was benign and within a week, I was able to go home.
Seven good years went by fairly uneventfully. Then one day my husband began to feel tired.
He continued his work as a minister and tried to ignore the fact that he was getting worse. However, it soon became imperative that he see a doctor and in November of that year, he was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he died three months later.
I drew comfort from the fact that in the months after his diagnosis, he saw himself as on a journey to a new and wonderful life. To enter his bedroom was to experience peace—a peace that was truly palpable.
At first, the end of his suffering brought me relief. I decided to go to England for my niece’s wedding. However, on arrival at my sister’s home, I became ill. The doctor thought I might have picked up a virus on the plane and said that I should stay in bed for a few days. This was on Sunday and the wedding was only a few days away.
I was determined to go to the wedding—after all, that was the main purpose of the trip. So on the day of the wedding, I made my way to church. As I walked down the path to the church door, I felt a surge of joy that uplifted me and I went joyfully inside to sit with the other guests.
After the wedding, I returned home and within a short time fell into a deep depression. My previous life of codependency with my husband had left me unprepared for single living. The months dragged by and I had no inclination to do anything creative. Everything was an effort.
Eventually, medical care and prayer began to ease me away from the darkness. I also read a book about depression that helped me greatly. The author urged acceptance as a basic principle for recovery.
In 1998, five years after my husband’s passing, I moved to a retirement home. A friend who was already a resident there had suggested the move and although the idea didn’t appeal greatly to me, I saw that it had advantages that living in my present home couldn’t offer.
Once there, I found it most difficult to settle in. I disliked the idea of living among “old people,” although I myself was older than some of the residents!
I made no effort to join in the activities or even to get to know the neighbours. Instead, I indulged in bouts of self-pity and anger.
One day, when I was sitting alone in my apartment, feeling sorry for myself as usual, I took up the piece of paper that my husband had left for me so many years earlier. I held it up and thought angrily, So where’s this future full of hope?
That’s when I felt the room grow very still and I was conscious of a kindly Presence. I felt as though I was a naughty child putting on a tantrum. Then the thought came to me, The future is now! I saw that I had been living unrealistically and that I must change my attitude and live in the present.
I immediately gave thanks for the retirement home and the people among whom I lived, and I began to join in the activities. I became a member of a choir and later started a creative writing group.
My life changed because I had changed.
“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”—yes, the future has become the present and it is a good life. God’s promise has come true, and I am profoundly thankful.