There is something wonderful about mystery. The unexpected turns, the anonymous gift, the unidentified rescuer, the cliffhanger, all point to the allure of things hidden from our view. Mysterious moments are the ones that linger in our minds. This is the story of one of those moments.
It was a warm fall day, an afternoon filled with the constant chatter and bustling of crowds. As I walked the state fairgrounds, the enticing aroma of funnel cakes and hot dogs permeated the air. Bands played, and music from auction buildings competed for attention. Glancing down at my watch, it was time to go. Things would be beginning soon. The Oklahoma-Texas game was one where you did not want to arrive late.
Leaving the craft building, I began to pick up my pace. As I did, I felt an odd pain in my right shoulder. The discomfort was a dull ache that I initially thought to just be a “stitch in my side,” whatever that means. I’d certainly heard that phrase from my mom growing up, and although I was never taught that in medical school, I still believed there was such a thing. So, I pressed on at a rapid pace and hoped the uncomfortable feeling would go away. But alas, it did not. Instead of going away, the pain became worse. By the time I arrived at the stadium, I had begun to wonder if it was something more serious.
Meeting up with my husband and friends, we launched into the chaos of entering the stadium. This involved line standing, frisking, and producing the much sought-after tickets. All the while, taunts from both OU and Texas fans filled the air. After finally gaining our hard-fought entrance, we began navigating to the crowded stairs in the jam-packed stadium. Of course our tickets weren’t on sideline level, so I knew there would be a long hike upwards to our seats.
Not only did my shoulder hurt, but at this point, I began to feel a little short of breath. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, however, at that particular time, I was in pretty good shape. There was no reason for me to be short of breath, yet I was. A feeling of uneasiness settled over me as I climbed the ever unfolding levels of stairs. More people; more stairs. Just as we reached our level, I couldn’t climb any further.
Much to my husband and friends’ surprise, I layed down right at the top of the packed stairway, slightly gasping for air. By this point in time, I had begun pouring over in my mind the medical possibilities. After some high-level deduction, it seemed to me, for a person of my age and my history, it had to be one of three things: a pulmonary embolism, a spontaneous pneumothorax, or the remaining “stitch in the side.” Against the odds, I chose to go with the non-emergent “stitch in the side.” Following a five-minute breather on the steps, we made our way to our seats and sat down amidst the rocking Boomer Sooner chants.
I have to say, even as I look back, the whole first half is as much of a blur now as it was then. The memory of my right shoulder pain and shortness of breath is all I remember, other than having to sit leaning forward. Leaning forward somehow made it easier to take a breath. Oh yes, and I remember the heat and the background noise of cheering fans. I was quite proud that I made it to halftime. There could be nothing more lame than having to drag my husband and friends away from a game that had always been considered an epic rivalry. However, I had to do something.
The thing I decided to do was get out of my seat and head underneath the bleachers where there was shade. And there were medics. Because you just never know when you’re going to need a medic.
Once I arrived in the belly of the stadium, I stood there, alone, and to be honest, afraid. The worse you feel, the more fear tends to settle in. I imagined a complete go-down and the dreaded team of 911 medics around me trying to get me out of a crowded stadium. I was scared that it might not be the minor option #3, but a pulmonary embolism or a pneumothorax. Whatever it was, I needed help. We all know help comes in a lot of different forms. Mine came with the sound of my name.
The hot air filled with the echoey sound of “Martha.” At first, I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, or if it was truly even real. Perhaps I had become hypoxic and was imagining someone calling my name. But it was real. It came from above me, from a couple standing by an exit from the bleachers. My vision began to focus and I realized it was Bennett who called my name. Bennett and I had gone through medical school together and although we rarely see each other, medical school is definitely a bonding experience. He was there at the game with his wife Lori, who is always graciously kind. The two of them began making their way down the exit ramp and arrived by my side.
The first thing I remember from our exchange was Bennett asking if I was alright. I’m sure I looked the way I felt, which was not well. And I am certain I looked worried, because I was. One thing to know about me, is if you ask how I am doing, I will always give you a genuine answer. I’m never one for pretending. I believe life is way too short for that kind of business. So, although I don’t actually remember what I said, I’m sure I made it clear that I was having trouble breathing and that my right shoulder hurt.
I was lucky that day, and I knew it. You see, Bennett had gone on to do a residency in anesthesiology after medical school. If anyone knows how to handle an airway and ventilation, it’s an anesthesiologist. Although it hadn’t gotten any easier to breathe, I immediately felt better.
Bennett tracked down a medic and borrowed his stethoscope while Lori waited with me. He listened to my lungs, checked my pulse, and honestly, I don’t remember what else he did. I only know that it’s good to have your own personal physician when you need it. And I’ll give you the findings in just a few minutes, but before that, I want to get to the important part of the story.
The game had ended and I felt like I had won just by making it to the final buzzer. Reunited with my group, all I needed was to travel through the fairgrounds to the car. As I left that day, there was something about the encounter with Bennett that was unique. It had a characteristic that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Lingering, in a mysterious kind of way. Whatever the description might be, perhaps its best summation would be the gesture of a good friend’s genuine concern during a very difficult time. Maybe that’s what we all really need. Just to know someone genuinely cares about our situation even if the circumstances don’t change.
But all the same, the mysterious lingering effect didn’t leave. I thought about it for several weeks. It’s that feeling there is something more but whenever you try to grasp it, there is only elusiveness. Just now, I had to look up “elusiveness.” The definition is fitting. To elude – 1. tending to evade grasp, 2. hard to comprehend or define, and 3. hard to isolate or identify. Isn’t it true, a lot of things in life fit into that category?
The place or situation where I found my explanation evades me (you can see I like that word now). But in another mysterious encounter, I discovered the answer.
Sometimes I hear things, but they’re not really voices. They are like thoughts that come across really loud and out of nowhere. It’s not like I come up with the thoughts or even expect them. It’s like they come out of nowhere and many times are things I would rather not know. Sometimes, they prompt me to admit I might actually be wrong about something and need to apologize, or that I need to do something hard rather than hiding behind a busy schedule. Those types of things. But sometimes they are good things too. This particular time, I’d say it was a really good thing. What came across loud and clear in my mind as I thought about the encounter, were the following words.
“That was me.”
Now to most people that may not make sense. But to me, it did. Because the person I am having a conversation with in those circumstances, is Jesus. Any person whose name is “The Word” can certainly manage to carry on a great conversation. Not only a great conversation but a great encounter.
That afternoon, I realized the real person I had an encounter with at the stadium, was Jesus. He called my name in that crowded stadium when I needed help. His voice pierced through the blaring bands and noisy fans to reach me. He stood by my side when I was scared and subdued the fear. And His presence gave me confidence that no matter what happened, I was in safe hands.
The encounter made me look back over my life and appreciate all the other times He has shown up, unexpectedly working through circumstances or people to reach me. We often miss the real person we are having an encounter with because we are distracted. Yet, perhaps our lives are much like the book of Esther. It is one of only two books in scripture that does not mention God in the entire book. But although His name is never mentioned, his presence and sovereignty stands out as He works behind the scenes to accomplish the most amazing story. Mysteriously, yet powerfully.
So, a big thank you to Bennett, who was Jesus to me that day. And a thank you to so many others who have done the very same thing at different points in my life. You’ve made my life beautiful and encouraged me to reach out to others even when it’s uncomfortable. Because nothing is more powerful than being Jesus to someone else.
Oh, but before the story ends, I need to tell you what the medical diagnosis was for the mysterious chest pain and difficulty breathing. For those of you who guessed just a “stitch in the side,” you were incorrect, as I was. Spontaneous pneumothorax was the accurate diagnosis.
For the official ending of the story, I thought I would close with some of the lyrics to Phil Wickham’s song, “It’s Always Been You.” The words are appropriate for the story. And if you’ve had an experience where Jesus showed up in your life, feel free to leave your encounter in the comments. Now on to the lyrics!
Who stood with me in the fire?
It was You, it was always You
Who pulled me out of the water?
It was You, it was always You
And who carried me on their shoulders?
It was You, I know it’s You
You are the voice that calms the storm inside me
Castle walls that stand around me
All this time, my guardian was You
You are the light that shines in every tunnel
There in the past, You’ll be there tomorrow
All my life, Your love was breaking through
It’s always been You
“That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But they were kept from recognizing him….. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Luke 24:13-15(NLT) 16, 28-31(NIV)
“Mary Magdalene stood crying outside the tomb…she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. But she did not know who he was. Jesus asked her, ‘Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’ She thought he was the gardener and said, ‘Sir, if you have taken his body away, please tell me, so I can go and get him.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him, ‘Rabboni.’ The Aramaic word Rabboni means Teacher.” John 20:11, 14-16 (CEV)
And just for fun, in case you’re interested in just how big the O.U. Texas game is…….
For another Uncommon Story with mystery, try Unopened Letters.
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