Dateline: 12 February 2009
I once heard the testimony of a man who was in an airplane crash. The plane caught on fire. The man got out of his seat and, with flames all about, made his way through the fuselage and out to safety. Others were severely burned. Others died. He walked through the fire and was unharmed. The man gave God the glory for preserving his life.
Such a story is a remarkable example of God’s protection over one of His own. It doesn’t always happen that way. So often, people die or are horribly hurt. But God is sovereign. He is capable of preserving a person’s life or of taking it any way that suits His plan and purposes. It’s His prerogative. The good news it that, no matter what, God promises to be there for those who are His in our times of trouble.
Miracles of protection, deliverance, and healing, against all odds, are certainly not unusual with God. They are common in the Bible. They have been common throughout the ages. They are common today. God’s mercy in the face of dangerous events has been manifest towards well-known figures in the history of the world. And His delivering mercy has extended to countless common, obscure, quiet, unheard of people who never wrote a book or gave a speech, or were interviewed on the radio about their experience. All of which brings me to my grandmother, Gertrude Lang Philbrick.
She was my mother’s mother. Her grandmother was my Great, Great Grandmother, Josephine Jordan. Gertrude was the wife of a potato farmer. She lived in northern Maine her whole life except for a few final years when she was moved to Tennessee and cared for by a daughter.
My Grammie Philbrick was a woman of faith. I have written of her once before in this essay: The Cherished Letter. In this essay, I'm going to tell you about a rare and special event that happened in my grandmother's life a long time ago. I know about this because my grandmother wrote it down. With the passing of my mother and the acquisition of her personal parers, I now have a copy of the story.
This story is a recollection of an event that happened in my grandmother’s life in 1934. She wrote about it in 1987. At that time she was 85 years old, living alone in an apartment in Blaine, Maine, just down the road from the Baptist church she attended. One daughter lived a few miles away and was there for her if she needed anything. All the rest of her children had moved far from Northern Maine and the farm life they were born into.
What prompted my grandmother to put this experience into words so late in her life? The answer is in a letter to my mother, which was included with the story. Here is what my grandmother wrote:
I’ve thought of this many times during the years and have tried to tell a few—but I felt the ones I told would look as if they thought “I was haywire.” Now I believe God is nudging me to tell. Herrick’s clippings are great. God bless him. God is using him, I’m sure.It turns out that my writings were the inspiration for my grandmother to put her story into words. As you might imagine, I got a lump in my throat when I read that. The clippings my grandmother spoke of were probably letters to the editor of a local newspaper. That was the beginning of my "career" as a writer. Some of the editorials were fairly long and published as “guest editorials.” My mother must have sent the clippings to her mother. That was 22 years ago. I was 29 years old.
Here is a picture of my grandmother’s handwritten story:
And here is the text of my grandmother’s story, which is a testimony of the Lord’s working in her life in a miraculous way. It was a story for her family. Never would she have imagined that this little story of amazing grace, wrought by the hand of God in the life of a humble farm wife, would be published today on this thing called the internet, where it is likely that hundreds, if not thousands, will read it.
53 years ago this coming fall, as usual, the farmers were hurrying to harvest their potatoes before the freezeup. We had two hired men besides our family of 8 children ranging in age from 10 months to 11 years.
In the midst of all this didn’t I get the assurance that something was amiss with me? I had no pain but when I moved a certain way, I knew I had trouble. My husband said:”You know how you feel so make an appointment and get to see a Dr.”
Instead of calling our family Dr. in Fort Fairfield, I called Dr. Summerville in Mars Hill. I had no reason for doing this, but I’m sure God did. Dr. S. didn’t know me or I him but he told me to come down in 4 days from then, at 7:30 A.M.
“Good—that’s taken care of! Now I have to get ready to leave in 4 days.” Feeling fit and able I went for it: cooking three meals a day, washing, churning, cream separator, cleaning, baths, shampoos, etc. on and on and on. Strange to think of it: I was feeling “on top of the world” and “free as a lark.”
In those 4 days I can not recall that I set down to the table to eat one meal. I didn’t have time. I would grab a swallow of milk and a bite of this or that on the run. All this time I was praying on the run (not on my knees) “Oh God, please bring me back to my children.”
The morning of the 4th day arrived and the last thing before leaving I was making beds. The two little ones slept in cribs. Jean was in the habit of getting uncovered, so I was taking extra precautions to tuck the covers in so she wouldn’t get cold and was asking God to keep her covered and warm. Therefore Jean was on my mind when I left.
Anyway, I arrived at Mrs. Long’s home‚ the only hospital Mars Hill had at the time, Dr S. and Mrs. Long met me in her kitchen and started asking questions that I couldn’t answer except that I knew something was wrong. Poor Dr. S.—he must of thought: “What is this I have on my hands?” I told him about my children and how I wanted to get back to them.
Dr. S. finally decided I wasn’t “putting on” and said, “Well there could be one of several things, so, we’ll have to go in and take a look.”
The next thing I remember: Mrs. Long was on one side of whatever I was lying on and Dr. S. on the other begging me to breathe—breathe—breathe. I thought, “Why don’t they leave me alone—I feel so good and I’m not going to breathe!!” Right then Jean’s little face came up in space and a male voice said, “You have to breathe for her!” I started breathing and have been breathing ever since.
From there I must have slept 5 or 6 hours as when I awoke Dr. S. was sitting at the head of my bed wanting to talk. He said, “I want you to know what almost happened to you. When I started to make the incision, you started hemmoraging—the blood and matter went all over Mrs. Long and me and the room. I thought I’d lost you. The blood was so much that I couldn’t see a thing. Then I thought of what you had told me about your children and wanting to get back to them and I thought I’ve got to save her. It was all by touch! Before this you failed to breathe and I thought you weren't going to start!”
Dr. S. didn’t say, but you and I know that God was guiding his hand all the way—also his mind.
Oh Lord my God How Great Thou Art!
In the letter with the story, my grandmother wrote: “I want to tell this to all my children while I’m able, so that you will all realize how close God can be. You see, I wasn’t really doing anything—God had taken it all over. I think the male voice must have been the Holy Spirit.”
My mother traveled to Tennessee to visit her "Mum" in August of 1999. By then Gertrude was in a nursing home and not well. I remember my mother telling me that she prayed with her unresponsive mother. She told her she loved her and that it was okay for her to go. Shortly thereafter, on September 6, 1999, sixty-five years after she died the first time—and didn't want to come back—Gertrude Lang Philbrick died again.
This story, giving glory to God, is a part of my grandmother's legacy.