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Faces of Our Ministries: Bill Britton

Part 1 – Mugwump the Magnificent

I was in the 6th grade Sunday school class at Trinity Episcopal Church in Highland Park Illinois. It was 1947. Our teacher was Mr. Hefner. He had assigned the burning bush story, beginning at Exodus 3:1, etc I read the account. Mr. Hefner had accepted the challenge of convincing us that we should give credence to the writings attributed to an accused murderer who talks with a bush that burns without being consumed by the fire. Lots of luck Mr. Hefner!

Moses expected that no one would follow him without learning God’s name. God replied “I am who I am.”

It suddenly occurred to me that if people invented God, he or she would have been named “Mugwump the Magnificent” or some such. “I am,” I knew with certainty, was not a name people would have given to God. Moreover the name “I am” could only describe a being outside the prison of time in which we mortals dwell. This God truly is! This is the story of my first epiphany.

I must confess that in spite of this experience I’ve not lived a perfect life. I have used the God-given free will to deviate from the “path of righteousness” on many occasions. This treatise is not a confessional however. It is an expression of gratitude for the many times God has directly entered my life to rescue me. It is also my prayer of gratitude for God’s continued blessings now and for the remainder of my mortal life.

Part 2 – A Divine Light

Fast forward to December 13th, 1966. By now I have married Carol and we are blessed with the birth of our first child Sara. I have been warned by friends not to expect to bond with her immediately, that it would take a few months, and not to worry.

I made the usual calls to alert the families of the event and “mother and baby doing fine.”

I next visited the newborn viewing room, picked up the Girl Britton card and the nurse picked up Sara and showed her to me.

It was instantaneous. I suddenly felt a surge of agape love which I never felt before, as the source of such love. At the same instant, I realized that God, always near, had been offering that same love to me, which I had ignored. I sat, stunned by the event, and by the awe which overwhelmed me.

In the winter of 1974 my oldest daughter Sara faced a critical illness. She was barely eight years old.

Sara had played at the home of a friend whose dog had been treated for an infection with a variety of antibiotics but never quite long enough to cure that infection. Sara developed an infection in her mastoid – the part of the skull immediately behind the ear. She was hospitalized with a fever which plateaued, then rose again, again plateaued, repeatedly until it reached a dangerously high level. None of the antibiotics had any effect on her infection. Surgery was planned to remove the infected bone.

Earlier, Sara’s mother had made a dress for her, a black jumper with an embroidered collar and trim. Just before Sara entered the hospital, her mother had a nightmare and what she saw was Sara, wearing that dress in her coffin.

I went to the hospital chapel to pray, but my heart was too overcome by dread to articulate a prayer.

I spent the night before the scheduled surgery in a chair in Sara’s room. I dozed from time to time, listening to Sara’s difficult breathing. At about 2:30 that morning I found myself fully awakened, suddenly but not startled. Although the room was lit only by a night light and the lights of the instruments, it was brightly illuminated by something other than light and I saw more clearly than I could have seen by light. I saw nothing resembling the human figure, but I was certain, more certain than I have ever felt about anything before since, that Sara and I were not alone in that room. I felt the certainty of the presence of a completely benign Person and I found myself totally at peace.

I went to Sara’s bed. I was triumphantly confident that, when I checked, her fever would be gone. I put my hand on her forehead, which now was cool. Her breathing was soft and easy.

I will worship forever He who visited Sara and me that morning.

Later, we learned from a culture that the antibiotics used had no effect on Sara’s infection and that she had undiagnosed pneumonia. It is doubtful she could have survived the surgery.

Part 3 – 13 Weeks with Clara

After the failure of my first marriage, I married Kathy. We were blessed with a daughter Clara. At birth she cried constantly from ceaseless pain of varying degrees. I believe she had suffered in utero pain before birth. She was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis at birth but the pain was not treated until a cat-scan in the spring of 1991 showed a cancerous tumor just above her brain stem. She received morphine and for the first time in her life she was without pain. She was then not quite four years old. Her personality began to emerge to our delight.

She developed hydrocephalus controlled by shunt, and was treated with focused radiation. This resulted in accelerating the tumor growth and her condition deteriorated rapidly. We took her home to wait her death.

On July 21^st, however, Clara gave out a yelp and then begin to laugh! This would remain Yelp Sunday for the rest of my days.

Clara began to improve. She recovered her gag reflex and could eat again. She recovered her speech. Her left side paralysis abated and she had limited voluntary use of her left leg and left arm.

After thirteen weeks, improvements ceased. Her tumor resumed its rapid growth. Part of the tumor had grown into an accessible area and was removed by surgery. Chemotherapy was attempted to no avail.

For Halloween, Kathy made a clown costume for Clara which she wore to a hospital party. She enjoyed the party and was amused by the other children but got tired and left early.

On Friday November 1st at around 4 a.m. she developed a fever and high blood pressure. She was transfused to restore her white blood cells but it didn’t help. We lost her at about noon on All Saints Day.

During her final hospitalization, a seagull had visited Clara’s window on a daily basis. Just as she died, the seagull visited, made a fuss and flew away.

Part 4 – Cigarettes and Lost Keys

In 1956 I began smoking cigarettes and became a promptly addicted. Over the next 39 years I tried repeatedly to quit sometimes briefly successful but not for long. On October 4th 1995, I became very sick. I was also running out of cigarettes and had no way to get to the store. Somehow, in a fevered state, it occurred to me to try once more to quit. I crawled over to the commode and dumped my last three cigarettes in the bowl with contents of the ashtray and prayed “Jesus I have tried the patch, hypnosis, willpower and prayer and failed. Please do it for me.” Since that instant I have not had a conscious desire for cigarette. For several years afterward I dreamed about smoking sometimes vividly but have not smoked since that date. The rescue of Sara is easily the most dramatic event in my life thus far. But God’s intercession is not limited to the events of monumental scope. It is available for less grand events. An example is a finding of my lost keys. In 1996 I had a practice or riding my bicycle over a hundred more miles per week. I put my keys in the pocket of the tool bag. On my return, I discovered that my keys were lost. I had no way to get into my apartment or use my car. I retraced my route, hoping my keys would be in plain view, somehow not hidden by the freshly fallen leaves. The weather has been overcast with occasional sun breaks with variable wind gusts. It seemed hopeless. I prayed for God’s help. In an instant, a ray of sunlight shown on my keys exposed, from the leaves by gust of wind.

Part 5 – A Consoling Arm Around My Shoulders

In 2001 I was living aboard an old wooden cruiser. Sitting at the table I prayed for understanding why God rescued Sara and preserve her to that same hour but granted Clara only a brief remission of thirteen weeks.

I felt as if I was not alone. The Person reminded me of my first epiphany and explained that for God thirteen weeks and thirteen decades are the same. I felt a consoling arm around my shoulders and I was at peace.

I now recognize that remission gave Clara’s personality an opportunity to display itself in the absence of pain. She fought her disease and briefly kept it at bay, even achieving an improvement in her symptoms. I am grateful to God for letting me be her daddy.