Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

"To live at all is miracle enough," in the words of poet Mervyn Peake. And sometimes, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the miracle is in how someone can endure suffering -- and her friends endure with her.

The sensitive feature story tells of the crisis in Rhonda Hill's life as the devout laywoman develops a brain hemorrhage. The 1,000-word article speaks of miracles, but it's more about suffering and trust.

Hill, a Lutheran official in the Milwaukee area, is the type of woman who would spend 14 weeks studying a single Bible book, Acts, with other women. She and her friends are the type to quote scripture and sing hymns all the time.

And they see God's benevolent hand, no matter what. Even at the start, when Hill started vomiting and collapsing into a chair at work.

Her friends take her to the emergency room; then the story takes a startling turn:

It was the first of many miracles, Hill, her friends and her family say. They see the hand of God — alongside those of her physicians — in every positive development, every piece of good news. Had they taken her home, as Hill had insisted, she could have lapsed into a coma, doctors told her. She could have had a stroke, or bled to death.
"One of the doctors came in here and told her she had a miracle," said Shirley Stewart, Hill's 73-year-old grandmother, who had been holding vigil in her room around the clock for days.

While the doctors test and treat, Hill's friends -- and her grandmother, a Pentecostal pastor -- hold a round of prayers, hymns and Bible readings at the hospital. And as the Journal Sentinel reports, Hill's support circle spans denominations, with bishops and pastors joining laity in the vigil:

That is reflected in the visitors who come to pray with and for her. They read Scripture and sing. Some anoint her with oil or speak in tongues. Some lay hands on her to invoke the healing power of the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn, and First Lady Judy, prayed with Hill's family at her bedside on that first day in the hospital, whispering her name into her ear to wake her after surgery.
Last Tuesday, when she was in excruciating pain, the Rev. Alexis Twito of Capitol Drive Lutheran Church held her hand and massaged her back as friend Judson Chubbuck, strummed his guitar at her bedside. A video on Facebook shows Hill quietly singing along on "To God Be the Glory."

The Journal Sentinel story is studded with pious sayings like "I just love the Lord" and "Thanks be to God every day" and "You have to place yourself fully in God's hands." Those might have read like boring clichés, except that Hill has been holding onto them as a literal matter of life and death.

Occasionally, the narrative itself goes a little overboard, as with "That love, that faith, settles like a warm blanket over Hill's room." Best to let the story tell itself.

In a story of supernatural claims, I would normally ask for counter-opinions -- you know, on matters like whether miracles really happen, or why Hill hasn't been healed, or why God allowed the brain bleed in the first place. But as I said, that isn't what this article is really about.

The story is mainly about how a woman of faith handles the kind of distress that most of us will face in one form or another. It's also about how faith may not empty a hospital bed, but it may well fill a hospital room with a community of singing, praying, loving people.

One of those, an Assembly of God bishop, says it well: "That's what the scripture tells us. When we bear and share in one another's suffering, we fulfill the love of Christ."

Despite its few small flaws, this article allows us a glimpse of a quiet community of faith, serenity, acceptance, yet one solid enough to sing in the face of life-threatening illness. Congratulations to the Journal Sentinel for publishing it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy