Touched by Heaven

This is an entry that has been a long time coming.  Depending on your perspective, the origins of this God-incidence took place in June of 2007 at the earliest, or in September of 2018 at the latest.  In either case, it has taken me over a year to get off my butt, gather up all my thoughts, and put fingers to keyboard. I started writing an early draft this entry more than a year ago, but I did not get it finished to my liking. While I never officially “abandoned” it, I did let it remain dormant for much longer than I should have. I hope I to make amends for that now by finally finishing and publishing it…

Medical experts say that you should never take your smartphone with you to bed. Apparently the light emitted from your phone can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythms and disrupt your sleep. Most reports recommend that you should be phone free for at least 30 – 60 minutes before you shut your eyes for the night. But like so many others, I have become quite attached to my phone and the unfettered access to information it provides.  I am not 24/7 connected to Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media apps.  Most of the time I spend on my phone is really just me trying to earn a buck or two or some fractions of a bitcoin. I’ve downloaded many different apps that pay me to watch ads or complete certain tasks to that end. I suppose that is how I rationalize to myself that my screen time is more valuable and acceptable than the Snapchatting TikTokker. But despite my self-righteousness, I must also admit that sometimes at night before bed I also like to browse YouTube videos on my phone.

Before I was married, and before I had a smartphone, I always enjoyed going to sleep (and waking up) to the sounds and voices of talk radio.  I routinely listened to my bedroom clock radio on a sleep timer at night – I first tuned in to the Toledo AM talk radio station that I had grown used to in law school and later transitioned over to a Cleveland station at some point after moving to Sandusky. I also set up my living room stereo to turn itself on at 5:00 a.m. – tuned to NPR – so that I could hear the early morning news filter in to me as I stirred even before my bedside alarm clock rudely informed me that it was time to rise and start getting ready for the day.  Radio news broadcasts and talk radio’s exchange of ideas always appealed to me more than listening to music — although I do still love to listen to a lot of music from my 70s and 80s playlists.  There is a time for everything.

One of the radio shows I sometimes listened to when hit with late night insomnia was Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell (later/currently hosted by George Noory). Sometimes the topics discussed and the guests interviewed were a bit bizarre to say the least, but that was the overnight show that aired on the AM stations I already listened to – so it was on by default if I was still awake past midnight.

After I got married, my night time radio habits changed. When you have another person next to you in the bed who is a very light sleeper, there are some things more important than the sound of over night talk radio or the early morning news. So my familiar night time noise stopped. I was never upset or bitter about it, but there were some times I must admit when I really missed my old routine.

We were just shy of our one year anniversary when my wife and I were blessed with a new child – in addition to my teen age step-daughter (who I’ve rarely ever referred to as a step-child).  While generally healthy, our baby had several instances where she experienced very high fevers over her first few years. She was never overly cranky and we sometimes didn’t even know she wasn’t feeling well until lifting her up from her crib and feeling the heat of the fever coming off of her skin or through her pajamas.

I still remember like it was yesterday, the night that I went to pick up her big sister from work after ending her shift bussing tables a local restaurant. It started out just like any other normal night, but it ended far from normal. My daughter and I came home to the sight of ambulance lights piercing through the darkness on our street – only to find the paramedics inside our house as we came in the front door. I heard my wife’s miraculously calm voice explaining to the paramedics how our baby’s lips had turned blue and her eyes rolled back into her head – prompting her 9-1-1 call.  Just 15 minutes earlier, as I was going out the door, my wife and I were both oblivious that a fever was even brewing.

Our house is only a few hundred yards from the local hospital. Once we were there, the ER staff was quickly able to get her fever down to a more manageable level. The high fever had brought on a febrile seizure; the fever itself a result of an infection that we were completely unaware of and was easily treated with an antibiotic. It hadn’t made her overly fussy and the fever escalated fairly rapidly, so we really had no early warning signs. But Thanks Be To God, we came home with much more peace of mind than we left. She had several other high fevers during her infancy and toddlerhood, but thankfully none that required any other calls to 9-1-1.

Around that same time, some friends of ours from church, who were both on our parish Social Concerns committee with me, had a teenage son who had missed significant time in high school that year due to migraine headaches. They had taken him to see several local doctors and other more distant specialists, but none were able to relieve him of his headaches.  That all changed when they were able to get an appointment with a Cleveland area doctor – Issam Nemeh.  (It is pronounced NAY-mee).

Without going into tremendous detail, Dr. Nemeh is probably best described as a faith healer, but he does hold a conventional medical license and has a normal medical practice. Through faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, many sick people who have gone to Dr. Nemeh claim to have been miraculously healed. Dr. Nemeh makes no claims that he plays a primary or direct role in these healings. Instead he declares that God is the one performing miracles. Not everyone who goes to Dr. Nemeh experiences a full blown like-Jesus-in-the-Bible miracle healing, but many have come away with amazing stories.

I’m not going to lie.  I really have no reason to.  When my friends talked about how Dr. Nemeh healed their son’s headaches simply by prayer and touch from his hands, I was skeptical, but polite.  That sort of thing just doesn’t happen!  Yeah, sure… it may have happened 2,000 years ago with a few lepers and a blind man in the Bible, but that was with Jesus!  This doctor wasn’t Jesus and their son didn’t suffer from leprosy or blindness!  But I still remember how insistent my friend was about the whole experience and how excited she was that her son was able to return to school and wouldn’t have to repeat that school year due to too many migraine headache absences. She was convinced that Dr. Nemeh was the real deal and she even talked about how influential a local radio host was in getting the word out about this wonderful faith healer.  She would say, “You know! Trapper Jack! The morning radio guy in Cleveland!”  Although I wasn’t listening through the night any longer, I was still a talk radio nut and my go to AM talk station was based out of Cleveland – but I had never heard of Trapper Jack before in my life, and quite frankly I hadn’t heard of him a whole lot since.  He was on the FM side of things.

Inspired by how Dr. Nemeh was able to help their son, my friends worked very hard to arrange for Dr. Nemeh to come to our parish in Sandusky to perform a prayer and healing session.  While he maintained a dedicated medical practice in the Cleveland area where he met one on one with patients, like my friends’ son – he also went out to different area churches to do larger communal sessions.  In June of 2007, and again in October of that same year, Dr. Nemeh came to Sts. Peter & Paul parish in Sandusky, Ohio to pray over all in attendance. I don’t recall there being any charge to attend, but only a limited number of tickets were issued to manage crowd control and logistics.

Without getting into all of the mechanics of what and how it all happened – those who obtained a ticket to the event (and there were a lot of people there!) were called forward in small groups and were made to stand in rows. Meanwhile, Dr. Nemeh moved back and forth up and down the rows of people praying over each person individually. You did not have to be noticeably sick or experiencing specific pain to be prayed over. There was no communication or diagnosis and not once did Dr. Nemeh say: “tell me where it hurts.” It was simply a brief personal encounter for each person with Dr. Nemeh who prayed over them, laid on his hands on them, and moved on to the next person. Most of those encounters lasted for only a few seconds. My own personal experience was probably 5-10 seconds at most.

It is hard to explain the actual experience and sensation. If you have ever seen or experienced the phenomenon of being Slain by the Spirit (Google that phrase if you are not familiar with it), that is the best way I can explain what happened in the presence of Dr. Nemeh and his prayer. I was not suffering from any specific ailments at the time, but I was a willing participant in the two sessions with Dr. Nemeh at my parish in 2007.  Both times, within mere seconds of Dr. Nemeh praying over me personally, I crumpled to the floor and recall trying to regain my bearings to sit up.  He didn’t clobber me over the head with a heavy object. He didn’t forcibly shove me to the ground with a booming voice and dramatic hand gestures. He didn’t use any smoke or mirrors. He simply prayed over me, touched me gently on the forehead, and down I went (along with just about every other person in attendance those two days). And I felt an overwhelming sense of peace in that moment.

Some skeptics will conclude that the power of suggestion and witnessing so many other people collapsing to the carpet before me somehow psyched me into experiencing that same result. I would agree that sometimes our minds can play tricks on us and that the collective power of suggestion can be quite significant at times. But for those skeptics, let me hit you back with this truth.  Just before Dr. Nemeh came to my place in line, he was to my immediate right, where my wife was standing holding our 9 month old daughter in her arms. I still vividly recall the very warm smile that came across Dr. Nemeh’s face as he saw my little girl. He prayed over her and she suddenly went as limp as a blanket as my wife continued to hold her. You can make any number of assumptions or accusations when it comes to the reaction of grown adults witnessing those around them being “Slain in the Spirit.” But I have serious doubts that a 9 month old baby is aware enough of her surroundings to be psyched into the same reaction.  To this day, my wife still distinctly remembers the feeling of holding our daughter and the sensation in one moment that she simply turned into a limp pile of towels in her arms. There were some other’s nearby who also witnessed our daughter’s response. It was legitimate.

I have no idea if Dr. Nemeh’s prayer had any immediate or lasting effect on my daughter or her health, and that’s not really the point. This happened nearly 13 years ago and I cannot recall at this point if the fever that led to the 9-1-1 call happened before or after June of 2007. But that really doesn’t matter at this point as she is a healthy and happy child – now several months into her teenage years.

I started out this post contemplating the question of whether taking your phone to bed is really such a bad habit.  I suppose I would agree that it is probably a bad idea if you are actively using the screen when your eyes need some darkness and down time.  But five or ten years ago, I got the bright idea of popping in soft earbuds and listening to music or podcasts or talk radio as I drift off to sleep.  It doesn’t disturb my wife and it helps me to do my final unwind of the night in a way very similar to how I used to.

One night in the fall of 2018 was no different. I don’t remember what I fell asleep listening to. Most likely a familiar podcast in my play list. In the middle of the night I woke up wide awake (which is fairly unusual for me). It wasn’t a situation where I was in a night haze and had just slightly stirred myself awake. I was eyes wide open, fully aware of my surroundings, BAM awake!  I could tell that I was not going to just roll over and fall right back to sleep, but it was still much too early to get up and start my day. I immediately began to wonder what audio I could play in my earbuds to assist me in falling back to sleep. Something (or someone) put the idea into my head to tune in the AM radio and see if anything interesting was on Coast to Coast AM.  I rarely ever listen to that program anymore. Maybe once or twice a year, if that.  I just have so many other podcasts that I like to listen to on demand I guess.

So I opened up the IHeartRadio app and tuned in to my favorite station and I listened with interest as George Noory’s guest talked about Our Lady of Guadalupe and her appearance to Juan Diego. Keep in mind that the discussions on this program typically run the full gamut of the unexplained. Bigfoot, space aliens, ghosts, psychics, conspiracy theories; they cover all of the bases. Was it just a coincidence that on this particular night, the guest to the show had a strong religious message about the Blessed Mother? In the process of the interview, he plugged his podcast called Touched by Heaven. So I wrote myself a short reminder in my phone calendar to search for that podcast. Even though I hadn’t thought it was possible a few minutes earlier, I slowly drifted off back to sleep as George and his guest continued their interview.  A few days later, I did a search and listened to the most recent episode of Touched by Heaven. I immediately knew it would make a perfect addition to my listening portfolio and that the experience of discovering it ‘out of the blue’ should be my next entry in this blog. 

As is often the case, life got in the way. Several months went by without much action on my part – I neither wrote a blog post nor did I listen to any further Touched by Heaven episodes.  I subscribed to the podcast so that I wouldn’t forget it was there, but I always seemed to be too busy or involved in another series to listen to it.

Finally, one early Sunday morning about a year ago, I decided to take my morning walk. I often just walk out my front door and around town … but on this particular day I decided (in other words someone else suggested and gently directed me) to drive out to Sheldon’s Marsh – the area where I proposed to my wife.  As I started my walk, I decided (in other words someone else suggested and gently directed me) to give Touched by Heaven another try. I decided to start with episode one and listen through them all in order.

At that time, I had just started writing a post in another blog that I keep (and will make a shameless plug to it here) which discussed two of my favorite ways to pass the time – walking and podcast listening – and a way to earn money by doing both. (Unfortunately between then and now, the paid-to-listen-to-podcasts app is no longer active). But at the time I figured listening to multiple episodes of Touched by Heaven was a great way to get started with that podcast app.

Right from the get go, the podcast spoke to me and spoke to the motivation behind this blog. It was perfect – the podcast’s tagline was “Everyday Encounters with God… those moments when Heaven and Earth collide.” If it wasn’t already taken, that could easily be the tagline for this No Coincidences blog! I knew in that moment of walking at Sheldon’s Marsh and listening to Touched by Heaven that this was something I needed to share. I knew that it was no coincidence several months earlier when I was awakened out of a dead sleep and the idea popped into my head to listen to Coast to Coast AM. I knew that it was no coincidence that I tuned in just minutes before the show guest plugged his podcast — shortly before I then went back to sleep.

There were several points in that first episode that spoke to me personally that day at Sheldon’s Marsh and I was hooked. The host also made a vague general reference to a former podcast he did called Blind Faith Live — another that I had never heard of, but I made a mental note to take give it a listen in the future.

At another point during that first walk with Touched by Heaven, I was walking along the beach when I heard a reference to taking up your cross. At that very moment about 20 – 30 feet away from me was a sun bleached piece of driftwood. It wasn’t a cross, but was very conspicuously the only piece of driftwood on the entire beach that I could see, and it was just a few yards away from me. It was a relatively long and straight piece of wood, maybe about 50 inches long. It wasn’t thick enough or heavy enough to be a great walking stick or to form a sturdy cross, but I still felt drawn to pick it up and carry it home. It has since become a symbolic “coincidence” cross for me that I keep as a visual reminder near my front door.

I TRULY just intended to take a blog photo of the stick I found when I set it on the carpet in the middle of our living room floor and snapped a photo. It was not strategically placed and I never even noticed the vertical impression in the carpet until I pulled up the photo later to upload here. Coincidence?

It was in one of the other early episodes, I forget which one, that I finally made the connection of why the name of the host of Touched by Heaven sounded so distantly familiar. Blind Faith Live, like Touched by Heaven, was a podcast hosted by Philip Keller, better known by his radio name: Trapper Jack. Remember him? He was the guy I had never heard of prior to (or since) 2007 when my friend so enthusiastically plugged the work of Dr. Nemeh. The Blind Faith Live podcast (with the tagline Real People. Real Miracles.) followed Trapper Jack’s interviews with hundreds of people who had experienced Dr. Nemeh’s faith healings.

The man whose new faith filled podcast I’d found by “coincidence and chance” a few months earlier after being roused from my sleep was the same man my friend enthusiastically referred to 13 years ago as a passionate proponent of Dr. Nemeh.

With weekly episodes of Touched by Heaven (that I have fallen behind on) and several other podcasts in my queue, I have yet to listen to any full episodes of Blind Faith Live. But there was another reference to it in episode 53 of Touched by Heaven at the 23:30 mark when Cleveland meteorologist Hollie Strano shared her story of her experience with Dr. Nemeh.

One thing I can say about Trapper Jack and his podcast is that he does not come across as preachy or judgmental or authoritative. He is just a regular guy on the same journey of faith as many of the rest of us. He is Catholic and is proud of his Catholic faith. Many times in Touched by Heaven he endorses the merits and power of praying the Rosary. (My most recent post to the blog – Exercise for the Soul – about finding a rosary ring is actually what reminded and nudged me to finish writing and publish this post). But despite that Catholic angle, Touched by Heaven is not a Catholics only podcast – far from it. Trapper Jack is quite clear in his belief that we are all called to a closer relationship with Jesus regardless of where we start from or where we are right now and regardless of how we choose to practice our faith. The end goal is the same for everyone and we all have an inner striving to get there.

I haven’t experienced any super compelling stories to share with the likes of Trapper Jack – certainly a few God-Incidence moments here and there that I try to recognize and document here in the blog, but nothing to the extreme of many of his podcast guests. I shared my Dr. Nemeh story here, not because I or anyone I knew experienced an obvious and dramatic healing that day, but because we definitely experienced something that isn’t easily explained. The late night “coincidence” that led me to the Touched by Heaven podcast and then later connected it back to that Dr. Nemeh moment so many years before is rather significant in my mind.

I think one of the truths I’ve come to accept is that an every day encounter with God doesn’t have to be a bring-you-to-tears dramatic event. It certainly can be as many of the Touched by Heaven subjects demonstrate, but it doesn’t have to be. The deeper truth – I believe – is that we are all touched by Heaven in some way on a regular basis. We just don’t always recognize it. Or, sadly, we do recognize it but fail to share it. Just as nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel basket, nor should we experience a God-Incidence and not share it with others.

In writing this post (and while I listened to many of the stories of Touched by Heaven), I was reminded of a story I heard from two faith-filled Catholics from Toledo nearly 20 years ago, with whom I have since lost contact. I offer this story to give you a slight taste of what you can expect to hear if you decide to listen to Touched by Heaven. I have forgotten some of the specific details, but have filled them in as best I can remember. The gist of their story is that this husband and wife were driving in very treacherous foggy or winter weather conditions in an unfamiliar area. It was at night with virtually zero visibility due to the fog and/or heavy snowfall and I believe it may have been in mountainous terrain with a pretty significant drop off at the side of the road. The lighting and weather conditions made it impossible for them to even see the road at times. They followed the red tail lights of another vehicle for many, many miles and said this was the only way they managed to traverse the unfamiliar twists and turns of the road through an otherwise deserted area. They finally made it back to civilization and pulled into a service station or bus depot or some sort of place just at the edge of town – where they had seen the tail lights from the lead car ahead of them pull through. They commented to someone working there that they wouldn’t have made it if not for the car they were following that had just arrived ahead of them. They were told that no other vehicles had been through there for several hours.

In telling their story, they were each convinced that the red tail lights had been a guiding angel sent to lead them safely to their destination. Both of them independently saw the same red tail lights and even commented to each other during the drive how thankful they were to have the driver of that vehicle ahead of them who was obviously familiar with the route.

Chuck and Teresa, I’m going to dig through my old files. If I manage to find a working email for you and you read this blog post – please listen to the podcast and consider getting in touch with Trapper Jack to share the full details of your story with him and his listeners (and fix any of the mistakes or embellishments from my memory of your inspirational story).

Praise God!!!

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