This story is one that’s close to my heart for many reasons. I love that we can have a constant dialogue with God. The best part is it’s not one-sided. He answers our calls. He responds to our pleas. But in His timing and not our own, and according to His will and not our own. It’s so difficult to wait, but if we are patient and persevere, we will experience His faithfulness.
One of the most profound ways God has worked in my life is through my struggle with addictions. It’s something I could never have “quit” on my own — In fact, I tried to do it on my own many times and failed. In His own timing and by His own grace, He answered my prayers.
When I was 16 years old, I started smoking cigarettes. It’s a very addictive thing. I smoked while my children were growing up and continued far beyond that. It was something I enjoyed and looked forward to each day.
About 13 years ago, one of my friend’s was diagnosed with cancer. She was young — in her early 50’s — but her cancer was terminal and she was dying. I remember she would occasionally drink at parties, but never smoked in her life. She was a very healthy person and her cancer had nothing to do with how she took care of her body.
Throughout the course of her treatment, I attended a healing ministry with her at a local church and also drove her to doctor’s appointments. She had optic neuropathy, which impaired her vision, so she couldn’t drive herself. Before we drove to our destination, she would always say to me, “Would you like to have a cigarette before we get in the car? It would be okay.” It made me feel so awful. I had come to a point where I really didn’t enjoy smoking, but I was addicted to the nicotine.
Around this time, I started praying at night before I went to sleep. I would get in bed and say, “Dear God, please, when I wake up in the morning, take away my desire to have a cigarette.” Having a cigarette was the first thing I thought of each day. In fact, the need for nicotine woke me up.
Every morning, I had my routine. I would go make my coffee, sit down to read my Bible, and light a cigarette. I’m embarrassed to say that I read my Bible while smoking. It was pretty bad.
My poor friend would give anything just to be able to live and here I am and I can’t stop smoking. I continued to pray each night, “God — you know me. I have no will power to do this myself. I need your help.” I knew God’s timing was not my own and I never gave up because I knew if it was going to happen, it was going to have to be through Him.
I had tried so many times to quit smoking on my own and nothing worked. I would be out with someone and maybe hadn’t had a cigarette in two months and thought, “That just smells so good. Can I just have one of those?” Then I went, “Oh, that wasn’t bad. I had one cigarette, I don’t need to have another one.” But, I’d get up the next morning and by later in the afternoon, I thought, “Well, if I could just get by with one or two a day, I’ll be fine.” Then I would go out and buy a pack of cigarettes. Well, within a week, I was smoking two packs a day. It’s so insidious.
One morning, about three years after I started praying, I woke up and began my normal routine. I made my coffee, lit a cigarette, and started having this pain in my chest. I smoked the whole cigarette and went and took a Maalox because I thought it might be indigestion. I went back and got my coffee, lit another cigarette, and smoked about half of it, but the pain continued to intensify. I knew I had to call an ambulance, but for some reason, I couldn’t do it myself. I called my daughter who ended up calling 911 and the paramedics were here in a couple minutes. They did an EKG at my house and one of my sons (an emergency medicine physician) came over and took a look at it and said it was pretty good, but I should probably head to the hospital and have everything checked out. So I went in the ambulance to the hospital and one of the paramedics gave me a shot of nitroglycerin and it stopped the pain. By the time I got to the hospital, I felt just fine. I was admitted and they did blood work and ran tests. The test results revealed that I suffered a minor heart attack. The interesting thing was, as the hours went by, I never thought about a cigarette. I was actually comfortable and the pain had stopped. I ended up staying in the hospital for five days and never once thought about a cigarette.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I came home and remember walking into my kitchen. My beautiful gold cigarette case was there on the counter. I just picked it up and threw it in the trash. It was almost an unconscious effort because, by then, cigarettes weren’t even in my mind. It was like I had just picked up a piece of garbage and was throwing it away. I kept a carton of cigarettes in my kitchen cabinet for a year for no other reason except I guess it felt good not to want them.
I remember I used to smoke a lot when I golfed. 35 years before I quit, I was golfing with this girl and lighting up a cigarette and she said, “You know I quit smoking.” and I said, “ You did? How did you do that?” She said, “I don’t know — it was like a miracle. I just woke up one morning and didn’t want to smoke anymore.” And I said, “Oh, that’s what I want.” It kind of went out of my ear.
Now, it’s been almost 10 years to the day since I stopped smoking. I truly believe that anything is possible with God, and nothing is possible without him. That, for me, has spilled over into all of the areas of my life. I am so grateful.