Last month we prayed daring prayers for every cell in Bill’s body to come alive with God’s glory and heal. We asked our faith communities to pray daring prayers along with our family.
Faithful believers by the thousands from around the world joined our voices asking God for miracle after miracle for my brother-in-law Bill Ostlund. For five days we all prayed without ceasing for “Ozzie” after an unholy storm of complications from minor cancer, chemo, and norovirus caused him to crash and suffer two heart attacks. We thank you.
At the Sisters of Mercy Convent in St. Louis, a sign reads, “Worry is like praying for what you don’t want to happen.” We visualized and prayed for God’s healing power to be at work and for Ozzie to walk out of that hospital to play with his grandkids. Were those prayers wasted?
Turns out our daring prayers for a miracle were already answered, though we did not know it, and not as we pictured. Bill was already alive to God’s glory, already in God’s presence in eternity. God is mysterious in His mercies, which are new every morning, a constant surprise to us. We were the ones who had to catch up. To sob together. To let go. To open our eyes to the unwished-for miracles.
Bill’s favorite movie was Miracle on Ice. He loved spouting forth Herb Brook’s locker room speech. Bill was a bundle of action and energy, of love for Jesus, and joy and fun that grabbed ahold of anyone nearby. Devastating to us, Bill didn’t get the win we hoped for. He got a different miracle. Over time, maybe we will see the miracle that we, too, have been given through our showing up for Bill’s last days.
Maybe the miracle after miracle is how Bill and Tami’s best friends drew together, to hope and pray, and then grieve together. Maybe the miracle is what Bill’s incredible nurse Greta told us on behalf of the staff, “We’ve never seen such love.” Maybe the miracle is in bonding across our family generations, by rocking baby Lincoln to sleep and doing a hundred “hokey pokeys” with two-year-old Davis and checking in with their parents. Maybe the miracle is in the 800+ people gathered to celebrate Bill’s life, many college-aged or millennial who knew him through Young Life. Maybe the miracle is how Bill’s kids Ellen and Mark spoke bravely and with gratitude of the impact their dad had on them. Maybe the miracle is how all who came listened attentively to the Gospel, hearing one more challenge from this joyful, goofy hockey player, husband, dad, brother-in-law, and friend: “Keep it simple. Show up. Go to the hard places. Be joyful and play. Love Jesus. Love people.”
Maybe the miracle was watching my grieving sister Tami walk around the reception afterwards, bringing grace-filled messages of love and encouragement to so many, telling them how much they meant to Bill. He had a huge capacity to love and bring out the best in people. No one was too far away from Ozzie’s winsome outreach or contagious, “possibilities” thinking. Dang it if Oz didn’t propose that I start up a new church during our last conversation. “Make something happen, Tass. No sitting on the sidelines.”
Maybe the miracle is how Bill joined our family when I was 12. Oz was the epicenter of nearly every fun, crazy, adventurous shenanigan we have ever done in love. We grew up together, and somehow Oz stayed a kid at heart. Bill wasn’t afraid of conflict or the “hard places.” He modeled following Jesus to me. Always.
We met surgeon Tom Blee at Bill’s bedside in the ICU at Regions Hospital in St Paul. Dr. Tom urged us to pray fervently for Bill even though his situation was dire and growing worse day by day. Tom encouraged us that he had seen incredible miracles take place in that hospital and that the staff would join us in praying. My family began to look for God’s hope in new ways, even as Bill died. We do rejoice in his healing in heaven even as we grieve deeply. Words can’t touch how we miss him.
Dr. Tom gave us his book How to Save a Surgeon: Stories of Impossible Healing. He writes,
When God gets involved, healing moves beyond what we could orchestrate. It can be surprising, even weird. [God] says “Your sick family member will be healed I guarantee it. She might have to die first. But no matter what, I’ve got her. And I promise no more tears, no more pain. No more grief.” Our ultimate healing might have to wait until eternity, but still God gives us these surprises, these ripples of healing that touch everyone near…family members… nurses. The healing in these lives will ripple out, touching dozens, passing through families and communities until hundreds are made more whole. Impossible healing may not be on our timeline and it might not be the sound and light show we expect, but it will often expand out into something bigger—and more glorious-—than we would have ever imagined.
We are still awaiting the stories to come of those healing ripples. The next day, Tami’s dear friend Debbie Burns posted on facebook,
“Day 1 of the Bill “Ozzie” Ostlund challenge for the rest of your life:
- Love Jesus
- Love people
It IS that simple, people. Billy O. modeled this every day of his full, but too brief, time with us. Let’s strive to follow his lead❤️ ”
In another unexpected twist, one of my best friends Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer last month, while praying for Ozzie and for my family. She told me she has these words from Tim Keller written in her Bible, “Worry is not trusting God to get it right. Bitterness is deciding God got it wrong.”
So we wait, hoping to get a glimpse at how God “gets it right” in this tragedy–and in all our tragedies, really. Instead of worrying, we can continue to pray daring prayers for those around us. However God’s unexpected miracles unfold–for my family, for Sarah, for you in your life–we will have front row seats to see what God is gonna do next.
“Keep it simple. Show up. Go to the hard places. Be joyful and play. Love Jesus. Love people.”–Bill Ostlund
I close with same words we used to close out Bill’s funeral: the benediction always given by the former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Richard Halverson,
You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go,
God is sending you.
Wherever you are,
God has put you there.
God has a purpose
in your being there.
Christ lives in you
and has something
he wants to do
through you where you are.
Believe this and go in the
grace and love and
power of Jesus Christ.
 Tom Blee, How to Save a Surgeon: Stories of Impossible Healing, (Minneapolis, MN: 9Foot Voice, 2016), p. 45-46.