Testimony of a modern day Rip Van Winkle

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

It was the morning of September 11, 2001.  Startling news reports were coming from the World Trade Center in New York.  That is one of the last things Jules Volk remembers as his wife Sylvia rushed him to the hospital.  Everything in his life was about to change.  He would spend the next few days on the brink of death as he battled herpes encephalitis.  Except for a few isolated incidences, the next month of hospitalization would be totally lost to his memory. 

As his pastor of Bridgewood Community Church, I was notified of his hospitalization and made my way up to the hospital.  When I came into his room a very unusual thing happened.  Although Jules was not conscious he heard a voice behind him saying “Jules they’re calling your name.”  And, when he hesitated, the voice urged “Go!”  The next thing Jules remembers is my voice saying “Jules I am here to anoint you with oil in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  And then, he recounts seeing a huge thumb “almost as big as my face” coming down and anointing him

That angelic voice calling Jules out of the blackness of unconsciousness coupled with the prayers of many, proved to be the miraculous intervention of God that saved Jules life.

It would be weeks before Jules remembers waking up.  The family made a point of having Christian music playing in his room.  He was in rehabilitation at the Sister Kenney Institute.  One day a nurse commented as he lay there, “I like your music.” And with that Jules woke up.  “Where do you go to church?” the nurse asked and Jules said “I go to St. Paul’s in Ham Lake.”  Jules had not attended St. Paul’s for several years and this was the first indication of a significant memory loss.

“Where am I . . . what am I doing here?”

And with that Jules began a whole new life in his own post 911 world.  You see Jules is like a modern day Rip Van Winkle.  As Jules began to reorient his life he discovered that 15-20 years of his memory had been erased.  Unfortunately, long term memory loss is a possible after effect that survivors of herpes encephalitis must battle. 

When Jules first came home from the hospital he was shocked to see the house so different from how he had remembered it.  When he saw the wood railing he exclaimed “What happened to the wrought iron rail?”  He discovered he had replaced it himself and installed the wood railing fifteen years earlier when he remodeled the house. 

Before 911 he had made it a practice of having morning coffee with a group of men at Panera, located in a large shopping area near his home.  When his long time friend brought him back there for the first time Jules remarked. “Where did all this come from?  It used to be a cornfield!”  He had no idea that Panera even existed. When he walked in, all the people inside cheered.  He didn’t know any of them, not even the select group of men with whom he regularly met for coffee.  “What do you want, Jules?” “I don’t know,” he said.  So they ordered what he usually had in “the good old days.”

It is hard to imagine how difficult it would be to lose the last 15-20 years of one’s memory.  In addition to surroundings, buildings and communities changing, people’s lives also change.  Jules and his family, by God’s grace, have had to cope and overcome many complications related to those changes.  Sadly he discovered to his surprise, that two dear relatives had passed away, after asking their spouse how they were doing.  He does not recall his daughters’ graduations.  As a small business owner he was faced with a significant learning curve in getting up to speed with all the advancements in his trade.  Family members have had to step up and fill in the gaps.  I asked Jules if he missed the level of former involvement in his business and he said “No, I don’t miss what I can’t remember.”

Jules’ story is all the more remarkable for the ways in which God has worked redemptively in his life through his many losses.  Jules background in recovery with AA had led to his accepting Christ years earlier.  But, as a hard driving business man, preoccupied with running a business with 15-20 guys working for him, Christ was not at the center of his life. 

But in his post 911 world he found himself frequently weeping as he listened to the words in Christian songs he heard on the radio.  Then one day he heard Chuck Swindoll preaching on the radio and Jules heard these words “He died for you that you might live.”  It was like a two-edged sword to Jules’ heart.  With the revelation “He died for me” something happened deep within him and from that day on his Christian walk was transformed. 

His wife Sylvia shares how amazing it was to see Jules’ relationship with the Lord transformed.  His love for Christian music, the word of God, and a new sensitivity to the things of the Spirit seemed to eclipse even her own spiritual walk. “He was more into it than I was!” she says.  His TV viewing changed, old bad habits dropped away and as a special bonus blessing to her, he became much more helpful around the house. 

Some changes came about in a humorous way.  One day Jules heard someone on the radio say “why don’t you go home and do the dishes for your wife.”  He thought that sounded like a good idea. When he got home he did the dishes, and he’s been doing them ever since.

One of the other redemptive things that the Lord did in Jules life through this ordeal was to release a spirit of creativity in him.  Sylvia observed that Jules had a new found drive and focus to design things.  Although Jules had limited his involvement directly in the business he began to design tools related to his trade.  He has invented and patented two – three-in-one sanding tools.  To this day doctors are amazed at his cognitive ability.  In fact, despite the memory losses and other complications doctors say that Jules is a miracle.  After a recent MRI they said “he should not be doing the things he is doing.”  What a wonderful Savior we have!

Both Jules and Sylvia give all the glory to God for His faithfulness to them since their personal 911.  It is a powerful testimony of God’s redemption and should offer hope to all of us that God does indeed work all things together for good. 

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