Roll Over

An autobiographical sketch by Henry H. Mitchell.

Mitchell Family

Henry, Patricia, Sarah, and David Mitchell, November 1984.

A Recurring Injury

During the late summer of 1984 I was mowing our large yard with a push mower when, after refilling the gas tank, I yanked on the starter cord as usual, but this time the cord broke. Simultaneously I heard a loud “pop” in my shoulder, and felt sharp pain in my right shoulder. An injury from my Air Force days, thirteen-plus years earlier, was back.

Over a period of several months, the shoulder gradually improved. Then, in early 1985 I was carrying our rambunctious year-and-a-half-old son David with my right arm, when he threw his body weight abruptly to one side with his considerable squirmy strength. “Pow!” There went the shoulder again.

This time it was much worse. I could not move my shoulder without extreme pain, and therefore had to keep my right elbow locked against my side, only using my forearm and hand. The medical assessment was that the damage could only be repaired with surgery, but even that would be uncertain. So I was thinking about it.

And praying about it. Our church had an emphasis on healing, teaching that healing is just as available to us now as when Jesus and his first apostles walked the Earth. So I did my best to appropriate that benefit. I asked for prayer, and I went forward in services for the laying on of hands. But my shoulder didn't seem to be improving. If I moved it, it hurt. And if I happened to roll over on it at night, which I often did in my sleep, I was awakened by the excruciating pain.

Besides the pain, the loss of the use of the shoulder was quite an inconvenience. I was growing frustrated about the situation, and yet, in talking to relatives and acquaintances (several of whom were either medically trained in relevant areas, or personally experienced in similar injuries) about the possible results of arthroscopic surgery, I wasn't getting any encouragement in that direction either.

A Repeated Instruction

Around Easter we had a plumbing emergency at our house (see “The Rock That Turned the Tide),” and I ended up having to spend ten days digging a trench, without the use of that shoulder. All of this was a real test of endurance for me, not just because of the daily inconveniences but also due to difficulty in sleeping. One night I was awakened once more by a strong shot of pain, having rolled onto my shoulder again. I lay there, almost crying, and silently said, “Please, God, heal me!” I then heard a voice — strong, but quiet, and it didn't come through my ears — “Roll over on your shoulder again.” I decided I was half-dreaming, and thought to myself, “There's no way I'm going to roll over on my shoulder again.”

Then I heard the voice again, a little stronger: “Roll over on your shoulder again.” By this time I was fully awake, almost panicky, thinking, “Am I really awake? Am I imagining things? What is going on here besides the fact that my shoulder hurts?”

Then a third time, very strong and insistent: “Roll over on your shoulder again.” So, I closed my eyes tightly, gritted my teeth, and said, “OK, Lord, if this is you, here we go.” And in a motion sort of like jerking a band-aid off a hairy forearm, I rolled over onto my right shoulder. No pain. Amazed, I sat up and worked my arm and flexed my shoulder. It seemed OK. Not being one to miss a moment's sleep, I lay back down and slept soundly until my normal waking time.

Is He Talking About Me?

At the next meeting at our church, the pastor, Landon Spradlin, announced that our guest for the evening, sent by the Lord, was to be a Christian pianist. We were meeting in the old Chatham Theatre building, and a piano now sat on the stage. It had been brought down from the balcony, and cleaned up and tuned. The “praise and worship” portion of the service began, led by pastor/guitarist Landon. After awhile he noted the time, and that the pianist still had not arrived, and we prayed for the guest's safe arrival. Still more time passed, but no pianist. Landon stopped everything and announced, “The Lord told me he was sending a pianist tonight, and the Lord does not lie. I thought I knew who the pianist was, because he said he was coming, but that seems not to be the case. Therefore, the pianist the Lord sent is already here. Who out there in the congregation plays the piano?” Nobody raised a hand.

“All right, then,” Landon continued, “who out there has EVER played a piano?”

Henry Mitchell at the piano

Henry competes in a talent contest at the 1963 Virginia Future Farmers of America convention at Burruss Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. One year later he chose to concentrate on academics rather than music.

My mind raced. Piano had once been my enthusiasm, but I had not played since I was 15 years old, and that was now 21 years earlier. “I guess I can't lie, can I? I have played a piano. But surely I wouldn't be expected to play now…would I? Until a couple of days ago I COULDN'T play the piano if I had wanted to, but now my shoulder is healed! Could it be?…Maybe I was healed for this reason?…And if I'm not obedient, I might LOSE my healing?…”

There wasn't time to work out theological questions, so I raised my RIGHT hand, noting to myself that the act of raising my right hand would have been impossible a few days earlier.

Landon said, “Get up here and play. I don't care what you play, as long as it is loud! Key of G!” And off he went into a guitar riff, and I began filling in the sound spectrum, best I could, with treble tinkles and bass thumps in the key of G. After it was over, Landon remarked, “You play a pretty mean country-style piano.” That was news to me. I had no idea what I was playing, other than that it was in the key of G, and loud, as I had been instructed.

The Beat Goes On

Twenty years have passed, and I am still playing the piano, now for weekly Sunday night services at the Oak Grove Residential Care facility in Chatham. The services are in the chapel, and the attendees request the hymns, usually from an old edition of the Baptist Hymnal. It isn't Nashville, Broadway, or Hollywood, but amazing things have happened in that little chapel. All because of the Voice that said, “Roll over….”