At the age of four, Della began to have experiences of seeing angels. That same year, she had a unique experience one night when the Lord Jesus Christ visited her. What made this particular night so different was that the Lord also appeared to her mother that night and said to her, “I’m coming to take Della for myself.”
As the Lord awakened Della, He told her to follow Him. She jumped out of bed and followed Him outside the house where, to her utter astonishment, she saw a ship. Now you have to understand just how strange this sight was. There are no huge rivers or lakes in the Yakima Valley in Washington such that one would expect to see a ship. She couldn’t quite figure out what she was seeing, and why this ship was there, but she followed the call of the Lord up the large fishing net hung over the side. Just before reaching the deck, the Lord turned to her and said, “Don’t forget your bottle.” She remembered a glass bottle on the mantle of the fireplace that was her special bottle.
Again, the command didn’t make sense, but she wasn’t questioning it. She climbed back down the gangplank and back into the house to get the bottle. When she got back outside with the bottle, she realized the ship was getting ready to leave and shouted, “Lord, don’t leave without me!” She ran for all she was worth and leaped up on the hanging fish net as it was being pulled back on the ship. Out of breath, she handed the bottle to the Lord. He thereupon took the bottle and threw it as hard as he could so that it vanished in the darkness. Then Jesus turned to her, took her by the hand, and said, “Come and enter in! Now everything will be all right.”
In the years that followed, the experience was so real that Della was never sure whether it actually happened or whether she had a dream. More than 20 years elapsed before she understood what had happened. Important foundations were laid in her life that she would need in the coming years. In the years to come, the Lord would remind her of the bottle — and its significance.
Until she was twelve years of age, she had several more experiences with the Lord in which He made clear to her the fact that He would never leave her nor forsake her. Good thing, too, because she was about to go through a living nightmare that would last for some 14 years.
She was picked up by a 25-year-old man (whom I will refer to simply as Daniel). He figured things out pretty quickly and took advantage of her youth, innocence, and rebellion. Using the argument that, “I can’t live without you,” and making her feel sorry for him, he compelled her to go with him and agree to marry him. We won’t try to figure out how he pulled that one off without being seized by the Law and thrown in prison, but under threats of physical harm she stayed quiet and eventually settled into some semblance of married life. “Daniel” was never prosecuted for his crimes.
It isn’t necessary to go into the horrors of the next fourteen years, the abuses she suffered, the constant betrayal by “Daniel’s” affairs with other women or his illicit drug distribution and hiding from the Law. What is important is that, at age eighteen, her youthful experiences with the Lord began to take effect. She had left Washington to move to Alaska where her father was working with his construction business. In Fairbanks for a few short months, her father suddenly dropped dead one day of a heart attack. He was 47 years old. The loss was traumatic.
Now the mother of a young baby girl, she began to attend a church in hopes of reconnecting with that same Jesus she had known as a child. It was late in 1973 or early in 1974. Baby Shelley was very ill. She couldn’t walk. Her legs were crooked. She had an extreme case of colic. She came down with a fever that just got worse and worse.
Della’s family doctor had told her that the baby needed to be hospitalized, but they had no insurance and feared the financial impact of the doctor and hospital bills. Shelley’s temperature continued to rise. On a Sunday morning, Della took the baby’s temperature, and it was 106. She got dressed, got Shelley dressed, and took her to the church where she had begun to attend. It seemed like she had to go through an army of folks who tried to slow her down, but eventually she stood in front of the pastor with the baby in her arms. Shelley was unconscious, lying limp and motionless. “Pastor, my baby is dying. I need for you to pray for her.”
The pastor gently took Shelley into his arms and began to rebuke the fever. He spoke healing as he prayed. As he held the baby, Shelley’s legs straightened in front of their eyes. The fever dropped instantly. She opened her eyes and looked around, alert for the first time in so long Della couldn’t remember. It was a major turning point for Della.
The reports showed no responses whatever to sounds at 120 db in her ears. For those who don’t understand the significance of 120 db, 108 db is classified as “concert level” for music. 116 db is the noise of a steam locomotive. Each 3 db represents a doubling in sound pressure level. Thus, 120 db was well over twice the noise level of a steam locomotive. The audiologist told Della that Danielle was stone deaf, and that she’d better start learning sign language immediately because that was how she was going to have to communicate with her daughter.
The promises of God made in her youth rang in Della’s entire being. She absolutely refused to accept the diagnosis and demanded additional tests. The doctor shook his head sympathetically saying, “It won’t make any difference. However, you bring her back each month, and we’ll conduct more tests.” The testing went on for seven continuous months.
An appointed (by the Lord) day came at the seventh month, and Della brought friends along because she was sure the Lord was going to heal Danielle. They sat down together in the testing room and the doctor placed Danielle in his lap. There had been absolutely no indication of any change in Danielle. Della whispered to the doctor, “OK, Keith! Let’s do the tests in a room where there is no sound whatever.” Suddenly, Danielle turned and looked at her. The audiologist shook his head. “Can’t be. This was an involuntary reaction — perhaps to air movement on her face when you spoke.” Della began to laugh. She knew what had happened.
This time, the doctor whispered very quietly in Danielle’s opposite ear. She turned to see where the sound was coming from. Now the doctor was frustrated. This just couldn’t be! All of his previous tests had been run using standardized testing techniques. They had proved conclusively that Danielle was deaf. Again, he whispered in the other ear, and again, Danielle responded. Della’s friends were standing on the other side of the glass watching things unfold, along with a couple of nurses.
Tears began to run down their faces as they realized that the Lord had healed Danielle right while she sat in the doctor’s lap. All of the tests were re-run again. This time, the results showed that her hearing was better than perfect. She could hear sounds so faint the overwhelming majority of folks never hear.
Despite the birth of two more children during the next four years, Della’s “marriage” continued to deteriorate. The abuse towards Della had never gotten really physical until he made two attempts on her life. It had reached monumental proportions emotionally and mentally. Unfortunately, the abuse had also gotten physical with the children. She realized that if he succeeded in killing her there would be no one to care for the children. Because of the breakdown of the marriage, her children had become the focal point of her life. The children were her life! A day finally came when “Daniel” agreed with Della that they needed to get a divorce and go their separate ways.
It was late in 1982. I was President of the Christian Broadcasting Network of Alaska, as well as overseeing the development of Operation Blessing for the state and pastoring a new fellowship in Fairbanks called The House of Praise. The CBN operations had begun to be moved from Barrow to Fairbanks two years earlier. Separation and divorce was in the making from my first wife who had recently left for the third time in our married years. The duress from the persecution and constant threats on our lives in Barrow had far exceeded her breaking point, and she wanted no more of the ministry.
Della had joined the CBN operation in late 1981 and become the administrator for a social services program we called Operation Blessing – Alaska. It was an outgrowth of the program Pat Robertson had begun in Virginia Beach, Virginia with the national CBN ministry. Over the span of a couple years, Della had become my closest confidant and the best friend I’d ever had in my life. I remember sitting in an Aglow prayer meeting and watching her responses to the concerns of women, and seeing the depth of spiritual wisdom God had built in her. I trusted that — and do to this day!
One day, she brought her four children to me and asked me to pray over them. While I was praying for them, the Lord spoke to me and said, “I’m going to give these children to you, and I want you to be a father to them.” That was different! I began to argue with the Lord. “But, Lord, they already have a father!”
It was only a matter of six or seven months before Della and I found ourselves exchanging marriage vows with each other. It isn’t necessary to get into the developments that led to our marriage. We both experienced some back-to-back-to-back events that clearly demonstrated to both of us that the Lord was putting us together. Complete strangers who had no idea of what they were saying delivered confirming words from the Lord to both of us. Because of the controversy that would erupt over the proximity of our divorces and prospective remarriage to each other, the Lord had spoken to Della one day and said, “I’m going to confirm this union to you so many times and in so many ways that you’ll be sick of the confirmations.”
Sunnyside, Washington 98944
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