December 24, 2016 reported here. See also here. Daytona Beach - Mike Mitchener has been praying daily since he was a kid - decades of divine appeals related to family, friends and an incalculable number of life events.
A little over two years ago, the words became much simpler:
"Thanks for one more day," said Mitchener, reciting the humble prayer that he'll offer this Christmas Day, just as he has done first thing every morning and again each night since recovering from a massive heart attack on Sept. 11, 2014. "I'm just grateful every day for the things that I have."
It's not the first time that a widow-maker heart attack, such as the one that struck Mitchener, has clarified someone's spiritual priorities. This is different. According to Mitchener, the transformational event also offered him a glimpse of what awaits after death.
"I've never experienced something as real as my time walking the streets of heaven," Mitchener said on a recent afternoon at Sam's Club in Daytona Beach, where he's the general manager. "It was so vivid, so bold, so full of life - peaceful, tranquil, perfect." Mitchener, 50, chronicles his near-death experience in "Bring the Rain: A True Story of Healing and Heaven," a newly released memoir available from Christian publisher WestBow Press. The book (bringtherain.net) presents an incredible, faith-based tale of Mitchener's life as a professional athlete, businessman, father, friend and heart-attack survivor.
Although an inexperienced writer, Mitchener embarked on the book project when his mother gave him a blank journal after he returned from the hospital. "I asked her, 'What am I supposed to do with this?'" he said. "But I started to write and I caught fire. I'd write for 12 or 13 hours a day. I wrote the book in less than a week - then started adding details."
'The God answer'
In the book, Mitchener describes the day of his heart attack as a combination of unusual circumstances. He had finished a late afternoon workout at a Daytona Beach gym, where he typically exercised in the morning. A former college baseball star signed to a minor league contract in 1988 by the Chicago White Sox, Mitchener still approached his routine in his late 40s with an athlete's mindset.
So he knew something was wrong when he felt dizzy as he walked to his car.Fortunately, a staff member of the cardiology department at Halifax Medical Center was on the way to her workout. As she approached the door, she noticed Mitchener's behavior and followed him to his car to see if he was OK. Another customer was quickly summoned to help carry Mitchener back to the gym to await an ambulance.
"She came to check on me," Mitchener wrote in the book. "A pretty, young, 23-year-old female walked across the parking lot to check on some guy she didn't know. Was that luck? Fate? God? I'll take the God answer." The speedy reaction likely saved Mitchener's life, doctors said later. At the hospital, Mitchener remained in a coma for 15 days, as hospital staff members dutifully urged his family to start planning his memorial service. All the while, Mitchener said, he was strolling the golden, jewel-encrusted streets of heaven with an unlikely tour guide: Chick Fil-A restaurant founder Truett Cathy.
'What I needed to hear'
Cathy had died on Sept. 8, 2014, three days before Mitchener's heart attack. A part-time Volusia County resident, Cathy had been a frequent customer at Mitchener's Sam's Club, becoming a business and spiritual mentor to the store manager in a relationship that lasted roughly a decade, Mitchener said. "He always talked about faith, belief, prayer," Mitchener said in his cluttered Sam's Club office. "He would always get me on track. He knew what I needed to hear."
While in the coma, Mitchener visited with Cathy three times, recalling a blindingly bright light above him that made it hard to lift his head to look at it, Mitchener said. "I saw the magnitude, the beauty, just the awesomeness of heaven," Mitchener said. "On the third day, Truett told me, 'You must go back,' and I woke up."
After leaving the hospital, Mitchener reported yet another spiritual visitation. Sitting on the tailgate of his pick-up truck on a quiet evening in his Ormond Beach neighborhood, he looked up from prayer to see two men in robes - one older, one younger - standing before him. "I was overwhelmed," Mitchener said. "I asked, 'What am I supposed to do now?' They looked at each other and said, in perfect harmony, 'Be patient.'"
'This is my story'
Mitchener has taken that advice, according to business colleagues and family members. "It gives you a different perspective on the holidays," said Victoria Mitchener Power, 23, Mitchener's oldest daughter, who contributed blog entries about her father's hospital treatment to "Bring the Rain." "I'm in nursing school and I work now on the same floor he was on when he had the heart attack. I realize these people may not get to have their family back and it makes me very grateful for what I have."
The competitive drive and oversized self-confidence that endures from Mitchener's athletic days has yielded to a milder disposition, said Dave Davidson, a Sam's Club market manager in Houston who was instrumental in Mitchener's career. "We used to always kid Mike that he was very cocky," Davidson said by phone. "When I was his supervisor, I'd have to address that every now and then. It (the heart attack) was a very humbling experience and obviously a life-changing experience. He has a lot more humility now."
Mitchener survived for a reason, even if it's not yet apparent, said Darrell Arnold, another Walmart colleague who wrote the forward to "Bring the Rain." "I see a transformation in him and in his heart," Arnold said. "I don't believe his work is finished and it's beyond Sam's Club or Walmart." Mitchener acknowledges how far-fetched his stories sound. He won't try to make you believe them, but he'll take any opportunity to share them."I've been told in so many ways to tell the story, so that's what I want to do in whatever way I can," he said. "This is my story; you make your own decision. I focus on today and tomorrow, that's it. Thank God for the opportunity to have another day."