The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, the new dean of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, said he was 21 years old and attending seminary when he first heard the amazing story of his medical mystery history.
And perhaps the most surprising part was that his father — and fellow seminarian — was the person who shared the tale for the first time, as they sat together in a seminary class.
Lindstrom, 40, said the instructor had asked each class member to share some reasons they were there. His dad, Joel Lindstrom, began to tell about a time one of his children lay near death in a hospital.
The elder Lindstrom told the class that his youngest son, Justin, was 16 months old when his chest cavity was flooded with a mysterious jellylike substance, and his lungs collapsed. He said the family's Lutheran clergymen were called to the medical facility to give the child what essentially were to be his last rites after doctors said the child could not breathe on his own. The elder Lindstrom, a schoolteacher, said he asked that everyone leave the room when doctors said they wanted to turn off the machine that helped the child breathe.
Justin Lindstrom said his father told the class that he knelt in front of the bed where his tiny boy lay covered with a large plastic, tentlike bubble. He and his wife, Jeanne, couldn't even touch the child without placing their hands in gloves that enabled them to grasp him inside the bubble that insulated the weakened boy from disease.
Joel Lindstrom told the class he simply prayed: “Lord God, if you save my son, I will make sure he becomes a minister in your church, and I will also.”
Joel Lindstrom told his son and the other seminarians that the machine was unplugged the next day, but something happened that even the doctors couldn't explain. His little son began breathing on his own.
Three days later, the child, young Justin, was sent home healthy and whole.
“So yeah, I was a bubble boy,” Justin Lindstrom said recently.
“It's just amazing to think about them unplugging the machine and the doctors and everyone there expecting me to die.”
Lindstrom said he recently shared his childhood story during his first sermon as dean of St. Paul's, 127 NW 7.
As he prepares to lead one of Oklahoma's most prominent churches, he said the knowledge of his miraculous recovery has motivated him since that first time he heard it.
“It could easily have gone the other direction. That's what drives me — I'm a pretty motivated individual,” Lindstrom said, smiling.
Lindstrom said his case has been the focus of several articles in a medical journal. But he knew nothing about that when he was growing up. He said his childhood and adolescence were similar to everyone else's.
He said a big part of the family's life was Bible school and church, and he was surrounded by many people who also didn't know his medical story.
Nonetheless, “they showed God to me in ways that mattered,” Lindstrom said.
“I think God does that for all of us — intertwines our story with the people who are in our lives.”
That's why the young man who initially considered being an architect eventually decided to answer the Lord's calling to the ministry.
He said he graduated from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, and his father did as well, though they did not graduate at the same time.
Lindstrom said he was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2000, while his father went on to become a pastor of a nondenominational church.
In 2002, Justin Lindstrom founded and served as vicar of St. Aiden's Episcopal Church in Cypress, Texas, with 26 people meeting in his home. He said the church swelled to 800 members over the years and was listed as one of the top 10 Episcopal churches in America.
Lindstrom said he read a profile about St. Paul's when the cathedral vestry, a committee of church leaders, sought a new dean after the church's longtime beloved dean, the Rev. George Back, retired in 2008.
Lindstrom said he immediately felt that the downtown Oklahoma City church and the metro community would be a good fit for him and his family, which includes his wife, Susan, and their son, Covell, and their daughter, Cooper.
“I just sat there and said, ‘Wow! This church was made for me,'” he said.
He said his positive feelings increased when the family visited St. Paul's, and they have continued to grow now that he is the leader of the church and the family has moved to Edmond.
“It's kind of like waking up in a house overlooking a lake and looking out over the water — it's smooth. This transition has been perfectly smooth.”
Dean of the future
Lindstrom said the St. Paul's Cathedral vestry submitted his name for consideration as the church's new dean to the Rt. Rev. Edward Konieczny, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma.
Konieczny appointed Lindstrom as St. Paul's dean during the summer. His first sermon at his new church home was Sept. 23.
Lindstrom said he was drawn to St. Paul's because the congregation embodies many of the qualities that drew him to the Episcopal Church: A commitment to loving and serving people and giving of themselves, and a desire to connect people to each other and to God.
He said he found a real openness in the Episcopal Church USA that is embodied in the accessible worship services at most Episcopal churches, including St. Paul's.
“A church needs to be open to everyone,” he said.
Lindstrom said St. Paul's soon will undergo another renovation because the church is still suffering from some after effects of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
He said the church recently completed an extensive capital campaign to pay for the renovation and remaining debt. The roof will be redone, among other aspects of the 10- to 12-week project.
The new dean said St. Paul's became a hub of activity in the bombing's aftermath, and church members reached out to the community in many ways during that painful time.
He said he looks forward to reaching out to the community again, in a variety of ways.
“When the bombing happened, they responded. I think because the bombing happened 20 years ago, there are people who were not here during that time who may not know the cathedral,” he said.
“With the downtown Oklahoma City look and feel, we have the Thunder and MAPS,” he said, referencing the city's NBA team and its Metropolitan Area Projects initiatives.
“I think the cathedral is ready to be a part of that in a new way.”
Lindstrom said he is ready to serve his church members and serve the community alongside them as St. Paul's enters into a new era.
“It feels like I've always been here — that this truly is home,” he said.
“This place and its people is incredible. I have to pinch myself.”