When prayer doesn’t produce physical healing

When prayer doesn’t produce physical healing

This past week, Jordan and I traveled to Franklin Tennessee for an ecumenical conference that was centered on prayer, the Holy Spirit, and re-imagining church.  The conference describes itself as being an “effort to gather pastors together under one roof to convene conversations, curate content, call to prayer, and inspire a new generation of men and women who long to be a part of a great awakening.”  It was a gathering of clergy and lay-leaders who are passionate about a fresh spiritual awakening and revival in the church universal.  Speakers came from around the globe to share their experiences and theological insights on awakening, prayer, gifts of the Spirit, and the empowered Church.

We were encouraged that pockets of spiritual wildfire are breaking out across the globe as God’s people are stepping up and remembering the greatness of the all-powerful God that we love and serve.  God’s body is not sizzling out or dying off.  We are coming alive as we re-connect to the Vine and experience fresh expressions of church in an ever-changing culture.  This is great news!

Anyone who thinks that scholarly theological discussion is dry or boring has never experienced training under the brilliant theologians who taught at the New Room Conference hosted by Asbury Seminary’s Seedbed publishing company.  There was nothing “dry” or “boring” about the teaching that took place during this three-day conference.  In fact, as someone who has massive adrenaline dumps into my bloodstream due to my HyperPOTS,  I struggled to keep my heart rate under control as my passion and zeal were ignited throughout this dynamic three-day gathering.

I discovered something interesting this past week in Franklin:  When you attend a gathering with a focus on the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer, and you are in a wheel chair, you will have many people who want to pray over you.  This is not a bad thing.  It’s a wonderful thing.  I need as much prayer as I can get, and I certainly long for healing.  When it is 11 PM, and you are trying to get out the doors so that you can get to your air b&b to sleep, however, you might have a tendency to “duck and run.”  I may or may not have whispered to Jordan, “Quick! Run now! Don’t make eye contact, just push me to the car as fast as you can.”  I was exhausted.  There was not a single prayer that was prayed over me that didn’t deeply minister to my heart, mind, and body.  I loved it all.  And I needed rest.

One might think that if you go to a conference like this with physical ailments, you are likely to make it home completely healed.  If you get home, and you are still wheelchair dependent, maybe you didn’t have enough faith.  Maybe the right people didn’t pray for you.  Maybe God forgot to listen.  Surely something went wrong, right?  I mean,  GIANTS in the faith prayed over me.  I was prayed over in song, in English, in tongues, given words of prophecy, wept over, had countless people lay hands over me, and yet……I still came home in a wheelchair, still needing the same routine of medications, still passing out,  still needing a feeding tube, still completely drained of energy and physical strength….still waiting. 

And guess what?  I couldn’t have asked for more effective prayer.  My hope is restored, my joy is restored, my spiritual and emotional strength are restored, and I recieved a better and deeper healing than I could have ever dreamed possible.

Sometimes God heals our phyiscal bodies.  Sometimes He takes away our diseases.  Sometimes He raises people from the actual dead.  Sometimes He says,  “Little girl, arise!”, and people physically, miraculously stand up.

Other times, when He says, “Little girl, arise,”  the child inside of us who has been beaten down and cast aside rises up and is healed.  And He tells our broken hearts just the things that they have always been longing to hear:

“You are loved.”

“You are not, and never have been, the problem,”

“I am proud of you.”

“My light pours through you, and shines out of you.”

“Will you trust me while you wait?” 

Let me be your Father.”

Guys, there are things more important than physical healing, and I think that I figured out what some of those things are this past week.  God wants to restore the years that were stolen from me through trauma and abuse.  God wants to fill my heart to overflowing with hope, joy, and all good things that come from Him.  God wants to pour out His light and life through me in the midst of my suffering in ways that show that in my weakness, He is sufficient.  God wants to restore my identity and help me find myself in relation to Him.

My physical illnesses are surface issues.  Yes, they suck.  Yes, they can be heavy and painful.  Yes, I desire to be healed from them.  But I want God more than I want physical healing. In the midst of my pain, suffering, and illness,  God is enough.  If physical healing never comes, God is still enough.  No, He is more than enough.  He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift because He is every good and perfect gift.

After a compassionate, Spirit-led, wonderful group of individuals prayed, sang, and prophesied over me on Thursday, one of them asked,  “How do you feel now?”  I knew that He was referring to how I felt physically.  Was I healed?  I took a deep breath, and I said, “Quite honestly,  I feel quite a bit worse now physically.  Praying takes a lot of energy. But my heart and my mind are renewed, and emotionally and spiritually, I feel like a new woman.”  I am not sure how he felt after that prayer, if those precious people who deeply interceeded for me felt like they had failed, or that I had failed, or that God had not come through.  I hope not.  Their prayer changed me.  It strengthed my hope.  God flooded me with joy, heart-rest, and spiritual strength as they sang and prayed over me.  I have never felt more loved by Jehovah Rapha, my healer-God.

I’m still waiting for physical healing.  I have a sense that it is not yet time. And I am okay with that.  I will keep asking, and I will keep readily welcoming prayers for physical healing.  But of this I am sure: God provides special blessings in the waiting times of our lives.

As I wait,  I embrace this promise from Isaiah 40:31: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.  They will walk and not grow weary.  They will run and not be faint.


 

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Puzzles and Surrender

Puzzles and Surrender

This summer, our family had the privilege of spending a week at a friend’s house on the lake.  I was excited to find a 1000-piece puzzle of a cottage lake scene in their collection of games in the living room.  I hadn’t pieced together a puzzle larger than 24 pieces since my little ones were born. Upon opening the box filled with a broken picture, my brain lit up like a Christmas tree. The challenge of 1000 pieces of chaos seemed intoxicating as the pieces summoned me to transform them into a coherent whole.  I quickly fell into the puzzle trance (come on, puzzlers, you know what I’m talking about), and within a day or two, the chaos resolved into a beautiful portrait of peace and calm.


Thus began my puzzle addiction.  Since that vacation,  I have set up a card table in our living room, having a complicated puzzle in the works at all times.  And for me, the more complicated, the better.  I tried a 2000-piece puzzle, but I couldn’t find a surface in the house large enough to accommodate its expansive dimensions. I really love the picture-mosaic puzzles, where the larger images are composed of thousands of tiny pictures.  This complexity adds an extra layer of challenge and adds about a day or two to the course of completion.

Now, aside from keeping my brain agile and engaged, I think that for me puzzle-doing holds something more symbolic than just a time-consuming activity.

My life seems like chaos.  My brain feels like scrambled eggs.  My medical situation feels like that 2000 piece-puzzle that I can’t seem to find a surface large enough to complete.  Not only does it feel like that 2000-piece-puzzle, but it feels like 2000 pieces from 2000 separate puzzles that will never fit together.

And it’s not just my medical situation.  It is my scrambled, jumbled, broken history that seems like it will never make sense in the present.  It is my chaotic regimen of medications that alleviate a few symptoms but create their own awful set of side-effects that sometimes seem infinitely worse than the symptoms that they treat: Side-effects that alter my personality, my mental state, my ability to remain sane and stable.  It is enough to make my brain feel like it is going to ooze out of my ears in a pharmaceutical-enduced alphabet soup.   It is the endless questions about my future and the future of my family, as we navigate life in its insecure complexity.

The puzzle of my life seems like it will never in a million years create any kind of cohesive whole, let alone a beautiful portrait.  So, I work on puzzles that make sense. The puzzles that have edge pieces, corners, patterns, and colors that fit together.  No matter how chaotic it seems when you open the box, you can trust that in a day or so, you will be gazing at an orderly, well-formed, complete masterpiece.

But here’s the thing about life:  It may not make sense on this side of heaven.  We may not have a complete picture while we are still breathing air here on this broken ball of earth.

And here’s the thing about God:  We also will not be able to put together the puzzle of the Master-Creator on this side of heaven.  God refuses to fit in our “box,” and so will not fit together like one of my clear-cut puzzles.

My intellectual human brain likes concepts that fit neatly in a cohesive whole.  I like questions that have complete and clear-cut answers.  I like to feel larger than ideas and questions, and in order to feel larger than ideas,  I have to be able to fully wrap my mind around them. I am larger than the puzzles that I create.  I can be “creator” and “master” of the puzzle.

No matter how popular Henley’s “Invictus” poem might be, I am not “creator” and “master” of my life.  I am also not “creator” and “master” of God.  In surrender,  I release the need to fully understand.  I let go of the drive to put every piece together in order to fully wrap my mind around my past and present.  I release the need to be able to predict and control my future.  This process of surrender is counter-intuitive.  It goes against my desperate drive for control and mastery.  It tramples on my self-sufficient pride.  And I am confident that it is the only way to peace and wholeness.

Ironically, the only path toward growth and wholeness is surrender.  What if I took the pieces of my chaotic puzzles in my hands and lifted them, handing them over in sweet abandon to the Creator who actually knows what He is doing?  What if I stopped asking “why” and started seeking the face of the One who intimately knows me, past, present, and future?  What if I left my puzzle-master pursuit to the cardboard cut-out pieces on my card table in my living room? What if in doing so,  I could sincerely sing “Whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul‘”?

The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

Over the last few weeks, my mood has gotten increasingly dark. Hope has proven itself to be scarce, and deep despair has sprung up like unwelcome weeds in my mind and heart. I’ve grown bitter, grumpy, antagonistic, and jaded.  

Part of the cause of my dark season has been pure exhaustion. No one in our house is sleeping well. Part of the cause of my soul-darkness is medication mishaps. Prednisone, psychologically speaking, is clearly not my friend. In addition, my treatment team has been having conversations about their own fear of the potential fatality of my conditions and what long-term prognosis looks like. With all of these factors at play, my typical resilient ability to reframe my daily suffering has been less than stellar. 

I find myself tired of fighting what feels like a losing battle for my body, I feel tired of desperately trying to maintain my tenuous grip on hope in a situation that appears hopeless, and I am tired of living this life of passing out, unexpected and unexplained reactivity,  chronic pain, and total dependency.  I am tired of playing wack-a-mole with 15 symptoms at once, wielding faulty mallets. I am bone-exhausted. 

I wrestle with God over healing, and I read of the “severe mercies” of God: when God withholds something good because He possibly knows something that we don’t (St. Augustine, Confessions XI, 25). 

But really, God? I’m too tired to see good in this. I’m too sick to feel hope.  And, if I’m really honest, I’m almost offended by this “severe mercy” concept right now. It seems a little bit like mockery.  And yet I know that God is good, that He is for me, not against me, that He loves me. 

I know that I will continue to pray for healing, and I know that for reasons that can’t always be grasped by my measly human brain, He doesn’t always heal. And I have my toddler-style tantrums when the medical tests yeild no clear-cut answers, when treatment is a continual crap-shoot because no one seems to know what to do with me. I sit and pout, looking longingly at the sky for that one rain cloud that will bring the much-needed refreshment for my body and soul. And I have snarky, angry comments for God when not even a single measly cloud floats in to give me a sign of possible rain.  

My humble honesty of the past when I approached God in grief on my knees is precariously teetering on the edge of a cliff called cynicism. I am entering into the danger-zone of hostile, accusing, finger-pointing.  The result of humble, grief-stricken, heart-wide-open brokenness is communion with God in suffering. When we come to God with  fist-throwing, accusation-hurling fury, we run the risk of walking away in entitled bitterness, estranged from our life-source. 

In this season, I am tempted to choose to be offended by God and interpret lack of healing as abandonment.  I am inclined to curl in a ball and believe that it is God who continues to hit me when I am down. Worse yet, I start to believe that He has walked away, apathetic to my agony.

But this is my opportunity to employ some sound DBT strategies. I can choose to engage in the opposite-to-emotion tool that I know has carried me through difficult times. God has a host of promises that are unchanging. These are the promises that I can count on:

Never will He leave me or forsake me. ( Hebrews 13:5)

Because of His great love we are not consumed. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. ( Lamentations 3:22)

Neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor demons, nor anything else in all creation is able to separate me from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. ( 2 Corinthians 4:8)

My heart has grown uncomfortably hard, and I am ready for some softening. God’s promises knead my heart and soften it just enough for the fog of disillusionment to lift and for me to rememember the Father’s deep, deep love for me.  

Don’t get me wrong, God can handle our anger and accusations. He will not turn from us when we bring whatever broken mess we carry to Him, even when we are furious with Him.  He also wants to show us how deeply and unbelievably loved we are. And when we cling to the anger, resentment, and offense like they are our best friends, we tend to build walls up against the loving God of the universe (from our side). 

It is time for me to lay down my God-thrashing weapons and come to Him on my knees once again,  open to whatever healing may look like.  It’s time to drop the cold, bitter cynicism.  God wants to wash my offense away with His love.  

What if I’m not physically healed? I will not fear, because I will still have Jesus, and He is more than enough. 

Freedom Within Borders

Freedom Within Borders

As a child,  I was ultra-submissive.  I never rocked the boat.  I was terrified of breaking the rules.  I was rigid and well-behaved, trembling at the thought of doing anything rebellious.  As an adolescent and teenager,  I was the same meek, timid, rule-following legalist.  I craved structure, rules, and boundaries.  I even made my own arbitrary world of boundaries and structure because the set rules were not rigid enough.  They diagnosed my world of rules as “anorexia.”  I lived and breathed rules.  They defined me.  Without my system of  restriction,  I had no sense of self.  How sad is it when your identity is shaped by what you refuse to do?  I built this prison for myself, and I got way too comfortable in it.

Somewhere along the line, however, I broke.  After a lifetime of worshipping the rules,  I could no longer walk the tightrope that I had strung for myself.   I didn’t turn wild-child or anything, but I did let loose a bit.  I ate desserts.  I had real, legitimate conversations with God and asked Him what seemed like “off-limits” questions.  I allowed myself to get angry and express my anger.  I allowed myself to voice the truth of my suffering.  I risked relationships: real, meaningful relationships.  I watched tough movies.  I said words like “crap” without flinching.  I stopped trying to be absolutely perfect in every way.  And I embraced a new kind of freedom.  I also uncovered this inner rebel whom I had never before encountered.  I stepped out of my box.

Many people around me encouraged this new slightly rebellious side.  In anorexia recovery, it is difficult to really make strides toward freedom without stepping outside of one’s own rigidly structured habits.  I became more spontaneous, which allowed me to experience a new side of my own humanity and made space for joy and excitement.  As restrictive living lessened, my world expanded, and as my world expanded, I realized that I had been hiding from a bunch of phantoms that I had dreamed up.  Many of my fears were nothing but smoke and mirrors.

This rebel was helpful in recovery from an eating disorder, and I am extremely thankful to have tasted the fresh life of freedom.

In an unfortunate turn of events, however,  I find myself trying to navigate a new world of restrictions.  These restrictions are  imposed by doctors and my treatment team as we try to manage my chronic illnesses.  The Megan of my youth would have clung to restrictions and been the most compliant patient on the planet.  She would follow doctors orders at all times and never imagine pushing the envelope.  Unfortunately, this Megan is quite different from the Megan of my youth.

I have this need to push the limits.  Some providers on my treatment team call this going “rogue.”  With the unpredictability of POTS and MCAD, I am supposed to be in a wheelchair when I leave the house.  With the temperature in the 90’s most afternoons,  I need to stay inside because my body cannot regulate its own thermostat.  With my complex set of allergies and motility issues, I am on a strict diet, involving no processed food, refined sugar, artificial colors, animal protein, dairy, gluten, and fiber. Basically, I can eat about five to ten percent of food options out there.

I find myself bucking up against these medical boundaries that have been compassionately placed upon me.  The rebel in me says,  “No one can tell me what I can’t do,” so I sneak in a handful of teddy grahams.  I take the kids out in the backyard on a hot afternoon.  I “forget” to remind my husband to put my wheelchair in back of the car.  I scoff at the rigidity of the rules and try to do my own thing.  The rules seem oppressive.  It seems like people are trying to rob me of life and freedom and fun.  And since my rebellious years are a bit delayed, I act a bit like a typical rebellious teenager, turning on her heels away from those who love her as they summon her to a life that they know is more life-giving. She is convinced, however, that they are trying to rob her of “real life.”

So as I do my own thing, I reap the consequences.  I eat what I feel like eating, and I suffer tremendous pain and sometimes near-anaphalaxis as a result.  I take my children outside to play, and I collapse in the grass when my legs give out due to heat exhaustion.  I “conveniently” forget my wheelchair and end up in bed for a couple days after a simple doctor’s appointment.  I wail that it is not fair, and I all but beat my chest with my fists at the injustice of my life.  I pout, and if I had the energy, I would stomp my stubborn feet all the way to my bed.

I didn’t ask for these restrictions, and I resent them.  But I am reminded that they are there so that I can actually have a chance at life.  These restrictions are not like my self-imposed prison that I created so many years ago.  They are life-giving boundaries, placed around me so that I can move safely and freely in this life that is mine to live.

I have to avoid many foods so that I can be pain-free and empowered to pursue important goals in my life.  I cannot be the mother, friend, and wife that I was created to be if I am in the midst of allergic reaction after allergic reaction.  I have a wheelchair so that I can go out and enjoy the events and activities that other people get to enjoy.  What if I could see my wheelchair as a vehicle that could transport me further into abundance and hope?  I cannot go outside often, but I can be inside in a stable environment, reading stories to my little ones, singing songs, playing my keyboard, and writing so that my life can bring meaning and life to others.

These boundaries that surround my life look different than what I had expected my borders to look like.  That does not mean, however, that they are meant to be disregarded and cast aside.  In my rebellion,  I will suffer.  The rules are not created to chastise me or smother me.  They are created to free me to live more fully.

I still feel like a rebel, and I kind of like the rebel part of me.  I still want to eat chocolate cake, french fries, and maybe a really delicious salad.  But I want to live a meaningful, abundant life, and for me, that means learning to settle into a particular set of boundaries.

In the perfect world, where there is no suffering, pain, or sickness, this lifestyle would be unnecessary.  One day, when I know as I am fully known, I will be unfettered by a failing body.  But that is not today, and this is not the perfect world.  The Kingdom is not fully here on earth, so I will submit and trust that I can still taste the glories of the Kingdom as I navigate life within these new borders.

I am slowly learning to find freedom within these boundaries, and it is beautiful.

 

White-hot Forgiveness

White-hot Forgiveness

I wrote this article back in March, in the middle of the Lenten season.  It was shared here at Annesley Writers. I realized that I have not shared it here, on my personal site with you guys. 

I have this propensity to explode. When my blood pressure fluctuates, when blood doesn’t adequately pump to my brain, when my pain medications are wearing off, I am unpredictable.

The most difficult part of this issue is that I am agonizingly aware of my irrational temper-tantrums, and I live in fear of my explosions. One of my family’s biggest complaints about my struggle with my chronic illnesses (aside from my horrific memory) is that I have anger issues.

No amount of awareness of the neurological basis for this weakness can relieve me of the guilt that comes after snapping at my empathetic kids or my beloved husband.

I try to stay seated as this position helps with the blood flowing to the brain issue. I take medications to help regulate heart rate and blood pressure and to reduce the gallons of adrenaline my broken nervous system dumps into my body. These physiological interventions only work minimally.

I still fall into non-coherent, flames-shooting-out-of-ears nuclear blasts. They usually end with a humiliated chuckle, and an embarrassed muttering of, “Sorry, Mommy’s head turned into a volcano again.”

Internally, I am thrashing myself, resolving to control my temper better. Externally, I am emailing my doctor, desperately begging for some kind of medical intervention that will stabilize my labile physiology that seems to have my psychology hanging by a thread.

Cognitive decline, neurological conditions, and anger outbursts can bring even the greatest saint to her knees, and these deficits pull out the parts of me that I never want to have exposed to the light of day.

Lent seems to do the same thing, and the season of Lent this year has corresponded with a heightened awareness of my short-comings.

Hot tears, intermingled with hot bath water, Epsom salts, and essential oils, meet me in the rare moments of solitude and reflection during my Lenten morning bath times. Bathing is tricky with toddlers around, so I strategically schedule shower and bath time for early in the morning before my husband leaves for work. The tears flow more freely these days, triggered by my wrestling-matches with my volatile temper.

As my body is wrapped in the warmth and comfort of oil, magnesium, and sulfate-infused water, my spirit feels cracked and raw. I squeeze my eyes shut to find my heart hemorrhaging into this cleansing pool.  I can’t do this on my own.  I am at the end of my pathetically limited internal resources, self-sufficiency, functionality, and medical options.  My false sense of self dissolves with the salts in these purifying waters, and I ugly-cry until my fingers and toes are wrinkled and the water is luke-warm.

Lent is a time of preparation for Jesus’ cross.  We let go of something that feels important to us, and we take on spiritual disciplines that may have fallen to the wayside over the year.  We strip away the flesh in order to put on Christ.

I am so quick to judge these 40 days as tedious, but Lent, in fact, is designed to be the church’s springtime, as we pull back winter’s layers of death and rise with a spirit of repentance, embracing the full gift of forgiveness through the cross of Christ, and experience a fresh empowerment of the Holy Spirit to embody and further the Kingdom of God.

How many nights do I cuddle with my precious three-year-old daughter in her bed, whispering words of repentance into her ear? “I am so sorry that I yelled at you tonight, Baby. Mommy lost her temper again, and I was wrong.” Or how many times do I have to sit down with my husband after accusing him of something completely absurd to ask his forgiveness?

I keep asking forgiveness, and they keep forgiving.

My temper issues are only one example of a deeper condition. One thing has become certain over this Lenten season:  I am in desperate need of forgiveness and grace, every day, every hour, every minute. 

I frequently feel like Paul: I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes … Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7: 17-20, The Message).

My illnesses are getting the better of me. They capitalize on my weakness. This is such a hopeless feeling, except, except, I can hear a whisper…

  “Come now, let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18).

Lord, what reasoning do you have to offer? I whisper back. I’m a white-hot flame, ready to singe the next victim. I am lost in this chaos of a broken body and broken brain. The weight of it is smothering.

I died for this too. I died for you, with all of your struggles and all of your illnesses. I beat death for you too, Megan, my beloved child.

My tearful bath time comes to a close, I cannot lament any longer, and I feel a sense of closure, or exhaustion, as I rise to face the day.  Pandora switches songs as I wrap my diseased body in a towel.  God sings the second verse like a fresh breath of life.  I laugh out loud with the joy that only can come in the morning following a long night of weeping:

When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.”

(Before the Throne of God Above, Charitee Lees Bancroft, 1841)