What a racket. Two years ago, my son tossed a ping pong ball in a glass bowl at his school carnival, and he was awarded -- ha ha, awarded -- a tiny goldfish in a plastic bag. A brown goldfish, no less.
Evidently a certain pet store was cleaning out its inventory of crummy brown goldfish and hit on the perfect win-win solution -- for them. My son was thrilled with his prize, and, like several other suckers at his school, Mom and Dad walked out of the store with a $60 aquarium starter kit.
Well, it wasn't two weeks before our brown goldfish -- dubbed Swifty -- developed a nasty case of fin rot. The creeping crud swiftly corroded Swifty's fins and tail. Eventually all he had were jagged nubs for fins and a single slender bone in place of a tail. Then even the bone fell off. He looked like a goner for sure.
We pumped this antibiotic stuff into the tank, all in an effort to spare our son's tender heart. Finally, with Swifty scudding around feebly at the bottom of the tank, I suggested to my son that we pray for him. I'd always believed in prayer for physical healing, but more in a theoretical sense. I'd be the first to admit my faith was weak. Though the gospels are filled with accounts of miraculous healings -- and no indication that God can't do the same stuff today -- I hadn't seen a whole lot of it personally. I'm sure my attitude had something to do with being a doctor's kid, and constantly hearing people's ignorant jabbering about their various ailments, and the fact that, far as I knew, I'd never been miraculously healed of anything physical.
Well, laugh all you want, but the boy and I got down on our knees one evening, placed our hands on the tank and prayed for Swifty's healing. We prayed passionately. I kind of rode on the kid's faith. Not too far in the back of my mind was this thought: If I can't believe God to heal a goldfish, my faith really is pathetic.
I've heard folks say that you have to find a point of agreement when you pray for healing. My point of agreement was that I believed God could heal a goldfish through our prayer. Wasn't so sure I could extend that to human beings just yet, but you gotta start somewhere. I also prayed that God would increase my faith concerning physical healing.
No, Swifty didn't sprout fins and a tail while we knelt there. But gradually, over the course of several days, he improved. (Meanwhile, most of the other "prize" goldfish had gone belly up in other folks' homes.) He developed an appetite again, and his fins started growing back. I wondered about his tail, though; I read somewhere that once the bone was gone, the tail couldn't regenerate. Well, suffice it to say that Swifty is now a 2-year-old goldfish with a rippling tail and a full set of fins.
And, to complete the transformation, he has turned a dazzling gold.
So there. Bible Girl's faith passes the kindergarten test.
Like I said, I'd asked God to increase my faith. I wrote earlier about what happened a year later -- I was supernaturally healed of chronic Achilles tendinitis, a condition I'd had for three years. After that, while not exactly bursting with faith, I resolved that I would not duck and run when someone approached me to ask that I pray for physical healing. Used to be I'd grab another sister, point and disappear.
Three weeks ago I experienced a bigger test. This time one of my closest friends suffered a sickle cell pain crisis. Sickle cell disease is a deadly condition caused by a DNA mutation that is prevalent among blacks, such as my friend, whom I'll call DD, her family nickname. The red blood cells of people with this hereditary condition sometimes contort into sickle shapes and become clogged in the body's small blood vessels. When this happens, she says, the pain is "beyond excruciating."
DD endured such horrible pain during these attacks -- she grew up in an extremely poor South Texas family, and the disease wasn't diagnosed until she joined the Army as a teenager -- that she frequently prayed for God to kill her. Among her childhood memories is lying in bed in the shack she and her mother and brother shared, twisting in pain during sickle cell attacks and fantasizing about her funeral and the relief death would bring.
DD, who has one of the more severe forms of sickle cell (Sickle-Hemoglobin C Disease), has been hospitalized numerous times -- twice a year on average. (Some sickle cell patients are hospitalized every month.) The visits can extend into weeks. She has nearly died on at least four occasions. There isn't much the doctors can do except pump narcotics into you and, if little oxygen is making its way to your brain, administer blood transfusions. Sickle-cell sufferers have a poor life expectancy, and many die of complications from the disease. Nonetheless, even with a large African-American population here, doctors are often remarkably ignorant about sickle cell. In the Dallas area, DD has been treated shabbily on several occasions by hospital personnel who assume she's a black female drug addict scamming to get heavy-duty narcotics.
They only shape up when they discover she's a doctor herself.
A few weeks ago DD was luxuriating in the "joy of the Lord." Know what I'm talking about? It's something extraordinary and unforgettable -- you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit almost continually, and you're keenly conscious of God's love and mercy and kindness. There is nothing like it. It is so powerful, your prayers seem to pop. Praise and thanksgiving bust out of you. DD felt so good she decided to pull on running shoes and rip around the paths at a picturesque local lake.
As soon as she stopped running, she could feel the pain coming on. Physical exertion can sometimes trigger a sickle cell crisis -- the loss of oxygen during exercise can cause the red blood cells to form the sickle shape, and pain begins to take hold in the joints, in the chest and in the bones. Here is an indicator of how extreme the pain can be: During one hospitalization, DD laid for hours on a heating pad, which sometimes alleviates the pain. Her entire back was covered with first-degree burns, and she didn't even notice it until a nurse pointed it out. The pain from the burns was nothing compared to the pain from sickle cell disease.
For many people who suffer from chronic conditions, those first twinges of pain can bring on a sinking feeling that extends beyond the physical. It wasn't long before she was taking codeine, which she always has on hand. She rated the pain at 3.5 on a scale of 5. In the past, this would have been a sign that she'd be on her way to the hospital within a day or two.
I got alarmed when DD sent me an e-mail that suggested she was slipping into depression. I knew the signs, because I'd suffered from depression myself for years -- until I was "delivered" through prayer when I was 26.
Confronted with a friend in pain -- who was fading fast into hopelessness -- I had to make a decision. Be a chicken, like I'd been most of my life, or gather up the faith I did possess and take a flying leap.
I got in the car that night and drove to DD's house. I didn't call her till I was halfway there, because I knew she'd tell me to turn around and go home. Now don't misunderstand me; I see nothing heroic about what I did. I wasn't trying to prove a point. I just love my friend.
When I walked in the door, DD was sitting on the floor in dim light, clutching a heating pad to her chest. She was rocking slightly, the same thing she'd done as a child to distract herself from the pain.
She stared at me expressionless. There was nothing to say.
"What do you want God to do?" I asked.
Stupid question of the day.
"I want to be healed," she said.
I felt my faith shudder. I rambled on about this and that for a while and asked a bunch of lame questions, which she patiently answered, still rocking.
I was stalling for time. I knew this was the point where the rubber meets the road, and where our belief so often falters: Are we going to get down and pray for a miracle, or are we going to mumble platitudes about God's goodness and his sovereignty and his blah-blah-blah to cover our own lack of faith?
Well, just then my husband called. I handed the phone to DD, and he prayed for her healing. I couldn't hear his words, but I picked up his steadiness, his confidence -- yes, his faith. I pulled myself together.
He hung up, and I sat next to DD and placed my hands on her shoulders and prayed. Actually, I prayed and prayed.
Really, what else could I do? A thought drifted by about the "saints" in the old Pentecostal churches, who had no balm but prayer. They were generally poor, with little or no access to medical care, and when they said Jesus was their physician, they meant just that. Simply and completely. No wonder so many of them testified of miracles in their time.
At one point, after several minutes of prayer, I got a sense from the Holy Spirit that I should place my hands on her chest. I can't adequately explain how I thought to do that, but I am accustomed to "listening" to the Holy Spirit when I am praying so I just did it.
DD and I felt exactly the same thing. My hands, or the place where I'd put them, or both, became noticeably hot. Heat was radiating through that area of her body, where she was experiencing the worst pain.
I don't remember all that I prayed or what I spoke right then; I know I prayed about her memories as a child, of lying alone in a back room, writhing and rocking in extreme pain, feeling forsaken by God. Whoever he was. (DD would make a commitment to Jesus Christ when she was a young adult.) I also prayed against the spirit of depression. (Yes, I believe that some but not all depression is rooted in spiritual conditions.)
The pain started to recede. I know because I asked her. I had made a decision to stay there and pray until things got better.
Or until I had to take her to the emergency room. Whichever came first.
If that sounds like a faith-deficient stance, all I can say is that is where I stood.
By the time I did go home perhaps two hours later, DD told me she felt "great." The depression was entirely gone. The pain had significantly subsided.
For the first time in about 48 hours, DD was able to fall asleep.
But the narcotic had also kicked in. We wouldn't be for certain that the sickle cell attack had been broken until the next day, when DD woke up with relatively minor pain in her joints but no pain at all in her chest. This is often what happens, she said: When the biggest pain subsides, you start to feel secondary sources of pain that were probably hurting all along.
Within two days, there was no pain at all.
Is she entirely healed? I don't know. She is still believing God for total healing of this medically incurable condition.
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I do believe God acted through our prayers that night -- as well as our love and concern for her. Which weighed more heavily? Again, I don't know. She was deeply touched that we'd even bothered to pray. In person, at length, with whatever faith we could muster.
And that says something to me. I made a decision that night never again to shrink away from healing prayer.
Jesus Christ is still in the healing business. Why it doesn't happen as often as we want it to, I don't know. But I'll do what I can, and I'll do what I know lines up with the Word of God: I will pray.
And pray and pray, if need be. --Julie Lyons