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This is a story about healing, but it’s not the simple sickness-to-health tale you might expect. In 1997, a series of medical miracles literally brought me back from the edge of death. Since then, I have shared my story with thousands of people to show them that Jesus still heals.
But that wasn’t the whole story. It seems that God didn’t save my life so that I could live out the rest of my days in perfect health. In fact, for the past fourteen years, I have endured increasingly debilitating pain from an entirely new and different disease. So why did God let me live? Maybe if I tell my story, the answer will become clear.
A Message from the Other Side. When I was diagnosed with Churg-Strauss Syndrome—a rare and incurable autoimmune disorder—in 1995, friends and strangers all over the country began praying for me. I went on chemotherapy, steroids, and numerous other medications to try to control the disease. I received notes from convents in faraway cities telling me that I was being remembered daily in the sisters’ prayers. I tried to wait for healing with patience, but my faith was more like a fraying thread than a strong lifeline. In the spring of 1997, every major system in my body—heart, lungs, and kidneys—started to fail. The doctors expected I would die, and so did I and most everybody else.
On my second day in the intensive care unit, an authoritative nurse’s aid walked into my room. She said, “Have you got any fear?” I said, “Yes.” I was at peace with death, but suffocation was not the way I wanted to go. “Good,” she said, “because Jesus told me to tell you not to be afraid. He is here with you right now.” As she spoke, I became aware of Jesus’ presence more tangibly. Then she paused.
“He also told me to tell you that starting right now, this very moment, he’s healing you. You need to be patient because it’s going to take some time. Be faithful to him because you know he will be faithful to you.” She left the room without another word, like a cast member from Touched by an Angel.
“This Can’t Be!” Sure enough, I began to improve. Only one day after declaring my kidneys irreversibly damaged, my doctors changed course and said they were “perfect.” Nine days later, my breathing became normal. A heart that had been severely impaired and enlarged suddenly became normal too. After a scan of my lungs, another doctor came into my room confounded; he couldn’t explain what he had seen. Before, 90 percent of my lung tissue had been scarred, but now, “I’ve just looked at the most perfect set of lungs I have ever seen,” he said. “This can’t be, but it clearly is.” And so it went over the next several weeks.
The healing continued when a group of friends offered to pray with me. As they laid hands on me, there was a brilliant flash in my eyes that my friend Paul and I both saw. The cataracts that had developed from one of my medications disappeared. All of my pain and nausea stopped. Heavy elastic bandages that wrapped my legs to control swelling became loose. As I peeled them away, my friends started laughing and calling out, “Lazarus, come forth!” Medical visits ended with doctors in tears, saying, “You are healed. This is not the result of medicine. What a great gift from God!”
But then, a decade later, I got a new, unrelated diagnosis—a degenerative neurological disorder called Multiple System Atrophy. For years now, this has brought different health problems that show no signs of abating. But to this day, I am grateful for my wondrous healings.
The Rest of the Story. So why did this first healing happen? As with many other healings, I believe a primary reason was to stir people’s faith and raise our expectations of what God can do. Marvelous works like healing can help us fix our eyes more fully on the Lord.
But why has God allowed me so much physical pain since then? Why is healing the start of my story, not the end? In many cases, I have discovered that it is precisely my struggle that draws me closer to God and other people. When I think back over my life, I would not want to have all my pain taken away. Each experience has taught me something, brought me closer to the Lord, and made me more compassionate. I have learned that it is just as important to suffer in faith as it is to accept miracles of healing.
Victory in the Struggle. Whenever I find myself struggling with this new illness, a Good Friday service I attended comes to mind. During one of the readings of the Gospel, I imagined myself with Jesus at the cross. I began to feel as if I were sharing in his experience as memories of my own pain became tangible. I sensed that Jesus wanted me to see what he was seeing as he looked down from the cross. Crowds were jeering at him. The leaders of the Temple were raging against him. Most of his disciples were in hiding. In the midst of it all, he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” It was an intensely lonely moment. And then he turned to me and said, “If this is all there is, will you still follow me?”
I couldn’t say yes right at that moment, but the next day at the Easter Vigil, as we were celebrating the Resurrection, I finally said yes. I saw that in the moment when all we can see is our pain and our struggle, Jesus continues to ask, Will you still belong to me? Will you give your heart to me? Will you follow me? If we say yes, we share in his victory. The pain may not stop, the sickness may not go away, but Jesus is with us. And he wants us to go on.