When I consider my faith journey, I can’t help but think of those hapless Israelites who were stuck in the desert for forty years after being led out of Egypt.
For me, too, it was about forty years before I took my first baby steps into the promised land of a living faith in God.
I grew up in a big loving family, with parents who were excellent guides and examples of the Christian faith. Still, God felt distant to me, and faith was mainly a matter of going through the motions and hoping it would eventually become real.
After I married and started having children, though, I realized that “fake it till you make it” wasn’t enough. This hit home as one of my babies was being baptized. When the priest said in his homily that children learn to get to heaven by following their parents, I burst into tears right there in church. “My poor kids,” I thought, “how can I lead them anywhere if I don’t have real faith?”
Our family grew, and I kept going through the motions, feeling like a hypocrite. Then, about fourteen years ago, my husband and I encountered a large faith community of Christians—married and single, young and old—who were helping one another to live out the gospel in their daily lives. We joined, recognizing that they had something we needed. I was intrigued by their confidence in God; they prayed so powerfully, as if they knew Jesus personally. How do you develop that depth of faith? I wondered. Could it happen to me?
I wondered and wandered for several more years. And then I reached my Jericho.
Looming Walls. For the ancient Israelites, Jericho was a display of God’s power on their behalf. Under Joshua’s leadership, they had finally crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. But in their path was the hostile king of Jericho in his formidable, walled city. It seemed impregnable, but Joshua assured the people that if they marched around Jericho for seven days, as God had directed, the city would fall. And indeed it did (see Joshua 6).
I met my own “Jericho” when my daughter, Bridget, who was ten, was kicked in the head while playing soccer. She had a concussion that left her unable to read, write, walk, watch TV, or even bear the ticking of a clock. Sure that the ordeal would never end, she had nightly anxiety attacks. As the months passed, dark depression started to cloud her pretty blue eyes.
Things got worse. The concussion seemed to have lowered Bridget’s immunity, unleashing a dormant case of Lyme disease that caused painful muscle spasms throughout her body. On Christmas Day, she stepped on a sewing needle; it broke in her foot and was surgically removed, but with resulting complications.
For a week or two in January 2009, it seemed that all was lost. A priest came and gave Bridget the Anointing of the Sick, but it looked like our little girl would never be able to function without headaches, anxiety, and depression. Would she even survive? With everything going downhill very fast, we didn’t know.
The Friend at My Side. The ordeal felt like a big, scary Jericho—a towering wall of pain and uncertainty. And yet, agonizing as it was to see my child in such distress, I had to admit that something unexpectedly wonderful was happening in me. For the first time ever, I felt and knew that Jesus was with me, guiding each step, buffering every misstep.
How can I explain it? Here’s an analogy. Say you have a dear friend, an active person who is suddenly hospitalized and put on bed rest. Now you have the opportunity to sit and visit with her—play some backgammon, make her meals, and do little kindnesses. You’re there when she needs help, calming her anxieties and anticipating her needs.
In a similar way, I experienced Jesus becoming the most attentive Friend I had ever imagined. Little miracles would happen when I least expected them. Prayers were answered before I even thought to form the words. Jesus met my every need. And so often, he did it through the people in our faith community, especially my sisters in Christ.
Love Made Visible. I had been getting together regularly with five or six of these women; we would pray, talk about our lives, and encourage one another in following the Lord. In my time of need, this group became a lifeline.
“So how are you handling the stress?” a doctor asked me one day. I laughed and told him how my sisters in Christ consoled me, brainstormed with me, and even threw a surprise birthday party to lift my spirits. Each of them had a gift. And whether it was wisdom, prayer, cooking, peace, or action, each one shared it generously.
These women were Christ’s love reaching out to me, Christ’s hands serving me in my daily life. Some brought meals. Others babysat. One brought me a little toy sailboat—a visual reminder to let go of anxiety and self-reliance and be guided by the wind of the Holy Spirit. And because my friends knew how to listen and follow the Spirit’s lead, their gifts would come at just the right moment. One woman seemed to call every time I was headed to the emergency room!
Breakthrough! Meanwhile, my husband and I kept consulting medical specialists. We were running out of options when we heard about a doctor who used a little-known treatment with her concussion patients. It seemed like a long shot, but we decided to give it a try.
And so it happened that on April 28, during her ninth treatment, Bridget was instantaneously and completely healed. Just as suddenly as the collapse of Jericho’s walls, her pain vanished away. What joy! After six months of misery, our daughter had regained her life.
We praised God for his goodness and celebrated with dinner at the loudest kids’ restaurant around. We thanked the Lord as we watched Bridget jump back into life with gusto—doing eight months of schoolwork in eight weeks without a single headache.
But Bridget’s healing was more than a glorious grand finale. For me, it was the entrance into an exhilarating life of faith, an unfolding discovery of God’s presence, power, and love.
I have a long way to go yet. And considering that my kids have already surpassed me in faith, maybe I should be embarrassed to be taking my little baby steps so late. Still, I can’t imagine that any Israelite moving past Jericho’s toppled walls felt any more delighted than I do today, as I get to know my Lord and discover how to love and serve him in my world.
Patty Whelpley and her family belong to the People of Praise Community in Northern Virginia. She and her husband, John, have five children and are members of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna, Virginia.