This the text of a talk given at a women’s retreat
Today I want to share with you from a time in my life when God was very near to me, but he was not doing what I wanted, and it made me miserable.
It all started six years ago, when my son, Sammy, was nine, with a simple case of strep throat. The doctor put Sammy on antibiotics and after a day or two he felt great and went back to school. But about ten days later he started having strange symptoms. He got a rash on his torso and legs, then a high fever, and then his knees swelled to the size of cantaloupes and turned the color of a bad sunburn. He was in tremendous pain and he couldn’t walk. We took him back to the doctors and they said that all of these symptoms were caused by strep. The strep had gone into his system.
Now I’ve been part of the prayer ministry team at my church for more than a decade and I believe in healing prayer, so I was praying fervently asking God to heal Sammy, but Sammy wasn’t getting any better. He would be on antibiotics for ten days, then I would take him in for a throat culture, then the nurse would call us the next day to say he still had strep. This went on for several months. I got to be on a first name basis with the nurse at Kaiser, dear Phylicia, who made the calls. After two months I could recognize her voice and my head would drop to my desk. She didn’t have to tell me, I knew. We tried shots in the rear, IV antibiotics, pills—everything.
I was praying fervently and meticulously following the doctors instruction, so when Sammy didn’t get better, I assumed that I must be doing something wrong–and I had lots of caring friend helping me feel that way—just like Job. They would call with suggestions such as why don’t you put the dog on antibiotics, why don’t you wash all your doorknobs with bleach, why don’t you soak your entire bathroom—or make that your house–with Lysol. Then there were the spiritual ones—Betsy, have you searched your heart for any hidden sin? Everyone assumed that I must be doing something wrong–and to be honest, I agreed with them. I was more than willing to beat myself up. I was wearing myself out trying to follow all their suggestions in addition to tutoring Sammy so he wouldn’t fall behind in school. And lets not forget the energy required to take care of a sick child—all you mothers know how restful it is when your kids are sick. I was exhausted.
Then one morning in prayer, I heard God’s still small voice whisper to my heart. Now I often hear God speak to me when I am alone and still and seeking him. This time, he whispered to my heart, You are not doing anything wrong. This was good news–and bad news. It was a tremendous relief to know that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. On the other hand, it also meant that there was nothing I could do to fix it. Nothing I could do to make Sammy well. Part of me wanted to be in control. I wanted there to be something I could do to make it all better.
And I still couldn’t understand why God wasn’t healing my son if I wasn’t doing something wrong. Deep down inside I was sure that God must be displeased with me. So I went back on my knees and talked to God about it. What he said shocked me. He said, Betsy, remember, I said ‘no’ to Jesus, too.
In my mind I saw Jesus in the garden asking his father, to let this cup pass. I may have doubted right then that God loved me, but I knew that he loved Jesus and that Jesus was sinless. Yet God said no to him, too. If that was true, then maybe, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Maybe God was simply saying no. Maybe he had reasons I couldn’t understand.
Then a month later I heard God speak to me one more time. He said, Not much longer.
“What do you mean, not much longer?” I asked sarcastically. “The Bible says that a thousand years is like a day to you! Long from whose perspective, mine or yours?”
But the very next time we had Sammy checked, the strep was gone!
Now I would like to tell you that that is the end of the story. But our family was free of strep only for about four months. Then that fall both Sammy and my youngest daughter, Sarah, had between the two of them, seventeen cases of strep in a year.
We finally decided to follow the doctor’s advice and have Sammy’s tonsils out. The surgery was uneventful; His recovery was painful, but manageable. Sammy kept me up a lot at night at first, so on the third night I shamelessly begged him, Sammy pleeeeease, don’t walk me up. He said, Okay mom, I promise.
I fell into bed and slept blissfully until about 4 am when I woke up. Someone was standing next to my bed. I sat up. It was Sammy. “Mom,” he said, “I didn’t wake you up, but I have terrible nosebleed.” I turned on the light; the blood was coming from his mouth not, his nose. I dashed into his room and checked his pillow. It was covered with clots of blood. We rushed back to the hospital where the doctor told us that they would have to take him back into surgery. They also said that this kind of hemorrhaging was a classic symptom of something called Von Willebrand Syndrome.
Then right before they wheeled him in to surgery, they brought in this spring-loaded blade, put it near the crook of his arm, and then stabbed him in the arm. I nearly clobbered the nurse. I thought it was positively draconian. I couldn’t believe in this day of modern medicine they couldn’t come up with something better than stabbing a kid in the arm then letting the blood run down while they timed it to see how long it would take for him to stop bleeding. His bleeding time was twice the normal value—clear evidence of Von Willebrands.
This opened the door to a painful period in our lives. Inside, I had given up on God. It was like, Okay, God, I asked you to heal my son and you gave me four months of good health, then, you hit us with a genetic clotting disorder that has no cure! I ached inside.
I went into a frozen, I can deal with this mode. Sammy’s hematologists were also oncologists—cancer doctors and the practice where we had to go for testing was filled with sick, skinny kids who with chemo backpacks. Skinny little legs hardly wider than the bones they contained! These kids were so ill. I would spend the whole time we were there being macho—telling myself—This isn’t so bad. It’s not like Sammy has cancer. I can live with this. I can handle this.
There was only one problem–Sammy could not live with this. He could not play any contact sports and my son lives for sports–the rougher the better–football, soccer, hockey. Sammy would cry and say, why couldn’t my sisters get this. They don’t care about sports. Why me, when I love sports so much?
That summer, about five months after Sammy was diagnosed with Von willebrand’s syndrome we went on vacation at the beach. And while we were there, we visited a tiny Pentecostal church. This was Pentecostal with a capital “P”. This church made Church of the Apostles look positively Episcopalian. While we were there they asked if anyone wanted prayer for healing. Sammy shot up the aisle. All I could think, was my poor son, won’t he be disappointed when God doesn’t do anything. This was waaay outside of my comfort zone.
A few weeks after we got home, I took Sammy to the doctor for a treatment trial. They were going to test various medication to see which one would stanch the bleeding best and then Sammy was going to start carrying this medication with him 24-7 time—just in case he got in a car accident or accidentally cut his finger.
They started by testing his bleeding time. It was one minute more than normal—much less than it had ever been before. The doctor looked at me and said, “What have you been doing?” Sammy had been lying down during the treatment trial and he popped up and with great enthusiasm, he told his doctor all about the little church that had prayed for his healing.
The doctor was clearly dumbfounding. She looked from him to me, and back again. She suggested various options— including retesting him. The tests had been horrible so we didn’t want to do that again. So we decided to wait a month and do another bleeding time test– to see what would happen.
A flame of faith began to flicker in my heart. For some time, I had sensed God asking me, why don’t you ask me to heal him. But I didn’t want to be disappointed with God. I knew that God often heals people gradually, over time, as they are soaked in prayer. I came home that day and called every prayer warrior I knew and asked them to pray. I think God may be healing Sammy. Pray that he completes the healing.
We went back to the doctor’s a month later and Sammy’s bleeding time was normal. The doctors said they had no explanation, but they also said, whatever it is is gone. You never need to come back. They wondered aloud if they had misdiagnosed him. I don’t think their worldview allow the possibility of miracles, but we knew God had healed Sammy.
That day as we were getting in the car, Sammy said words every mother longs to hear. “Mom,” he said, “this has been hard. But I am so close to God now. I hear his voice, I feel his presence.” Then he said, “Mom, it has all been worth it.”
Joy flooded my heart. God had healed my son in more ways than one, and I will never cease to be grateful.
Sammy went on to play two seasons of college football at a small school in Pennsylvania. He is now 25 and an architect in DC.
Elizabeth Stalcup is the Associate director of the Healing Center at Church of the Apostles, Anglican. She blogs at https://aredeemedlife.wordpress.com/ and has recently published an e-book Crossroads Before Me about how an out-of-wedlock pregnancy in her twenties radically altered the course of her life.