“The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8
Let me begin by saying that for some of you, this may be hard to believe. I will simply tell you what happened.
After the two leaders from my church came to pray for me, I wanted to have faith and believe. My friends clearly believed that God had heard all of our prayers and had answered; my intellectual doubts about miraculous healing in our day were being addressed. But I still could not shake off the heavy weight of fear. My faith was not as strong as the faith of my friends, and I knew it. I asked God to give me a sign that he was really going to heal me.
I had a particular sign in mind, and I know it sounds silly. I wanted God to bring a cardinal to my bird feeder. Over the last couple years, cardinals have been a reminder to me of God’s presence. They just come out of nowhere, it seems, a magnificent streak of red interrupting the dark greens and browns of everyday life. And they never, ever come to my bird feeder. They hang out once in a while in our walnut and ash trees in the backyard, but never once has one landed on our feeder just outside of our dining room picture window. Hence my childlike request.
I would sit at mealtimes staring at that bird feeder, aching, silently begging God to show me that he really was going to take the cancer away.
It was six days after my friends had come and prayed. A cadre of doctors from two different centers were still trying to figure everything out, and what treatment they would be recommending. The kids were at school, and Doug was out on a run. I had it in mind to go outside and work in the yard, but instead felt like what I needed to do at that moment was to head into my room, close the door, and pray. I spread out a quilt on the floor in the corner of my bedroom, opened the curtain (to see the bird feeder, you know, just in case), knelt on the ground and began to pray (which is not my usual habit of prayer, but when you are praying to God to do something that only he can do… you get on your knees). I played a song by Chris Tomlin called Our God on my phone, and worshipped; it was a song that I had been coming back to over and over in the few days beforehand.
Water you turned into wine
Opened the eyes of the blind
There’s no one like You
None like You
…Our God is Healer.
I looked out the window. No cardinal yet. But I just had this feeling that God was going to give me a sign and that was why I was there to pray. I opened my Bible to Luke. I had been spending most of my time in the Gospels during those weeks; I found that I needed to. I had been focusing mostly on the accounts of miracles in the Gospels – there are so many – because I was doubting and needed to be grounded in the reality of Jesus. The reality was that I had recurrent, metastatic cancer. That was absolutely true. But there was also a spiritual reality that was no less true.
I got to Luke 11:9-13. In the preceding months, as I had poured over the Bible to understand more about prayer and how we should pray, I had meditated many times on Matthew 7:7-11, which is basically the same passage – except in Matthew he wrote that Jesus said that our Father would give “good gifts” to those who ask Him. In the Luke passage he wrote that God would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. I was surprised, and to be perfectly honest, a little dismayed at this wording. I wanted healing; I wanted that good gift. Here it looked like Jesus was referring to asking God for the Holy Spirit. But I want to do what Jesus wants me to do, not just what I want to do. So as I knelt there on the quilt on the ground, I began to ask God for more of the Holy Spirit. I raised my hands along with my heart toward heaven and prayed, Come Lord Jesus, and Come Holy Spirit, over and over again.
It is difficult to describe what happened next, only because nothing like it has ever happened to me or has happened since. As I prayed those words I began to sway slightly, from side to side. I did not think anything of this; swaying while praying in and of itself is not extraordinary. In the moment I was so focused on the words of my prayer and the cry of my heart – Come Lord Jesus, Come Holy Spirit! – that I did not really notice the movements become more pronounced, until I was swaying like a tree in a violent windstorm. I opened my eyes when I realized that I was no longer in control. The words of my prayer were pouring out of my mouth. My body swayed hard to the right, to the point where I felt like I would fall over, but instead it was like I was pulled hard to the left. Then suddenly I was knocked to the ground to my right and landed flat on my back. Flat on my back, staring up at the ceiling, breathless, astonished, amazed.
Then I started laughing. And cheering. “You’re going to do it!” I cried. “You’re really going to do it!” I eventually sat up, then fell on my face praising God for my healing. And then I began to repent – for in that moment I realized that I had been sitting in the company of mockers (to quote Psalm 1) when it came to manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I had heard of people being “slain in the Spirit” (falling to the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit), but had dismissed it as being emotional and dramatic. I am not saying that every time it happens it is for sure the Holy Spirit – just as not everything people claim to be miracles are actually miracles – but generally in the past I have been highly skeptical of these kind of experiences. I didn’t think that God did that kind of thing anymore.
After some more time praising God, I finally stood up, looking around my room, realizing there is this reality all around me that I do not see, and that it is really there. Of course I knew this in my head – I am a Christian, after all – but “out of sight, out of mind.” I told Doug what had happened when he came back from his run, and also texted my two friends who had come over to pray. They affirmed what had happened and also praised God.
It only took a few hours for me to start doubting what had happened. Maybe I made myself fall over, I thought. Maybe I just wanted it so badly that I fell under the power of my own suggestions. Or maybe that was indeed the Holy Spirit, but maybe that didn’t necessarily mean that God was going to heal me of cancer. By the next night I was struggling with fear again. I texted my two friends and asked them to pray for me, and that I felt like I was under spiritual attack. One of them wrote back and said that she was expecting this, that the enemy would try to rob me of my encounter with God. She told me to practice Philippians 1:28.
Meanwhile my doctors had looked at everything and decided that the cancer in my lymph node was a recurrence of the endometrial cancer, and the only viable treatment option was chemotherapy. I asked for another CT scan. In the couple weeks leading up to the scan, I continued to pray and read God’s Word. A lot. I needed to fill my mind with what was true, and right, and good. I continued to ask people to pray for me. And I believed that God had done what he had made abundantly clear he was going to do.
All of this is why, on the night before I had the CT scan, I could write what I wrote on Caring Bridge. Though I regret that I was not completely honest in what I wrote. I wrote, “I have asked God to heal me miraculously. I know that He can; I believe that He will.” What I wanted to write, and what was the truth of the matter, was, “I believe that He has.” But I could not bring myself to write it. If I am honest with myself it was because I did not want to lose respectability. The shred of me left that was still straddling belief and unbelief won as I typed that four letter word. That shred of me that thought, but what if I am wrong about all of this? Then I will look like a fool. I reasoned that what I wrote was bold enough. I deeply regret that. You may think I am being too hard on myself, but I know what I was supposed to write that I did not.
I had the CT scan, which showed that the cancer was gone. For this child of God, the miracle confirmed the sign as much as the sign confirmed the miracle.