What Does it Feel Like to be Healed?


I have prayed for healing.

I have prayed for symptoms to disappear because that is what healing meant to me, but deep within I have suspected that my prayers were somehow too narrow. Too limited. How, then, should I pray? Is true healing more than the absence of some symptom?

I prayed that my boy would be healed. I prayed that food would no longer squeeze the breath from his lungs. God heard my prayer. When his throat began to swell, and I had forgotten the epi-pen, a stranger’s hand reached out with the medicine he needed.

What does it feel like to be healed? It feels like being held.

I have felt the breath squeezed from my own lungs. For one long, hard month I have despaired of ever again feeling strong. And I have prayed for healing.

I prayed for breath when what I needed was hope.

This is not a less-than prayer. I do not redefine healing in order to make it seem more possible. Lungs are made strong, allergies do disappear, the cords of cancer and disease are broken every day, but God can do so much more than that.

His healing is not limited to our bodies. His healing is not given only to those whom doctors will pronounce well. 

To be healed by God is to know that death is a lie. That there is nothing to fear.

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” Psalm 18:16

To be held in arms of love. That is what it feels like to be healed.


Book of Quotations: Notes from a Sickbed


I’ve been sick. For a month. I’m worn out with it.

Worn out enough to have spent the last few days in bed. Worn out enough to have finally called the doctor. Having filled the prescription he gave, I can breathe again. Though I am still tired. And each breath has that ache-y, medicinal twinge suggesting that my body knows it isn’t yet breathing under its own strength.

To be confined to a sickbed feels like the ultimate waste. Productivity ceases. To-do lists are left undone. One can no longer give anything. Confined to bed, receiving is the name of the game.

In other words, it isn’t only the pain of illness that makes it so uncomfortable.

When sick, it is no longer possible to do; the challenge is simply to be. I focus on each breath in and out. At first, this brings fear. Later, comfort. To labor at something which is usually instinctive is to recognize that it has always been, will always be … a gift. Breath. The presence of God. Beyond us and within us.

When we are sick, the world shrinks. I have a book. The view from my bedroom window. A slowly ticking clock. This is life condensed. Which means there is more to notice, more to observe, more to think about in one minute of this life than in an hour of my usual busyness.

And that is a good thing.

Still, I hate the phrase “look on the bright side.” It suggests a yin-yang view of life that I simply can’t accept. I think you know what I mean: every cloud with its silver lining, every light with its shadow. No thank you.

Shadows only make me dream of a world without shadow. Of light without darkness.  Of a day when “the moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter … when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (Isaiah 30:26).

But, in the meantime, I do marvel that anything good can emerge from sickness. From brokenness. From darkness. This isn’t to say that “it’s all worthwhile” or “it happened for a reason.” Those are platitudes that do little justice to the utter wrongness of sickness. And brokenness. And darkness.

No, when I acknowledge the good gift I am marveling at the fact that darkness is never all. There is always something more. Something beyond.

For me, now, it is only a few words read in a book in the middle of the afternoon while I lie in bed and listen to the children scream their far-off screams. They are not, in this moment, my responsibility.

And so, released from every responsibility that says do, I lie still and read a description of wolves crying under a full moon in Yellowstone Park. I’ve never heard a wolf’s cry, I don’t know if I ever will, but now, having read these words, I can carry that cry with me for the rest of my life:

          At the same time other wolves joined the first two, and we heard … the full-throated quiver of the pack. It haunted everything it touched, sanctified it. It rolled down the mountains and onto the plains and the bison heard it, the ground squirrels heard it, the crows nesting in the trees heard it. Mary began to tear.

          “We are alive,” the wolves said. “And the world is beautiful.”

(from Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger)


We Are a Beloved Community


On Friday, our weekly pizza-and-a-movie night had to be postponed (and, yes, for those of you wondering, I make two: one deliciously normal for four of us, one dairy-free, wheat-free and “pizza” in name only for the middle child).

This middle child, our accident-prone five-year-old, had to be taken to the emergency room after a fall onto the cement floor of our garage. He came home late that same night happy to show off his new plastic dinosaur and the half-dozen staples on the back of his head.

I still remember, years ago, the preschool teacher who told me that if any child was going to fall into a puddle or trip on the curb it would be my son. Always. This has never stopped being true.

Twenty-four hours later, three of us kneel to receive communion. We prepare to remember death and taste resurrected life while the boy so recently knitted back together stands behind us. The boy who knows what death tastes like better than any of us. He does not yet receive the elements, but he is always given a short blessing, a gentle hand on his head.

Our servers are an elderly couple unfamiliar to me. They must be Sunday-morning regulars moonlighting at our Saturday-evening service. The husband places his hand on my son’s head and leans in close. He prays and prays until it seems that the attention of a whole room has condensed and fixed itself on this prayer for one small boy. I don’t remember a communion blessing that ever continued so long.

It is long enough for this memory: I am seven-months pregnant with my miracle baby, my-sewn-in-tears-and-reaped-in-joy son. I am filled up with a baby and with fear. Having waited so long for him, I am sure that this gift cannot be given with no strings attached. There must be some price, in pain, that I must pay. Until someone touches my own head and prays for me, and I see … well, I hardly know what I see, but it is as if my unborn son and his maker are alone together. Then I understand that I have only a peripheral role in the relationship between them, and I see that my love is small and weak compared with the love God has for the child he’s made.

Kneeling at the communion rail, I can see that the young couple next to me are also watching my son and the gray-haired man. I can see tears in her eyes and feel them in my own, and I know that this, this, is what it means to live in a beloved community. We have been so well-loved by God that our hearts break for how he loves everyone around us. We are loved, and we are loving, and our hands touching broken heads and fearful hearts are the hands of Jesus, always.

And the heavy burden of love that I carry for my son is shared. It is not, has never been, mine alone. Of course, my husband shares it, the firstborn (who runs to her room weeping as the car leaves for the emergency room) shares it, but Jesus also shares it and his beautiful church shares it.

We are a beloved community.

What, Then, is Prayer?

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I fear that too many of us approach prayer with a mental picture of ourselves making a laborious attempt to come before God.  Or, maybe we have a picture of ourselves trying and mostly failing to get God’s attention.  Either way, the effort is all ours.  The distance between heaven and earth appears too big to bridge, and our burdens seem trivial.  They are dwarfed by God’s vastness, and they are lost in the cacophony of prayers being made across the planet at any given moment. 

I’ve learned that prayer is not about little people waving their puny arms in God’s face.  Nor is prayer like my own small voice pushing aside all others in order to make its way into God’s ear.

Rather, prayer is like a river.  It is always flowing, and we are not its source.  Its source is the Christ “who was raised to life,” for we know that He “is at the right hand of God . . . interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

To pray is to step into the rushing water.

Even the words we say are not our own.  We pray, like Christ, “Abba, Father.”  Instead of distance there is the intimacy of family.

And when we have no words?  We groan, but even in this we are not alone.  Our groan joins that of creation (and who can doubt that creation groans?).  Even better, our groans are echoed in God’s own heart, for the Spirit “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).  Our pain, our uncertainty transformed by God himself into powerful, purposeful prayer.

Quieting myself, I can just hear the sound of the river.  It is the sound of One singing over us, and His voice “is like the sound of rushing waters” (Zephaniah 3:17, Revelation 1:15).

How do we find this river?  How do we hear its voice?  And, most importantly, how do we jump in?

I’m not sure that I’ve figured it out.  All I know with certainty is that the river is there and sometimes it finds its way to me.

This week it found many of us at a monthly women’s worship service focused on the arts.  Women sang, women danced, women spoke, and women painted.  Yes, painted.

Some of us took Sharpie markers and wrote our prayers on one of several large, blank canvases.  Of course, I wrote the name of my boy.  I wrote the word Fear.  I wrote the word Food.  And then the painters began to pray and create, and our words were caught up in swirls of color.

By the end of the service, the canvas I had chosen (or the canvas chosen for me?) was covered in a wild rush of water.  The artist’s brush had spelled out across it: “The Healing River Flows.”

How could I ever think that my prayer for healing is mine alone?  Or even that I am its source? 

The source of my prayer is Christ.  The same one who gave me these words when I first prayed for a child: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4).  Back then, I read those words and knew that my prayer had been answered. 

Now I know that “answered” is not really the best word-picture for what sometimes happens when we pray.  Instead, it is less like being spoken to and more like being swept away by water that was always already pushing in the direction we longed to go.

We don’t need to fight to get God’s attention.  We do need to remember that our Savior with the voice like water has never stopped praying over us.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb . . .” (Revelation 22:1).

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