Healing at the lake, Part 4

But God knows our story

John 21:3-6, 17, 19-22 [After Jesus’s resurrection] Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” “We’ll come, too,” [six other disciples] said.  But they caught nothing all night. At dawn Jesus, standing on the beach, called out, “Children, have you caught any fish?” No, they replied. Then Jesus said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat.” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. …

Psalm 32:1-2 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt!

[After breakfast] A third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” … Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved. … He asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “… What is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose this particular setting for his pivotal conversation with Peter after the crucifixion and resurrection, after Peter’s denials warranted a return to the moniker “Simon”?

This miraculous catch of fish is a reprise of Luke 5, offering Peter another chance to recognize and reconnect with Jesus, and with God’s call on his life. A chance to accept forgiveness and to move beyond his failures. A chance to heal his story.

God met me as well, on ensuing visits to the lake. Fast forward from the story I told in the last post. I’m now fourteen, graduated from boarding school, fearful of the future. Sitting alone overlooking the lake, I told the Lord I wasn’t ready to leave Guatemala because I had not yet learned to love. I acknowledged my heart full of resentment and bitterness. I didn’t want to take all that with me into whatever awaited me in my new life in the United States, where my parents would send me for high school. But how could I change? I had confessed my anger and hurt, but it refused to die, rearing its ugly head on a daily basis.

Romans 12:2 was the verse I was considering: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” You’ll have to do it, Lord. I have no idea how to change the way I think. On the surface, nothing (apparently) happened. But it was a place marker, an anchor, an intention, a hope: “Someday, somehow, I will learn how to love other people.”

Shutterstock: Christopher Moswitzer

Fast forward twenty-five or so more years. A different country, a different lake, a different language. A big difference this time because I’m not alone. A dear friend is listening to my despair over Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us.”

“For most of my life,” I confessed to my friend, “I’ve begged God to teach me to love him and to love other people. But I don’t know how. I have no idea what it feels like to be a dearly loved child.”

“Then let’s ask him to show you,” she said. What followed was one of the most powerful prayer visions I have ever experienced. It healed a fracture line in my soul. It changed forever the way I knew Jesus and the way I viewed myself and other people. Literally, it saved my life. It was the beginning of learning the Romans 12:2 different way of thinking I had begged God for at fourteen.

Why did this healing take so long? Why did I have to go through so much trauma and drama between fourteen and forty? I’ll probably never know. But I’m grateful, so thankful that it did happen. It was an essential foundation stone in the healing journey that has continued through the almost thirty years since that day. 

Tomorrow Dave and I plan to board a plane for Ireland, for a “triple trip,” celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary last August, Dave’s St. Patrick’s Day 70th birthday, and researching Book 3 of the Cally and Charlie series. I have the sense—though I don’t know how, exactly—that the week in Ireland will be another significant step in the healing God continues in my life. I’ll let you know!

Healing at the lake, Part 2, by Karen Johnson, Hershey, PA

But God wipes away our tears

Revelation 7:17 For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

I invite you to come back with me to the dock by the lake. The sun is dancing off the rippled surface, and the air is just hot enough to make the cool water inviting. I turn around and, with total abandon, fling out my arms and fall backward into the lake. As the water welcomes and envelops me, Jesus gives a loud whoop and dives in beside me. We swim and frolic in the amazing creation that is water. As I float on my back, I delight in the warm sun on my face and am caught by the wonder of the green trees on the shore contrasting with the clear blue sky.

A fog rolls in from the land, dark and sinister, and I suddenly find myself on the dock, wrapped in a wet towel, dripping, cold, and frightened. Jesus pulls himself up onto the dock and, with a smile, takes my hand. As we head up the slope towards the house, he leads me over to a stream I was never aware of before. He invites me to sit with him beside the brook. He puts his arm around me with what I think is a blanket, but then I realize that I am fully clothed and warm and dry. Even my hair is dry!

Shutterstock: Volnnata

As we sit in the warm sun, we wrap our arms around our knees and lean into each other as we laugh at the water tumbling over the rocks. “I really love where the deeper water flows smoothly over the rocks, too,” I say. “It makes me want to touch it. It’s like the smooth black stone in the rough sidewalk that I always stop to rub my foot over.” Jesus soaks in my delight at his cleverness in giving even a little stream bed such wonderful variety.

Soon it’s time to go. Jesus pulls me to my feet, and we head up the slope, hand in hand, our arms swinging between us. As we approach the house, a fog like a swarm of bees rushes towards us. Jesus angles his body so that he absorbs the onslaught, and the swarm dissipates into the air. Knowing trouble is waiting for us, Jesus gives me a cheeky grin and a wink.

I find myself at the table, enduring an unending harangue about how horrible I am to have come inside late, but Jesus is in the chair next to me, sitting close in solidarity with me. As the barrage of words overwhelms me, he pulls me onto his lap and starts whispering in my ear about how he loves me and how much fun he had playing in the water with me and how delighted he is by my tender heart.

“I don’t condemn you,” he says. His words soothe me so that I drift off to sleep, curled against his chest. I awaken when I’m instructed to make sandwiches for lunch. I hop off Jesus’s lap. He again takes my hand and asks, “How can I help?” We go together into the kitchen. He knows how much I love working with other people in the kitchen!

As we spread slices of bread across the countertop and mix up tuna salad, our shoulders bump. We laugh as we remember what a fun morning we had. We replay the vision of the sun on the water and the trees against the sky. We delight in the lush green grass of the lawn and the flowering trees outside the kitchen window. We remember the brook as it tripped and fell over stones on its way.

“What about the others?” I ask. “I’m so sad for the pain they feel.”

“Don’t worry,” Jesus comforts me. “I’ve got them. You don’t have to fix them. I’m big enough to love them too. I don’t even have to leave you in order to take care of them. I’m holding each of you. You couldn’t see it, but I gave gifts to them at the table while you slept on my lap. I let your mom know that you were sheltered from the pain of her words, even as she felt powerless to stop them. That comforted her soul. Your dad was reassured that someone bigger and stronger than either of you was there to protect the child he loved. He could rest in my strength.”

“Thank you for caring for all of us,” I say. “Thank you for a lovely morning, and for bringing the joy of the lake into the house, to the table, and into the kitchen. Thank you for delighting in all the beauty with me. Thank you for a wonderful weekend at the lake.”

With a deep sense of peace, we get in the car together and drive away.

Gentle, meek, and mild?

But Jesus got angry

Mark 3:1-5 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.

Ephesians 4:26 Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.

Hebrews 12:15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

James 3:14-15 If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom.

All my life I’ve been afraid of anger, because in my experience anger was linked to emotional and physical violence. So when I came to this story in Mark, my first instinct was to skip over it in favor of something more positive and cheerful. I could write, for example, about the stunning rainbow that hovered over Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon …

Shutterstock: Pushish Images

But God didn’t let me get away with that. In the background of my thoughts, I kept wrestling with the issue of anger and how I would just shrivel up or melt into a puddle on the floor if I perceived Jesus was angry with me.

I am in no way an expert on dealing with anger. Far from it! But here are a few simple guidelines that seem helpful to me at this moment in my journey.

Anger is an emotion we all feel—unless we’re in denial. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. If we don’t give it proper attention, it may instead turn inward and become a “secondary” emotion, hurting us and others through depression, bitterness, apathy, resentment, unhealed grief, or other emotional states. When anger settles in, as part of our emotional furniture, it becomes harmful. Hence the wisdom of Ephesians 4:26.

If we feel anger, we need to pay attention to it. “Primary” emotions, I’m told, surge and then recede in our bodies in about 90 seconds. Until the emotion has passed through, we shouldn’t take any action. But once the emotion has dissipated, we can ask ourselves questions: What was the source of the anger? Against what or whom was it directed? Was it appropriate, i.e. did its intensity match the severity of the provocation? What did I want to do while I was feeling the emotion? Is that action appropriate, i.e. will it reduce or escalate the perceived threat? What else is going on in my life that could intensify the feeling of anger (fear, fatigue, stress, the sense of repeated offense, a feeling of impotence, a narrative I am telling myself about this person or situation …)? Anger can show us a lot about ourselves and the condition of our souls.

Anger is our body’s response to the perception that something is wrong. We need to pay attention to this and decide what to do about it. There is always something we can do about perceived injustice, even if it is “only” relinquishing our pain to God and praying for those who have offended or hurt us. The Scriptures are full of references to God’s justice and the wisdom of entrusting to him those situations we are not properly positioned to do anything about. But often there is something positive we can do, contributing to God’s purposes of healing and redemption, rather than harm and destruction.

The energy of anger propels us to act. This can be a good thing, or it can be terrible. Good actions can be carried out calmly. The impulse of the feeling of anger, though, can often be harmful. Self-control includes hanging in there with the seemingly interminable 90 seconds so we can then evaluate possible actions with our rational brain engaged, not just our impulsive brain. If I yell and hit back when my child yells and hits, for a moment I may feel relief, but the fruit of those actions will damage my child and his or her trust in me.

Thinking about all this took me back to the story in Mark 3, and to the other references cited above. One thought I had (and I would love to hear yours!) is that Jesus’s frustration with the religious leaders opened a window of opportunity for them to see things differently. They placed enforcement of their (mis)interpretation of the law ahead of the wellbeing of one of their congregants. Had their hearts been in tune with God’s loving heart, they could have seen grace in what Jesus did, and wonderful rejoicing could have strengthened all present. Instead, they went away to plot how they could kill Jesus.

Jesus was not for one second out of control of himself and his actions. The religious leaders’ offense had become engrained. Not even Jesus could “make” them change their minds and hearts. Yet he offered them an invitation, through bringing to light the condition of their hearts. An opportunity to repent, to change, to grow. To respond positively to truth.

Your thoughts about this complex topic?

It’s only a matter of time

But Jesus’s perspective is different

Mark 1:34, 41; 2:11 Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases … Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and healed the leper. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” … Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home.”

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away [a tormenting “thorn” in Paul’s body]. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

How can a loving father with power to heal, NOT heal his beloved daughter?

Karis took this vexing question to the Lord again and again during her life. At age 11, she chose 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 as her life verses. She referred to them often in journals when she details her intimate conversations with God. Another frequent phrase is, “Don’t ask why. Ask what for.” Her high view of God’s sovereignty, combined with her absolute trust in his love for her, led her to look constantly for what he was doing through her difficult circumstances. I came to expect this question when we were once again in crisis and on the way to the hospital: “I wonder who’s there this time who needs to see God’s love?”

I mentioned on the last blog that the conversation between Jesus and Little James in the second episode of Season 3 of The Chosen could have been lifted from Karis’s journals. Here’s my transcript. It’s not complete but most of the conversation is there, in case you want to refer back to it later.

Jesus has just instructed the twelve disciples to go out two by two in different directions, giving them the authority to heal, as they have seen him heal many people. Lame Little James asks Jesus for a conversation afterwards.

James: How can I heal others when you haven’t healed me?

Jesus: Do you want to be healed?

James: Yes. Why haven’t you?

Jesus: Because I trust you.

James: What?

Jesus: Precious Little James, listen carefully. Within the Father’s will, I could heal you right now, and you would have a good story to tell.

James: That you do miracles.

Jesus: Yes. That’s a good story to tell. But there are already dozens who can tell that story, and there will be hundreds more, even thousands. But think of the story that you have if I don’t heal you. That you still praise God in spite of this [disability]. That you know how to focus on all that matters so much more than the body. That you show people you can be patient with your suffering her on earth, because you know you can spend eternity with no suffering. Not everyone can understand that. How many people do you think the Father and I trust this with? Not many.

James: But the other disciples—they’re so much more …

Jesus: Are you fast, impressive when you walk? Maybe not. But these are things the Father doesn’t care about. You are going to do more for me than most people ever dream. So many people need healing in order to believe in me … That doesn’t apply to you. And many are healed or not healed because the Father has a plan for them which may be a mystery. And we remember what Job says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”

James joins Jesus saying: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Jesus: When you pass from this earth and you meet your Father in heaven, Isaiah promises you will leap like a deer. Your reward will be great. So hold on a little longer. And when you discover yourself finding true strength because of your weakness, and when you do great things in my name in spite of this [your lameness], the impact will last for generations. Do you understand?

James, with tears: Yes. Thank you, Master.

Jesus: A man like you healing others. Oh, what a sight! I can’t wait to hear your stories.

Jesus starts to walk away after they bless each other but turns back.

Jesus: And James, you will be healed. It’s only a matter of time.

Karis’s famous smile … on a Christmas day in the hospital

Your healing will come.

But Jesus shares his authority

Mark 6:7, 12-13 Jesus called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits [and to heal all diseases, Luke 9:1]. … So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.

I’m skipping ahead in Mark today, because of something that happened last night. We had an evening without other commitments, and Dave suggested we watch the second episode of the new Season 3 of The Chosen (we haven’t managed to accompany the episodes as they’ve been released). The episode is called “Two by Two.” It dramatizes this passage in Mark, Luke 9, and Matthew 13.

After Jesus gives his instructions to the disciples and is walking away, the “other James” follows Jesus and asks for a conversation. In Mark 15:40, this James is referred to by a word that means least, less, little, small. English versions translate this variously as James the young, the younger, the youngest, the less, the lesser, the little. In The Chosen, he is called Little James, and James the brother of John is called Big James. Additionally, Little James is cast in The Chosen as a man with a lame leg.

As I listened to the conversation between Jesus and Little James, I had goosebumps. I watched with my mouth open. Because the conversation could have been lifted straight from the pages of Karis’s journals. Clearly the script was written by someone who has been there, who has asked God the question, “Why haven’t you healed me? How can I heal others like—like this?” Jesus’s response is exactly what Karis records God saying to her, multiple times from her adolescence on.

To understand more deeply the impact of this for me, it may be helpful to know that all her life, since being born with a severe intestinal anomaly, Karis, Dave and I, and our family have been challenged by Christians who believe God only doesn’t heal because of sin and/or lack of faith. Therefore, Dave and I, and later Karis as she grew up, were exhorted again and again to confess the sin for which she/we were being punished, to confess our lack of faith, and to live our lives out of the belief she had been healed (i.e., stop seeking medical help for her, especially when her life was at risk, as “proof” of our faith). Make her get out of bed. Make her see this illness is not real; what is real is the health God promises every believer.

All of this is one of the main reasons Karis cites in her journals for wanting her story written down. She wanted believers to understand the deeper grace God offers when he chooses not to heal someone physically. “If God heals me—gives me a brand-new intestine—that story will make a big splash,” she wrote. “For a little while, many people will be excited. But quickly it will become old news. Instead, for as many days or years God gives me, I want to show people a different kind of grace—the grace that allows me to praise God even through my pain. The doors that open for me exactly because I am disabled. The compassion God has given me for all who suffer, with any kind of pain, whether physical, emotional, social, or mental. The joy greater than my circumstances that wells up from the Spirit inside me. That’s what I want people to see when they look at my life: not a ‘big splash,’ but the daily faithfulness of God, available to everyone, everywhere, in any condition of life.”

Karis’s journals, from age 9 until the week before her last coma, age 30

So, imagine how intrigued I was to hear Jesus’s words to Little James on the screen last night. You’ll find the conversation at 53:12-59:44 on Episode 2 of The Chosen Season 3, called “Two by Two.” I’ve transcribed it, but will wait until the next post to quote part of the conversation for you. I hope meanwhile you’ll take the time to watch it.

In fact, God did perform miracles in Karis’s life. Huge miracles that restored her again and again when the doctors told us (again) that this time there was no hope, from infancy on. But never “the big miracle,” the big splash. Her story is both bigger and deeper than that, to the glory of God.

At the end of the conversation, Jesus starts to walk away. Then he turns back and says to Little James, “Your healing will come. It’s just a matter of time.”

That is true for every one of us.

Real authority

But Jesus came to serve

Mark 1:22 The people were amazed at Jesus’s teaching, for he taught with real authority, quite unlike the teachers of religious law.

Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called his disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant … for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Philippians 2:5-7, 14 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. … Live clean, innocent lives as children of God.

One of my favorite books when I was a child was The Scarlet Pimpernel, published in 1905 by Baroness Orczy. I loved the fact that Sir Percy led a double life, apparently a wealthy fop, but secretly risking his life to save others. The ridicule Percy experienced actually protected him–no one suspected he could be the one carrying out amazing heroic deeds. Orczy wrote this long before Marvel popularized the idea of a superhero who seemed a mild-mannered, ineffectual, or unremarkable person. In fact–just after writing that–I read on Wikipedia that Stan Lee, the Marvel co-creator, read The Scarlet Pimpernel as a boy and has called Sir Percy the first character who could be called a superhero.

I’m not sure I can agree with Stan Lee, and you probably anticipate what I’m going to say. The Gospels show us members of Jesus’s family and his neighbors not thinking there was anything special about Jesus. He was looked down on for his humble place in society, for coming from a nothing place (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”), for not having wealth or credentials or position. He was killed like a common criminal.

Yet Jesus’s words and acts as a teacher, a healer, a servant, and a redeemer have impacted the world, transforming lives, for two thousand years.

In the current film series “The Chosen,” early episodes show us Jesus playing with children. In the episode about Jesus healing the paralytic let down through the roof, kids watch the spectacle from another roof nearby. OCD Matthew awkwardly climbs up beside them and starts to tell the children who Jesus is. “We know him,” they nod, startling Matthew. We can imagine Matthew’s churning thoughts: Who is this man?

By Allen Hogan. I couldn’t find one of the kids on the wall with Matthew.

Real authority comes not from words alone, but from deeds and attitudes that match the words, done not to garner attention but out of love. It’s called integrity. Some of integrity’s fruits are safety and trustworthiness. I love this passage from Henri Nouwen’s little book, The Inner Voice of Love (pages 49 and 50):

A part of you was left behind very early in your life … it is full of fears. Meanwhile, you grew up with many survival skills. But you want your self to be one. So you have to bring home the part of you that was left behind. That is not easy, because you have become quite a formidable person, and your fearful part does not know if it can safely dwell with you. … Jesus dwells in your fearful, never fully received self. Where you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives. Bringing your fearful self home is bringing Jesus home. As long as your vulnerable self does not feel welcomed by you, it keeps so distant that it cannot show you its true beauty and wisdom. Thus, you survive without truly living. … When you become more childlike, your small, fearful self will no longer feel the need to dwell elsewhere. It will begin to look to you as home. Be patient … Gradually you will become one, and you will find that Jesus is living in your heart and offering you all you need.

Nothing enchants me more than discovering quiet integrity. It’s as thrilling now in real life as it was for me through fiction as a child. And no one embodies this more than Jesus, loving us in the past, the present, and the future.

This is an old song with a still-relevant message.

Healing wounds and trauma, by Alexandra Hudson

But God is compassionate

Psalm 145:8-9 The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.

Psalm 103:8, 13 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. … The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.

Ephesians 5:1 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.

Compassion: to suffer together; to recognize the suffering of others and wish or take action to help them. It’s the desire to take action to help that separates compassion from empathy.

Our ability to have compassion toward others is nurtured by the compassion we extend to ourselves, just as Jesus calls us to love others as we love ourselves. For those of us who have experienced trauma, this can be difficult. This week Alexandra Hudson (https://www.civic-renaissance.com/?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email) wrote about a book called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. I’m quoting an excerpt, with her permission. Another resource that I’ve found helpful is Try Softer by Aundi Kolber.

Here’s Alexandra:

Our trauma and wounds

We all have wounds that inform how we interact with others today.

Trauma is a specific kind of wound that can chronically inhibit our relationships with others and ourselves. Trauma is an upsetting experience that brings us to the point of being overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness, rage, confusion, and an inability to escape or function in the face of threat. Trauma isn’t about the event itself per se—it’s about how we respond to it, how we’re comforted after it, and how it continues to affect us.

If a child is in a horrible car accident but has a support system around him as he heals both physically and emotionally, the chances of him having long-term trauma are low.

By contrast, if a child endures sustained emotional or physical neglect or abuse growing up—and they have nowhere to turn, no one with whom they can feel safe and process their experience—the chances of long-term trauma are high.

When we encounter stress, it ends when the situation ends.

Trauma stays with us. It continues to be relived and played out in our minds and by our bodies.

Trauma begins as something that happens TO us, but then our brain begins to change: instead of smelling smoke just when there is fire, we begin to smell smoke everywhere. Everyone we meet is a possible threat to our safety and well-being.

The traumatic event is over, but we continue to react to the things around us as if we’re in survival mode. We are in a perpetual state of fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or mental collapse, which is taxing on the mind and body—“metabolically costly” as van der Kolk’s book says.

The brain and body are so preoccupied with survival—with interpreting everything around us as a life threat—that we are left with little energy to think, learn, be creative, perceive nuance, experience pleasure and joy.

We are emotionally, psychosocially and physically handicapped from bringing our best selves, and living our best lives, and bringing the fullness of ourselves to relationship with others.

The cost is not just exhaustion, but a variety of physiological issues that have no perceptible cause. The author of The Body Keeps the Score mentions chronic pain, auto-immune diseases, and headaches as just a few examples that he’s encountered in his practice.

We are not disembodied minds. We are mind, body and spirit. Too often, though, our treatments of malaise are segmented: treatments of psychological issues focus on the mind, while treatments of physiological issues focus on the body.

But seeing human beings in their fullness—as mind, body, spirit, all—and addressing the needs of each in turn and in relation to the other is the path toward fullness of life and healing.

Human beings are infinitely complex. There is so much that goes on within the human mind, body and spirit beneath the surface—beyond what people can see or understand.

Because we are uncomfortable with gaps in our knowledge—for example, “Why was my boss unnecessarily brusque to me this morning?”—we fill in those knowledge gaps with stories to help us explain things we don’t understand, even if the accounts are inaccurate or incomplete.

What would it mean to have a little more humility in our interactions with others—not presuming to know the entirety of their character and life story, reducing them to our experience with them in a single exchange—and be open to the stories that lie beneath the surface? Stories of tragedy, abuse, loss and grief that may help us better understand why people are the way they are and give us greater grace and empathy in interacting with them.

Where was God in your hardest times?

But God rescues the poor from trouble

Psalm 107:41-43 But God rescues the poor from trouble . . . The godly will see these things and be glad. . . . Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.

Every one of us has been “poor” in some way during our lives: lacking something important that we need. Whether our needs fall in the most basic of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or further up the pyramid, they create trouble and distress in our bodies, minds, souls, and spirits.

I believe God is present with us in these circumstances, caring for us in ways we may not be aware of in the moment of our anguish. And I believe significant healing can come from being able to see where God was in those anxious times. Not only did he not abandon us (although important people in our lives may indeed have done so) but he acted proactively on our behalf.

My own story is chock full of evidence to support this premise. I wrote about some of them in my memoir about my daughter, Karis: All I See Is Grace. But God has graciously let me see him present and at work in my life from my earliest memories: growing up in a violent and abusive home, boarding school, living as a “foster child” with a family in another country for high school, feeling forced into engagement for two years to an emotionally disturbed man, the challenges of my marriage to Dave, moving to Brazil with a chronically ill child, and so much more.

My PTSD after Karis’s death was not “just” about her death. It was about a long history of traumas I had never dealt with. Because of shame. Because of fear. Because I didn’t feel worthy of the kind of attention and support I needed in order to heal. Because I had been taught a super-spiritual kind of Gospel in which if I truly had faith, I wouldn’t be in emotional trouble.

I might have continued to struggle with the horrors of PTSD for much longer had God not spoken to a woman I hardly knew, telling her I had PTSD and needed help. She showed up at my house to tell me what God had told her and offered financial assistance so I could get the help I needed. How amazing is that? At a time when I felt God had abandoned me, he made it crystal clear that if I couldn’t hear the words of compassion he was whispering to me, he would speak to me through another of his children, able at that time to hear him and take action on my behalf.

Once I started viewing my story through this lens, I began to see him everywhere. I began to experience his love, not just know about it theoretically. I began to heal. I longed to share this way of seeing with others, first through the Karis book as she helped me see God present in her story. It’s the impetus behind the novels I’m writing. I pray those who read them will catch this vision and see God’s faithful love in their own stories.

We don’t know what we don’t know

But God cleanses and heals

2 Peter 1:8-9 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from (their) old sins.

I put parentheses around “their” because this word is not there in the Greek.

Why does this matter? Because our souls are handicapped not only by our own sins, but by the sins of others against us. It’s hard to grow healthy, strong, and productive when emotional pain drains our energy from the inside.

Years of experience with soul care showed us that the major impediment to people’s growth in the qualities Peter lists in verses 5-7 is not our own sins (which many wounded people confess over and over and internalize as evidence they are “bad,”), but the unhealed damage we haven’t known how or had enough support to open to the Lord for his healing.

Trauma, stress, threat, physical or emotional pain, conflict, and fear all narrow our vision to what is immediately in front of us; what Peter calls “shortsighted.” I’m sure you’ve experienced this, as I have. We lose the benefit of perspective.  

And these things expand our blind spots. We may later think or say, “How could I have been so blind?” The soul-healing we need usually requires support from someone else. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Ask God for help and direction: “Help, Lord! Show me how to find healing!” God loves to answer this prayer. He wants us to live peacefully, joyfully, productively. Abundantly.

Gather your courage and talk with someone you trust. Dare to verbalize your anguish.

Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep. … Those who come in through me will find safety. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:7, 9-10).

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Healing work is an act of love, principles 6-10 by Elaine Elliott

But Jesus’ wounds heal us May 23, 2022

1 Peter 2:19-21, 24 For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient in you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. … He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [quoting Isaiah 53:4-6]

I could write a book about home health aides. Karis and I entertained each other with aide stories, many of them wonderful, and some leaving us shaking our heads. Here’s one of the latter:

It was transplant clinic day and I had multiple errands to run, so I asked our new aide to meet us in the waiting room at the hospital. She could care for Karis through the many hours we had to wait between the early blood draw and when the doctor showed up for clinic, so I could attend to my errands. I carefully explained to the aide what Karis needed, especially how important it was that she not leave her unattended, since Karis was unsteady on her feet and with her walker couldn’t navigate opening the heavy bathroom door, nor safely do all that was needed inside. “I’ll be back by 10:30,” I told her.

I buzzed through my errands and returned to the hospital earlier than I expected. The aide was nowhere to be seen and Karis was so desperate for relief she burst into tears when she saw me. “The aide left right after you did,” she told me. “I didn’t know what to do.”

We cared for her needs, which included a change of ostomy bag because the one she had was so full it was about to rupture. We had just made it back to the waiting room when the aide wandered in, chatting on her cell phone and munching fast food. When she saw me, her eyes widened, and she hastily ended her conversation. “I just stepped out for a few minutes because I was hungry,” she said.

I asked the aide to accompany me to a secluded place so we wouldn’t disturb others in the waiting room and described for her the condition in which I had found Karis and what would have happened if the ostomy bag had ruptured. I asked her why she had not followed my instructions. “But I didn’t!” she protested. “I was only gone for, like, ten minutes!”

Aides were hard to come by. Without one, I couldn’t leave Karis ever for more than a few minutes at a time. I didn’t want my relationship with this one to end before it had even begun. My spiritual director had been telling me God is easy to please because he loves us. I wanted to be easy to please too.

But Karis’s anguished face and her tears and what had almost happened, unbearable shame and mess in a public place, burned my heart.

“I’m sorry to hear you say that,” I said. “If you had told me the truth, we could have talked about giving you another chance. But I can’t entrust my daughter’s wellbeing to someone who disregards my instructions and then lies to me.”

A series of emotions crossed the aide’s face, then she said, “I understand that you are overly attached to your daughter because she’s been sick. For that reason, I have decided to forgive you for the terrible words you just said to me. But really, you need to let her grow up. Helicopter moms are not attractive.” She stood and walked away.

She decided to forgive me … ?

I called the home health agency, told them what had happened, and requested a substitute. They didn’t have anyone else, they said. It might take a few weeks for them to find another aide for us.

With the shortage of aides, did that girl get a by at the agency? Did she learn anything? I’ll never know. The experience was traumatic enough for Karis it took her a while to be able to laugh at what happened. A small illustration of Elaine’s healing principle #6:

Principle 6: Healing may take time

Among the many stories of healing in the gospels, one describes Jesus touching a blind man.  At first, the partially healed man saw people walking around, looking like trees. (Mark 8:24) The story shows that some healings take time, since Jesus’ second touch healed him completely.  Among family and friends, we have seen many healings, and most of them have taken time.  In fact, I now have a far less romanticized view of healing and realize it may take nursing care, doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, and patience.   Sitting patiently with someone ill, or simply prayer over a long period of time, is challenging. 

When my sister Sharon could not walk or raise her hands after a seizure and stroke, recovery took time.  She held on in faith and kept doing the physical therapy, and within several months had become completely well.

Principle 7: Healing ministry honors Christ and is a way of following him

When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them to Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:8) Healing became an important part of their message, bringing kingdom life through their good news. Today we still deal with life-threatening illness, bacterial infections, and psychological challenges.  We can follow Jesus’ instructions and include modern methods.

My mother-in-law had a “return to life” when headed to a life of ministry in Guatemala.  The tetanus shot given her sent her into anaphylactic shock, the doctor arrived late and found she was no longer breathing.  A shot to the heart brought her back.

Principle 8: The one healed has received a gift of healing

Some have suggested that those who are healed are the ones we should say have the gift of healing.  They received something amazing they can share with others and their testimony honors Christ and may encourage faith for others.  Those who Christ or the apostles healed became important parts of the story, evidence that something wonderful is at work in the world.  In the gospels, at least 37 individuals healed become characters we do not forget. Out of 3,779 verses in the four Gospels, 727 regard healing of physical and mental illnesses, nearly a fifth of the whole, demonstrating its importance. Our stories of healing today have similar importance in sharing Christ.

Principle 9: Simultaneously ask for healing and accept the current reality

We can always ask for people to be healed—we should have no shame or embarrassment in making the request.  When we have received positive answers, we are encouraged to keep asking for the next case.  When healing has not occurred, we still trust God’s wisdom.  As the Psalmist prayed, “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

This challenges us when we face chronic illness where medical research has not come up with any known cures.  In these cases, we can get discouraged and feel like it is hopeless to ask.  But faith keeps asking and stays alert for any help or aids to improvement, even small improvements.  We persist in prayer looking for breakthroughs, and as people exercise their trust in God in the middle of illness and suffering, they give him glory. 

Principle 10: Always be grateful

We can remain grateful however God chooses to act.  We remember that only one of ten lepers came back to offer thanks, but Jesus commended him. (Luke 17:17,18) We can say under the threat of suffering, If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t…” (Daniel 3:17,18) “Even if he doesn’t” answer when we want and what we want, we will still be grateful.  And, unsurprisingly, gratitude has a healing effect.

My ten principles have emerged from my experiences.  Doubtless others can improve or add or change these to create a theological explanation of healing for our time that avoids the extremes of “healing doesn’t happen” versus “healing must happen right now if we have faith—no doctors needed!”

Karis’ life illustrates the principles:  she received cutting edge medical interventions which preserved her life far beyond expectations; when her suffering reached a critical point she received her entry into heaven; thousands of people became engaged in praying for her; many joined with faith when things seemed discouraging; clearly Karis did not have any fault in having a life-threatening birth defect and her story awakened compassion; some of her hospital stays were incredibly long, but she recovered; her story is an announcement of the gospel at work in a community of believers; her life became a gift of healing, a sign of God at work; many (like myself) never gave up hoping for healing while accepting reality; and Karis expressed joy and gratitude in a way that blessed so many of us.

I now know that healing is normally not flashy.  Instead, it is based on love responding to need, something Karis’ family certainly offered her.  Over and over, we are told that Jesus was moved with compassion, and his concern led him to heal.  It was one of the strongest characteristics of his ministry. Healing work is an act of love.  It is a way of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Healing is far more about love than about power—love is at the root of this gift.  I think I liked the idea of the gift because it seemed glamorous and powerful.  Now I think of healing as humble, patient, and quiet, motivated by love.  We saw that at work in Karis’ story.

I (Debbie) will add that we saw God’s miraculous healing in Karis’s life so many times I lost count. In 2009, for example, doctors told us four times to call our family together (from Brazil, Italy, and several places in the U.S.) to say goodbye to her, because there was nothing more to do; this was the end. Each time God intervened, and Karis recovered. She was not surprised by this. “God still has work for me to do here on earth,” she said. “Why were all of you so worried? It’s nice to see you. But go back now to your own work.”