Written by: Loni Capshew
Several years ago, my husband and I were part of a group of several other couples right around our age (upper 50s and early 60s) who met each Sunday evening for a hearty potluck meal at one house or another. We naturally came together as a small community of love and caring, doing anything and everything we could to ease the burden for one another.
So it came to be that one evening four or five ladies and I were sitting around in a small, comfortable conversation area at hostess’s home one evening when one of the group, Elaine, a quiet one who rarely spoke up, preferring to listen, posited a question to the entire group,
“Do any of you believe Divine Healing still happens? I mean, is it really for modern times, or are we supposed to just rely on medicine? After all, we know that all knowledge comes from above, right?”
Everyone was quiet for a moment because it was more than clear that our friend was asking far more than a question of mere curiosity. Nancy, at whose home we were meeting was the first to speak up, “Well, Elaine, that’s an excellent question. Do you mind telling us why you’re asking?”
Elaine’s eyes welled quickly with tears and she twisted a tissue with both clenched hands in her lap as she spoke. A woman of about 59 years, she was always exquisitely dressed, well-coifed, and clearly a person of means. Her husband and she always spoke tenderly to each other and treated one another with the greatest of respect. However, tonight, it was clear that all was not perfect in her world.
She began, “About two years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic kidney condition caused by scar tissue inside the kidney itself. This causes constant irritation and excruciating pain. I constantly feel the need to urinate, but urinating only makes the pain worse. Nothing the doctor can give me will alleviate the pain…”
Her question resounded in my ear: “Is Divine Healing still possible?”
“Elaine,” I ventured, “I grew up in a very fundamentalist little church that taught Divine Healing is available when medicine has no answer. I believe there’s truth to it. I’ve even read non-religious books which back this contention up. Physicians insist that religious and faith-centered patients are at least 40% more likely to survive life-threatening illnesses than those who have no faith. Whether that’s biofeedback or Divine Healing really makes no difference to them, they know it works.”
Then, the scariest thing in the world happened to my fragile faith. That beautiful, fragile, sophisticated lady grasped both my hands in hers and said, “Loni, I believe! Now, I want you to pray for me to be healed of this pain.”
I don’t mean to be glib, but I truly felt like a dog must feel when it catches the car it’s been chasing for years.
I took a deep breath and asked Nancy for a Bible, after which I turned to Isaiah 53:5, “He was wounded for our wrongdoings, he was bruised for our and sinfulness, our punishment was taken by him, and by these things were are healed and made whole.” I told her, “This was promised before God made himself ‘visible’ as Christ. After that, in the New Testament, we have this fulfilled promise, Mark 16:17,18, ” And these signs shall follow them that believe; and in my name…they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”
By now I was trembling like the proverbial leaf because I know well the limitations of my faith. While I am convinced that God is the spirit of love and all that is good, loving, and kind, therefore, only such things can come from God, I was not so convinced of my own ability to tap into God’s resources. Then, I asked them if they remembered what we had to do before we had any results according to the last verse I just read.
Someone, said, “Pray.” I shook my head “no.” Elaine looked squarely at me and whispered, “Believe!”
“That’s right,” I smiled at her.” Then I prayed.
Elaine was so much more relaxed at this point that she already felt better and was quick to tell me so before she went home that evening. I gave her a big hug and cautioned her by saying, “Sweetie, there’s nothing magic in my praying. The power is in your mind and in your faith.”
The next week, when we walked in, Elaine rushed to meet me at the door, “Loni, “I’ve had no pain medication in a week, and I saw my doctor on Friday, and he says the inflammation is reduced at least 50%. You ARE a faith healer!”
My face turned a thousand shades of red. She can’t have known how astonished I was to hear the news. I was delighted beyond all belief, but I didn’t then nor do I now believe that the faith prayer was mine. It was Elaine’s. It was she who believed. I told her that then. It had to be her own faith that healed her, not mine. She had to believe that. She had to know that.
What I couldn’t tell her was that, while this experience was a wonderful affirmation of faith for me, it was also a painful reminder of when faith hadn’t produced the results I had desired. For years, I had considered it a failure of faith. Though I no longer believe that at all, I suffered agonizingly at the time I most needed to believe.
The date is indelibly etched in my mind like the ugly marks left by the keys of some nasty little vandal playing out a fit of anger by marking up the doors of a brand new BMW. He doesn’t know whose it is. He doesn’t even care. It is enough for him to know that the car belongs to someone who either has the money or the credit to pay for a luxury item that the miscreant himself can only dream of. For this reason alone, he has made it his mission to punish the car’s owner for the crime of ownership, the sin of prosperity.
My little sister Lynette was just such a prize to our family. She had endured incredible hardship and had survived to excel. Her health had always been poor in high school and college, due to ulcerative colitis, but for nearly eighteen years she’d kept it masterfully under control. Meanwhile, she’d completed her master’s degree in education and was considered the mentor teacher to nearly every new teacher in her building over the last twenty years. She’d finally married at the age of thirty and two years later gave birth to her only child, a bright vivacious little girl, a diabetic like her father. Again, Lynette took it in stride and kept both of them on strict diets, and her doctor even wrote about her program in JAMA.
To make this accomplishment even more remarkable, before their daughter was born and throughout her pregnancy, Lynette had been dealt a further blow of dealing with her husband’s near death in a horrible automobile accident. After a three-month coma, he awoke severely aphasic and had to learn to walk, talk, and take care of himself all over again. Because of the severity of his injuries, her college-educated husband went from being a very successful earner to unemployment then Social Security Disability. Still Lynette coped and kept the sweetest of spirits. Her in-laws lived nearby, and they were terrific to help out, as were our parents, but within five years both our Mom and Dad were gone as well.
Still, Lynette remained the sweet, quiet, uncomplaining “baby sister” in our family of five. We all adored her and would do anything to alleviate her load, and we frequently did when she would allow us — which wasn’t often.
Then April 15, 1991, all that is evil, satan or old scratch — whatever you want to call this evil spirit, decided we had been gifted with too much goodness. Lynette was too nearly perfect. She no longer deserved to be held in such esteem. An exploratory surgical procedure showed that she not only had cancer in her colon, but it had invaded the surrounding lymph nodes and was in both lobes of her liver. Her precious body had been thoroughly vandalized, and the prognosis was dire.
Now, this is where everyone expects me to go on and tell a story of how we prayed and held hands around her in the hospital and the cancer went away or at least of how she beat the odds and lived years longer than the doctors had projected. That didn’t happen. I so wish I could tell you a beautiful story like that. I have seen such beautiful miracles occur in people’s lives. When it didn’t happen in Lynette’s, I had a real crisis of faith and had to search deep to determine exactly what and why I believed. I so wanted to believe because she believed so much, so fervently, so sweetly.
Instead, we watched as her tiny body grew more and more skeletal, and her poor little tummy became so distended the skin looked as if it could burst. When her skin became the color of a school bus, they stuck a cruel piece of plastic hosing into her tender skin to drain the bile which helped only slightly with the color and the swelling. She simply joked about her bag, calling it her “friend.” When she first lost her long, gorgeous naturally red hair, she tried wearing a wig, but it was so miserable in the Oklahoma heat that she soon cast it aside, only wearing it when she thought her bald head might make others uncomfortable. Otherwise, she preferred any one of a number of jaunty scarves I made for her. By the time the swelling came along, she could barely move, but her hair was nearly an inch long and was a delicious cluster of gentle curls that hugged her head. At that point, I took to bringing baby’s stretch headbands with bows to put on her head to match her gowns. She got a kick out of that.
Toward the end, her pain became almost intolerable. One night, we activated several prayer chains, and the next morning she sat up and worked daily crossword puzzles with one of our brothers, our other sister, and me. It was a sweet, if brief, respite for all of us.Throughout all this, her precious husband never left her side for more than a few hours. The patient had now become the caregiver.
About a week after her short rally, her doctor called me at work and told me what I’d long expected and dreaded to the very bottom of my soul, “We’re down to the last couple of days, Loni. You’re gonna want to be here.”
I’d promised Lynette I’d be there when she crossed over. It’s what she’d have done for me. She was so much more than my baby sis. She was my best friend. When I got there, I could see what the doctor meant. Her breathing had changed, and her kidneys were no longer functioning, nor were her bowels, though she begged to get up and try. Finally, she accepted there was no use.
She glanced around the room with her sweet, now hollow, blue eyes, searching to see who was there. “Sister, Big Brother,” she called to us, using her childhood names for us.
Our older brother and I quickly took our places on either side of her bed and leaned down close to her face, so we could hear her now feeble words. “Raise me up so I can talk better, please,” she asked.
Each of us slid an arm under her pillow and gently lifted her almost weightless torso to about a 45 degree angle. “That’s better,” she sighed. Then, reaching up with her bony little arms, she embraced each of our necks and looked first at one of us and then at the other. “You have to promise me something, both of you, and you have to mean it with all of your hearts because I know you two.”
Brother Doyle answered immediately, “Oh, you bet your life, Honey. Anything you want. You can count on us. Anything!”
I was crying full-force at this point, but I assured her that I would die trying to do what she wanted. I knew she might ask me to do more than I could, so I couldn’t be so nonchalant as Doyle, but I also knew I’d give it all I had. I loved her that much.
She turned and looked at me the longest. “You know I’m dying now. Probably in a day or two, I’m pretty sure. I know I can’t hold on much longer, and almost everything has quit working for me. It’s okay though. But this is what I need. I need you to promise me you won’t be mad at Jesus.” Then she looked at Doyle.
“Oh, no, honey, that never crossed my mind,” he assured her.
Then those big blue eyes bore into me again, so I forced a smile through my tears as I jauntily asked, “Tell me this, sweetie. Are you mad at Jesus?”
“No, not a bit,” she answered with a surety that contained not a single ounce of bravado, just clean, pure truth. “I was a little at first, but I’m not now. Not at all. And I’m not scared either. It’s okay now. That’s what makes it so nice.”
I marveled at her pure honesty the way I always had, then, because I loved her and wanted it to be true, but mostly because I wanted this wonderful woman to die in the peace she so deserved, I told the biggest lie I’ve ever uttered in my life, “Well, then, how could we be mad, then?” and I kissed her softly on top of those beautiful red curls.
Lynette’s sigh was almost palpable as we lay her back against her pillows and straightened her covers. A few hours later, she slipped into a coma, making those the last lucid words she ever spoke. At 4:00 the next afternoon, she peacefully slipped away, her beloved John holding her hand and stroking her hair at the very end. As she breathed her last breath, I kissed her lips and whispered, “Sissy, tell Mama and Daddy I’ll be there, too.”
If I made her death sound romantic, it was an illusion. It was just blessedly peaceful after six weeks of hellish suffering. I collapsed on the floor a heaping, sobbing mess for about ten minutes. After that, I got up, pulled myself together, and I did what had to be done. That’s my way.
It was nearly two years before I was able to come close to keeping my promise to my sister, though I desperately tried to put on the guise that I had in homage to her. Then, for some inexplicable reason, one day I was driving home from work and a beautiful blue day such as she loved inspired an epiphany in me that stirred my heart and awakened an entirely new understanding of faith.
Only then did I understand Lynette’s dying words: “I’m not scared…That’s what makes it so nice.” Aha! So faith is what makes everything all right. It’s what removes the fear. It’s the glue that holds everything together, no matter what the circumstances are, the belief that it’ll all come together somehow.
So what role does faith then play in Divine Healing? It plays the same role there that it plays in every other part of life. It’s the thing that allows me to relax and let the medicine do its work, to let my body do its work, to let a healthy diet and exercise do their work, to let clean living do its work. Does that mean God is not “intervening”? I absolutely did not say that, but I think faith steps in long before God has to do anything. If we have faith in the knowledge God has already given us, we probably have the tools at our disposal before we even ask. Then when those tools need a boost, on occasion, some inexplicable things have been known to occur. I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but I don’t let it trouble me too much anymore.
The reason it doesn’t trouble me much anymore is because of what Lynette said. You see, because of my faith, I’m just not scared anymore. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I know I’m doing all I can to take care of myself and others. I’m trying to leave a legacy of goodness and love because my scriptures tell me that God IS Love, so that seems to me the best a human can do. It makes me happy anyway. So I’m just not scared of what’s on the other side anymore because I’m making this side as good, kind and loving as I can. I want that to be my lasting memory for my heirs. If it is, then I will live on, no matter what.
So, yes, I have faith, and I have seen that faith heal — both body and spirit. My question to you is whether or not you have that kind of faith — whether it be religion or simply the belief in the innate goodness of humanity? Have you ever seen faith make a positive difference? (Please distinguish between religion and faith here.)