Jesse Ancona's Articles: An Encounter with God: A Healing Story
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An Encounter with God:

A Healing Story

     

I had first been treated for breast cancer in 1992, having surgery and radiation therapy, followed by five years of Tamoxifen. On my five year anniversary, my husband and I celebrated the fact that I was now, statistically, in the clear. I had made it.

Three years later, I found lumps under my left armpit Ė just outside the radiation area, and around the scar from one of my surgical drains. Iíd had a persistent cough for more than a year, which had been diagnosed as a pre-asthmatic condition, which inhalers seemed to help; for the previous three years, Iíd had a loss of appetite, and increasing fatigue.

I didnít want to believe it, but with the lumps, I knew. Over the next two months, I had various tests, and, while my bones were clear, the cancer had spread to my liver, explaining the fatigue and loss of appetite. The surgeon whoíd done the tests simply said, "Iím sorry." I didnít know what that meant, except that he said surgery was not going to happen.

From the time I found the lumps, Iíd been praying about it. Once it was confirmed, I remember praying that God would heal me, but I had mental reservations. Iíd never known anyone who had been divinely healed, though everyone I knew had prayed for such intervention when sick Ė I didnít know what to think.

During this time, friends were praying for me Ė mainly Christians, though also one Tibetan Buddhist (recently, an aboriginal woman emailed my husband, asking if I would mind if she made a smoke ceremony for me, and I had him reply for me that I would be honoured Ė I do not think God is deaf to the heartfelt prayers of any people). My non-religious friends were "hoping for the best," and "thinking of me" Ė their equivalent of prayer.

A man known within the evangelical community for his healing ministry happened to visit our church: he gave a very stirring sermon, saying, "You already have your healing: all you have to do is claim it," and at the end, invited any with illnesses to come forward for anointing an prayer. A team of his functionaries lined up in front of each of us: I was neither asked my name nor my illness. I was anointed, and the man in front of me prayed for me briefly, then sent me back to my seat. I felt "processed." It was very impersonal.

I knew I was not healed, and I blamed myself for not having enough faith. The regular minister asked me how I felt about the sermon, and when he realized Iíd bought into it, told me he felt the man was in serious error, and that such claims werenít Biblical. The following week, he made an announcement, apologizing for the false teaching we had been exposed to during the guest visit.

I felt very confused. I remember going to the local grocery store, and praying to God as I walked (as I often did, for the sake of privacy), and saying something like, "God, I want You to heal me, but I donít know what Your will is. I know You donít heal everyone, but Youíve also made many promises regarding prayer and faith, and said You want us to prosper and be in health. I donít know what to pray. Iím going to assume that You want to heal me, and Iím going to keep asking until You either heal me, or show me that You have other plans. Until then, Iím not going to stop. You need to let me know Your will." I wept as I walked, but I remember feeling a certain peace, knowing Godís will would be done.

It wasnít exactly the "prayer of faith" many people would have preferred me to pray, and I didnít talk to others about it. I kept my cards close to my chest. Iíd had enough of the "name it and claim it" oversimplifications. This was between God and me. If I lacked faith, He did not lack power, and I didnít think God needed my help to do whatever He chose to do. I did not give up hope, but I didnít expect to be healed. Still, I wasnít going to let God "off the hook": I would keep on asking until I got a clear answer.

For myself, I felt that doing my part meant not only asking God for healing, but also taking the opportunity to go up whenever there was an altar call. I was prayed for and anointed more than once.

While I have no fear of public speaking, I am shy about such things as going up front for prayer in church, and it was a struggle with my self-consciousness every time, but I kept telling myself, "I have to do my part if Iím going to expect any kind of answer." So, much as it killed me, I kept going up, and people kept praying, and nothing kept happening.

On April 24, 2000, I met with an oncologist who reviewed my file, recommended chemotherapy, and was very uninformative. I asked her what my chances were. In 1992, Iíd had an 80% chance of survival. I figured, by now, my chances had dropped to maybe 30-40%. She told me, "twelve months, at the outside." My husband and I were in shock. I knew it was serious, but had no idea it was terminal. I kept thinking, "thatís in the wrong units: it should be a percentage, not a time frame."

Arrangements were made for special Blue Cross coverage available only to people with a life expectancy of three months or less. While I was told this was only a formality, I later learned this was closer to the time they thought I had, and the twelve months was a generous estimate.

I remember praying to God that if He wanted to heal me on His own, time was running out: while I would continue to trust Him, I would go in for treatment if I wasnít completely healed. Some church people were trying to convince me not to get treatment Ė which made me furious in its criminal irresponsibility.

On May 6, 2000, the Sabbath a week before I was going to go in for treatment, there was another call for people to come forward for prayer. I remember hesitating, as I usually did, self-conscious, not only because I felt conspicuous, but because, by now, everyone knew what I had, and why I was going up, and it made me want to just stay where I was. But something inside me told me to go up, and I began to feel a wild hope that maybe, just maybe, something might happen, that something could possibly really happen this time. "Could this be it? Is it really going to happen?" I remember thinking to myself. I felt a strange anticipatory feeling difficult to describe, but different from all the other times. Like you feel before childbirth, or orgasm, or even a sneeze Ė something coming, but not quite there yet.

I felt a bit lightheaded and strangely self-aware, as though everything around me was in another dimension, and I was walking through it to reach the front.

Someone was ahead of me. I waited my turn, and two people laid hands on me, and prayed for me, a man and a woman. The man was on my left, the woman on my right. They prayed for me the same length of time that they had prayed for the previous person. I began to feel a stronger sense of something impending, and I didnít want them to stop yet.

At that moment, the woman suddenly pulled her hand away from me, as though she had felt something that disturbed her, and she moved towards the next person. The man still had his hand on my shoulder. She called to him to move on to the next person. When he didnít, she went over to him, and tried to remove his hand from me and pull him away. He didnít budge.

I could tell he felt it, too. His voice was strong and calm. He called her by name and said, "I think we need to stick with this a little longer." She acquiesced, and returned to my right side, and continued to pray. My head was down again, my eyes were closed, and I was in a state of wordless prayer. Then I felt it begin to happen.

My lightheadedness increased, and I felt like there was a zone of peace around me. Then, I felt a surge of some kind of power coming from the manís arm and hand, right into me. He moved his hand from my shoulder to my back, over my left lung. The power, which felt somewhat like electricity, though gentler, infused my whole body, and I felt a kind of effervescence coursing through my blood Ė as though I had become a bottle of pop. The zone around me became stronger, like a shield of energy surrounding me. A profound tranquillity overcame me, and I was hushed. Though Iíd said nothing up till this point, I now felt a tremendous urge towards silence, which I was unwilling to break.

Before I returned to my place, there was something else, something I have been reluctant to express to anyone over that last two years. I felt the Presence of God, and overwhelming love, peace, and quiet joy. I was in awe, and became aware of how unfathomably large and incomprehensible God is, and how little I knew Him. Iíve never felt closer to Him, yet never more aware of how far I was from Him, or from understanding anything about Him. I accepted this in peace and silence, and kept it to myself.

When I returned to my place, people were still going up front, while the congregation were standing, singing hymns. I was silent, still inside my quiet force field, and came to myself enough to wonder about the tumours under my arm. There were three in a vertical line: the top two were 1x2 cm each, and the third, below them, was small and hard, almost gritty-feeling, and about the size of a small pea or lentil.

I put my right hand under my armpit, and felt the middle tumour shrink to half its size under my finger, within a minute or so. It felt like something deflating. I kept my right hand under my left armpit, and was filled with enormous joy. It was real; it was demonstrable; anything was possible.

I remained silent until after the service, when everyone sat down for coffee and snacks. I sat with the usual people, and said little. I told one woman that I was being healed, but basically remained silent. She has since told me that, during that whole time, when everyone was talking and visiting, that I kept feeling under my armpit, and would periodically say, "Itís shrinking," but otherwise, kept silent. My silence, itself, was eerily notable, as I am normally very talkative.

During that two and one half hours, the middle tumour almost disappeared, shrinking to a size smaller than the tiny, lentil-sized tumour (which did not change in size). The top tumour shrunk to half its size. Throughout that period, I felt that same energy throughout my body, that effervescent feeling, the peaceful force field, that silence. After that point, I coughed. Everyone looked at me, and I realized I hadnít coughed for that whole period. At this time, my cough was normally constant, and when it returned, everyone suddenly realized they hadnít heard me cough all that time. I had no further shrinking of the tumours under my arm. It was over Ė or, at least, the first, most dramatic phase. I still said little.

I told the man who had prayed for me, and asked him if he could pray for me again. He said heíd arrange something with another person for the next day.

When I got home, I told my husband, and showed him the tumours, and he felt them. He, alone Ė other than myself, and the surgeon Iíd seen only once Ė knew their size and feel. There was no doubt something dramatic had happened. I found myself wondering about the tumours in my liver: it seemed inevitable that there would have been some shrinking of those tumours, as well, since Iíd felt that power throughout my body. The previous CT scan was more than a month old, and I was not to have another one for another four months, so there is no way to know directly, though the clinical signs seem to indicate that the cancer was diminished everywhere throughout my body.

The next evening, I met with the man and his friend at a private home, and they prayed for me for quite some time, laying hands on me. I felt a very strong sense of the Spirit, and the same kind of force field, but none of the power surge that felt like electricity, and none of the effervescent feeling, and I was convinced that there was no further physical healing. The original man did say that he sensed that I had a great deal of resentment I had to let go of, and learn to forgive others, and I recognized this as being very true. It seemed this session was the beginning of my emotional and spiritual healing, which continued, hand in glove, with my physical healing.

The only puzzle was the fact that the physical healing was partial, leaving me with no other reasonable option but to proceed with conventional treatment.

The next Wednesday, I met with a new oncologist, who looked at my films, and was the first one to diagnose the metastases in my lungs, which were the cause of my cough. He said the CT scan of my liver showed that within two weeks of that state, my liver would be almost totally taken over with cancer, and would not be able to withstand the chemotherapy, or maybe only a very reduced dose. By this time, the CT scan was already about six weeks old.

It became clear that Godís healing had bought me the time I needed to have a chance. I responded well to chemo, and by August, was no longer coughing, and my lungs were clear, and have been clear of metastases since then. I realized then that the two and one half hours without the cough were a foreshadowing of the healing to come. The doctors thought I was pre-asthmatic, but, of course, God knew the cancer was also in my lungs. I also think He guided the man to put his hand on my back, directing healing power to my lungs.

It was many months later that I realized something else. Up to the day of my healing, I had felt very sick: tired, without appetite or energy, vomiting morning, night, and sometimes in the middle of the day. Since my healing, I realized I had not felt sick, but actually quite good, even through my chemo, and had no nausea or problems with my treatment.

I did also begin to take an herbal mix, and vitamins, but this was after I already felt better from the healing.

The question was, if God healed me, which I didnít doubt He did, why would He not heal me completely? Perhaps there was a reason for me to go through the normal experience of treatment. Perhaps the healing itself was simply His mercy, in turning the clock back to an earlier time in the history of the cancer, giving me a fighting chance.

It was also interesting that, except for my husband, no one had any evidence of the healing. By the time new tests were done, Iíd had months of treatment. I was struck by the humility of God, His lack of concern over having His work demonstrated in this case: what was important was my well-being. He didnít have anything to prove.

I was also struck by the fact of God Himself Ė His existence, His power, His love Ė and this, more than the healing, is what has stuck with me. When my faith wavers (and it has, over the last two years of treatment and recurrence), I think back to that day, and am reassured that God is, and He cares for me, and has the power to keep me alive as long as He wills. Sometimes itís hard, but I have to let that be enough.

God has also been working on my emotions, healing me of many old spiritual and emotional wounds over the last two years, including the resentments I needed to let go of, and forgive, though my tendency to develop new ones is still with me, and forgiveness is still difficult for me.

But even the effect of miracles fades over time. Iíve found my faith wavering in the last several months, and more than once I have been swept up in despair, doubt, and torment. Iíve withdrawn from God, avoided prayer, and turned my mind from Him.

Finally, I realized I had many resentments against God for how things have gone in my life, and had to allow myself to rage against God, and let Him know how angry I was, and pour out my fears, anger, bitterness, despair, frustration, and resentment of Him and all He has allowed to happen in my life. Itís been a roller-coaster, but being honest with God has finally made it easier to pray to Him regularly again, because I donít have to wait until I feel "spiritual" or good about Him to come to Him just as I am with all thatís on my mind and heart.

I had a recurrence of the cancer last fall, and my liver almost returned to the worst it had been, and the cancer spread throughout my pelvic organs. Iíd lost almost all the ground Iíd gained, and lost more Ė though my lungs remained clear. Now, after nine months of brutal, bone-marrow-punishing chemo, the shrinkage of the tumours has stabilized. The cancer is there, but it is not growing. Itís in a kind of stasis, and this could go on for many months, or even a few years. I guess this is what they call a "partial remission." Itís certainly a break, and a mercy.

My lungs are still cancer-free, though my cough is back, now because of fluid between my lungs and their lining, a normally non-existent "virtual space" called the pleura. This fluid is called "pleural effusion," and so far, I have had 500 ml and 800 ml of fluid removed on two separate occasions less than two weeks apart. The fluid has returned yet again, and will need to be dealt with, so in the meantime, I am coughing and short of breath.

I am mainly recovering from the chemo, now. My toenails are threatening to fall off, I have fluid in my lungs, my liver has a kind of damage known as pseudo-cirrhosis (though, unlike cirrhosis, it is reversible), and, of course, I have lost most of my hair, including my eyelashes and most of my eyebrows. And, for the first time in ten years, I am suffering with lymphedema (swelling) in my left arm, which is probably one source of the fluid in my lungs.

So, physically, Iím a victor in this battle, though I am suffering the consequences of treatment.

While this standoff could continue indefinitely, it is more likely that the cancer will grow again, though of course, I pray it wonít. How many more times this will happen Ė recurrence, treatment, response, and another break Ė I donít know. It can go on many times, depending on how many different drugs are left, and whether they are effective. At some point, there may be no response, and then it will be just between myself and God how long I live after that.

It is still a terminal diagnosis, and I have not been cured, neither by medicine, nor by miracle. For whatever reason, this is Godís will for me right now. I still assume that, if Heíd wanted me to die, He wouldnít have healed me two years ago, and I still approach Him with the belief that, unless and until He tells me unequivocally otherwise, Iím going to pray for full healing, or at least, continued life.

And I am finally beginning to understand the meaning of that miracle on May 6, 2000.

It wasnít about a miracle, or about healing, at all. It was about meeting God. And the important thing is not to go to God for what I can get out of Him, but because I love Him. Right now, I know my love for God is very faint compared to His love for me, but I would like to grow to love Him more for Himself, not for his gifts, blessings, or healing.

Iíve had a privilege not everyone has had. I asked for healing, and I got it. I felt the Hand of God. I experienced His Peace. I know that He is. It is no longer a matter of abstract belief, but incontrovertable experience. However indirectly, I have met God. And the fact that this does not thrill me as much as it should, and I still want whatever I can get out of Him, says a lot about my spiritual immaturity.

In my personal life, with friends and family, and even acquaintances, I want to be loved for myself, not for what I can do for people. I donít like to be used and manipulated. That is a kind of betrayal I have experienced from people a lot, particularly during the last few years. Now Iím beginning to get the point. I know how it feels when it's done to me, and I donít want to treat God that way anymore. I am beginning to understand, now, that this is just not acceptable. He has to be more to me than just a Big Daddy in the sky who can give me whatever I greedily grasp for - or even legitimately ask for. Asking is not wrong; taking Him for granted and using Him is.

The week after I came to this conclusion, a friend gave me a book containing the same message, "The Pressureís Off," by Larry Crabb. This helped to reinforce and explain the mechanism behind this message. Loving the Giver more than the gifts - and even loving Him in the absence of any gifts.

After this, I finally felt that I could properly record my healing in a way that would make sense.

God didnít heal me because I had great faith Ė I didnít. Nor because I loved Him so much, because that wasnít my strong suit, either. I donít know why He healed me: I can only think it is because He is merciful, and had pity on me and my family, and He knew that, without His intervention, I would have had no chance of treatment working at all.

God gave me a fighting chance, and has continued to fight on my side. At one point, in response to the prayers of a close and faith-filled friend, God so dramatically increased my red blood count over a three-day period that I did not require the transfusion of two units of blood I was set up to receive. It normally takes two to three weeks for the bone marrow to replenish red blood cells. The lab thought it was an error and wanted to re-run the tests, so it was a long wait to find out what had happened. But this is another story for another time.

Some people didnít want me to talk about a "partial healing," from the cancer, thinking that such talk shows a lack of faith, but I never wanted to be inaccurate Ė it would be lying about something very sacred. God did heal me, but He did not eliminate the illness completely from my body. I have had to trust Him, go to Him again and again, and live by faith - something that I probably would not have had to do if I'd been completely healed, so maybe that's something I have to learn. Others, He heals totally. I'm not going to judge people, and their faith or lack of it, or say God is trying to teach them this or that lesson from their illness, their healing, or the lack of it - I've heard enough of this about myself from others, and am thoroughly sick of this kind of thinking and speaking. It does not increase faith, it just condemns. God is in control, and, to some exent, His choices are mysterious to us. We don't need to come up with a reason or explanation for His decisions, though, I think, in our own lives, He does teach us, and lead us, by His Spirit, into certain understanding of our own case. I don't think we can generalize these things to other people, except where we see a clear scriptural principle, and even then, we need wisdom and discretion.

I am not an expert on Prayer, nor on miraculous healing: maybe it would have been better if I'd been more confident or had more faith, but I really don't think so. I think God did exactly what He intended to do on His own schedule, for His own reasons, and I think all I was required to do was to be available and open to the workings of His Spirit. I think His plans for me are more complex than just getting me off the hook, physically Ė I think He has wanted to deal with me as a whole person, and this healing has been part of the way He's been leading me...not that I've always willingly or even wittingly followed, so, quite often, I've had to have doors slammed in my face to make it quite clear which way I'm not to go.

While I agree that Christ was the only person who had a 100% success rate with healing (even the apostles failed, at times, and had ailments they were not healed of), I do think that healing prayer is something we should learn to do. The fact that I had someone experienced "at the helm" was important, I think. I believe the woman, who did not have the same experience, felt the energy, and it freaked her out, and she wanted to move on. The man recognized it, and realized that being patient, and waiting on God was more important than giving everyone the same amount of time, and getting on to the next person in line. Now, I think this is a special calling for some people, but I think we should all have some passing knowledge in it.

Today, August 16, I was continuing to read a book that has already become a classic work on prayer, Richard J. Foster's "Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home", and I got to his section on "Healing Prayer," and was quite moved by his story of a student who had suffered a severe head wound from a fall, and how he organized a number of students to pray for her around the clock, as she was in hospital. He met with some faculty members who wanted to pray for the girl, and he says this:

One prayed, "We place Maria into your hands; there is nothing else we can do." I understood the sentiment, but he was completely wrong, for there was a great deal we could do in bringing the healing light of Christ into Maria.

Another prayed, "Lord, help Maria to get well, if it be thy will." That was enough for me. I knew that my colleagues, while well-intented, did not believe Maria would get better, and their prayers hindered faith. I left the room as quickly as possible and returned to my students at the hospital, who were filled with faith, hope, and love.

pp. 213-214.

The story has a happy ending. He tells us, "Within a week Maria was released from the hospital, completely restored, due in large measure, I think, to the faith-filled belief of those students and parents. We believe."

Foster also has another interesting comment: "Like many others I have discovered that, when praying for people with the laying on of hands, I sometimes detect a gentle flow of energy. I have found that I cannot make the flow of heavenly life happen, but I can stop it. If I resist or refuse to be an open conduit for God's power to come into a person, it will stop." (p. 209).

The man who participated in my original healing moved out of the province shortly afterwards, and I am now attending a different church. It seems God worked things out to allow my healing to take place under the most advantageous conditions available at the time. The man told me he'd had some experience with such things, but I didn't realize he'd been used by God in a number of healings, though an acquaintance told me this a few months ago. He suggested I travel to see the man again, but that didn't feel right. I said it was God Who healed me, and He could do so wherever I was. Strangely, I couldn't get to services one day, and unbeknownst to me, this was the one day this man had travelled, and visited the congregation, and I missed him. I think I am meant to keep my focus on the God Who healed me, and not on the people He has used to that end, though I am, of course, grateful to the man for his faith and patience. Had he not had the wisdom to direct things, and had they stopped praying "on time," and moved on, I would not have received my healing then.

In my own case, besides the two people who laid hands on me on May 6, 2000, I had many people praying for me, before and since, and still do, and I do believe that their intercession has been heard and honoured by God. And for myself, I believe my healing was a message from God that He intends to keep me alive, and - within the limitations of my human frailty and sometimes-wavering faith - I will continue to believe that until He very clearly tells and shows me otherwise.

The encapsulation of the tumours by my body, which does occur naturally in some cases, is still, I believe, a mercy of God, as is His creation of the human body with its wondrous capacity to heal, and the many substances of this earth, both nutritional and medical, that can also help in healing.

At the moment, I have a respite that I am still trying to believe Ė as I write this, itís been less than a week since I got the news Ė and I feel I have my life back, at least for awhile, and I want to use it well.

One thing I donít want to neglect is my family. And that, finally, in my mind and heart, honestly includes God.

©2002, Jesse Ancona, August 10, 2002 (revised August 16). All rights reserved. For permission to copy or use any material on this page, please email Jesse Ancona at jesseancona@hotmail.com. No permission is required for fair use, which includes short quotations in other work with citation. For information on citation of Internet sources using the Harvard System, see Library - BRIDGES: Harvard System - Electronic Material.

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