In a particular pastoral care setting, I met a woman named Clara. She had had a stroke two years before our meeting. She was a self-made scholar of the Bible and Bible history. She believed that the knowledge that she had discovered and the Bible are the absolute truth of God and that there was no debating that. The stroke had left her paralyzed on her right side. Neither her speech nor her intellect had been affected. She was able to use a walker but mostly remained in a wheelchair. She had been in hospitals, rehab centers and in a nursing home as part of her recovery program. When I spoke with her, she had been home about three months.
Clara believed that God would heal her physical limitations. Yet, her disabilities remained. She would get highly frustrated, and yet would attempt to try to do physical things that further reminded her that she was still physically challenged. She would get discouraged and become depressed. She was searching the Bible for a miracle as well as alternative medicines in the hope of finding a cure.
In my conversations with her husband, he was able to share his frustrations about being a caregiver and how difficult it is for him to be truthful with himself and her about her condition. I share my conversation with Clara as tribute to her courage and the struggles she faced spiritually and psychologically:
Jeanne: Hello Janice, How are you today?
Clara: It is so slow. I am just waiting on God to heal me. However, it is not happening soon enough.
Jeanne: I know that I get impatient, also. I also get tired in struggling to work at recovery. Do you ever just get mad or discouraged?
Clara: Yes. I want it right now and all that waiting for ‘stuff to get there’ has always been a bother to me. I do not like to wait. I have too much to finish with my life to be this way.
Jeanne: What is this way for you?
Clara: I am lame. I have studied the whole Bible, and I read that the lame cannot offer a sacrifice of praise, or be involved in an active ministry. I know God is going to heal me because He knows that it is the intent of my life to praise God, to worship, and to witness to others.
Jeanne: What do you mean not being able to witness? Is it because you are in a wheel chair?
Clara: I cannot raise my arms in praise. I cannot stand to talk. I cannot play the music by which to sing. I cannot even type on the computer any longer. I am dependent and not giving my whole self in life.
Jeanne: Is healing only the physical?
Clara: That is the healing that I need right now. God cannot leave me this way.
Jeanne: Tell me more about this way.
Clara: I cannot take care of myself, another stroke lurking around the corner, a seizure without notice, and I cannot play my music anymore. I am not me any more. Even the simple things are such a frustrating struggle. I have to depend on my husband to take care of the things that use to be my responsibilities. My place as a wife is to take care of him. I feel useless at times. I cannot even go to the bathroom by myself. I get embarrassed so many times.
Jeanne: I share so many of those struggles. I use to be able to carry the watering can to water my loved flowers. Now I need help. So many changes in my life, and I have struggled to adjust to them. I do, like I hear you saying, get frustrated and wonder about my value. Can a person be healed in every other part of their life and remain with their particular physical limitation?
Clara: That is not healing. We are promised complete healing, which includes the physical. God is going to heal me because His word says so. I just get impatient because it is not happening. In fact, I feel like I am getting worse.
Jeanne: I have had those times, too. I feel like I am making progress, and then I lose it. This recovery has been a struggle for me as it is being for you. One of my biggest struggles is that I have seen myself as disfigured. Every now and then, blessings slip in and enable me to keep on keeping on. I had a blessing that I did not expect the other day. As you know, I am an Episcopalian. We celebrate the Eucharist as a sacrament of redemption. We receive the bread and blood of Christ through faith of heart. We remember as if we were actually there in Christ’s presence. We are transformed though the remembering. Words cannot describe this miracle.
Clara: I remember. I also have been there and done that.
Jeanne: Well, one of our ministers has cerebral palsy. He is both physically and verbally challenged. I was at the altar waiting to receive communion from him. As the bread was placed in my hands, I heard the words—which seamed to be coming from Jesus himself—say, “I am broken for you, you are broken with me.” I felt an overwhelming sense of holiness in my brokenness and oneness with Jesus and with the minister. You are right. Healing is our promise. It comes in so many unsuspected ways.
Clara: I still want physical healing. I want to walk. I want to be independent again. I want to provide for my family again. I have lost my identity and do not know what it will be if God leaves me in this condition. My life has been a commitment to serving God, and I do not know how to serve him any other way. That is an unknown to me. However, God has a way that is not necessarily mine. He has to heal me so I can return to serving him. I cannot be left this way. I really appreciate that you to talked to me today. I do not have many friends who understand.
Jeanne: Let us pray together: Hear my prayer O Lord, and heed my plea for mercy.
In this time of trouble, I call You, for You will answer me.
When pain and illness are our companions, let there be room in our hearts for strength.
When the days and nights are filled with darkness, let the light of courage find its place.
Help us to endure the suffering and dissolve our fears; renew within us the calm spirit of trust and peace.
We praise you, O God, Healer of the Sick
With a smile on her face Clara said, “amen.”
Clara did eventually return to her active ministry, still from the wheel chair. She was able to resolve her faith crisis and redefine healing that went beyond the physical.
She was able to face her pride and her unwillingness to move into a life of value from the chair. She sang with a passion from the heart that had a quality of an angel’s voice. She found peace and a new purpose.
This story has a sad ending for her family. Clara developed a brain tumor and passed away a few years later. Clara was at peace and radiant when she passed away.