Oh, y’all. Buckle up, this one’s going to be a rambler. I need to talk about what’s going on with Susannah’s health, but before I do that we need to back up to Sunday, March 18, 2018. That morning, I sat in a sanctuary hearing a sermon about healing.
Jamus Edwards, preaching at Pleasant Valley Community Church, taught from Matthew 21:21-22.
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
(I’m paraphrasing here, from my sermon notes):
1. We are supposed to pray big, bold, mountain-sized prayers. We pray for healing because Jesus told us to.
2. And yet — we know that God is sovereign and has a mysterious will that we don’t understand. Sometimes faith is the means to bodily healing, but God doesn’t choose to heal everyone in this life.
3. Therefore — we believe that our prayers may change the course of God’s hand, and we accept that our prayers may not. (We might use the language of “Thy will be done” or “not my will, Father, but yours be done.)
4. HOWEVER, while it is possible to pray in faith for healing and not doubt, while humbly submitting to the will of God… sometimes we overqualify our prayers.
OVERqualify. Mmmm-hmmm. In other words, we rest so solidly on our laurels in that sweet spot of “thy will be done,” that we never get around to asking God to do those big, bold, mighty healing works. And the whole time, we’re feeling really good about ourselves because: gosh, isn’t that just so Christian of us to pray for the Lord’s will and not our own?
That hit me right where I live. I do that.
I keep God in the boxes that medicine hands out. When a doctor tells us, there’s a 75% chance of thus-and-so, well, I don’t usually pray outside that box. I pray, “God, help us to deal with thus-and-so with grace and give us the strength to bear our thus-and-so and Lord, if it’s Your will to cure this then we know You can, but mostly, help us to trust You through the pain of it.”
Real talk: when Chris’ oncologist told us his fertility might not come back after chemo, I did that. I kept God in that little box and didn’t hardly dare to pray for complete healing. (Praise the Lord, His plans were bigger than my scared, trifling little heart and mind could manage. i.e.: three blessed Nebel babies on earth and three more in heaven.) And when my mom was told “terminal ovarian cancer,” I did that. I kept God in that little box and didn’t hardly dare to pray for complete healing. (Praise the Lord, He gave us eighteen months together before He healed her on His side of the veil.)
I mulled over this idea, of how maybe I use “thy will be done” as a cop-out for weak faith, all day Sunday.
Monday I woke up at 5:15 for my usual quiet time. I had started 2018 with Paul’s letters, and when I finished those I jumped into the Gospel of John. Cracking open my Bible to the bookmark, I started reading the next chapter (I usually cover one or two chapters each morning). And it was John 9. Of course it was.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:1-7)
…The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30-33)
What I noticed here was that the blind man didn’t ask Jesus to heal him. In fact, neither did the disciples. Jesus chose to heal this man, but when He did so, He asked the man to take an action. (Go & wash.) The man was obedient to do what Jesus told Him, and his faith and obedience were met with healing. Further, this passage reinforced something that Pastor Jamus had mentioned the day before – the blind man says it like this: “We know that God does not listen to sinners…” And the sermon phrased it this way: “God hears everyone’s prayer, but He is not inclined to listen to every prayer.” Because we live under Christ’s atonement, we can approach him through Christ.
So, my quiet time gave me plenty to keep stewing over.
Tuesday morning, I prepared to leave the house with all three kids – dropping Jonas & Abigail at school, & grooving on down the road to Louisville with Susannah for her 6-month scoliosis checkup. While the house was still dim and quiet, I knelt beside the couch and I prayed.
I prayed big.
I prayed bold.
I asked God to actually HEAL Susannah’s scoliosis.
Knowing that, medically, scoliosis doesn’t heal.
Her doctors say – and the whole medical community is in agreement! —that scoliosis, once diagnosed, can be monitored and treated, but it can’t really be cured. Curvature of the spine of 10° or more will give you a diagnosis of scoliosis. When your curve gets to 25°, doctors will create back braces. Bracing doesn’t reverse existing curvature, but it does slow down the progression of a curve. (Some folks’ curves even return after their bracing treatments end.) If a curve progresses to 45° or greater, back surgery (spinal fusion) will usually be performed to correct the curve.
When Susannah’s was found, her curve was around 11° at 7 years of age. That’s pretty young, though not unheard of (juvenile idiopathic scoliosis is somewhat less common than adolescent onset), and her doctor assured me that typically a child her age just gets X-rays and checkups every six months to monitor the curve until they’ve had their biggest growth spurt (the one that closely precedes puberty). Once a girl finishes growing, her scoliosis typically won’t continue to advance.
At 8-and-a-half, with two sets of X-rays and checkups under her belt, Susannah’s spinal curvature had progressed to 12° and we had both become comfortable with the clinic.
That Tuesday morning, freshly-turned-9-year-old Susannah & I arrived at the scoliosis clinic ready for the routine. Change into a gown, slip into the shorts we brought from home, walk down the hall for X-rays, meet the PA who comes in first to ask a bunch of questions, then speak to the orthopedist, who tells us what the X-rays showed and always reassures Susannah that her only job for the next six months is to run, jump, have fun, & just be a kid until she comes back. And this time, I walked in smiling – feeling sure that somehow, she would be healed and this would be the last time we set foot in this clinic.
My mom-senses started tingling, though, when the PA asked a bunch of questions this time they’d never asked Susannah before. Questions about her feet and legs – do they ever feel funny or do funny things? She had Susannah do a bunch of movements that seemed to be checking her muscles: thigh, calf, feet – and questions about her lifelong history of constipation – in addition to the usual questions about back pain.
When Dr. Meier came in, he continued that line of questioning and then started asking me about setting up orders for further imaging. I felt like he was working his way up to something, beating around the bush, but he finally laid out all his concerns.
Susannah’s curve had progressed three degrees in six months, without a concurrent growth spurt in height to explain it (she is now at 15°). Additionally, her curve is atypical because it’s confined to her lumbar spine (the lower part of the back – usually scoliosis presents in the thoracic spine, behind the ribcage). These factors taken together with the leg pains that began a few years ago, her current level of aches and pains, and her lifelong battles with gastrointestinal difficulties, lead him to believe there’s a good possibility that Susannah may have a tethered spinal cord. To determine that, she needs to have a sedated MRI, which we now have scheduled for April 19, 2018.
Are you with me?
I prayed for complete healing, and I drove to Louisville believing that I would really hear miraculous news. And instead, I heard a doctor tell me that my kid may have a very serious condition which requires a pretty major surgery to prevent irreparable neurological deterioration.
To be brutally honest, I came home feeling pretty shattered.
I managed to do all the mama stuff that afternoon: help with homework and get through dinner and put the kids to bed. I did a little bit of reading about tethered cord syndrome – and even though I didn’t feel good, I started to feel a bit better.
That night, just as I laid my head on the pillow, I had a thought.
One of those thoughts that doesn’t feel like it comes from yourself – it comes from Someone outside yourself.
If they find tethered cord, and perform the surgery to correct it, Susannah will be healed from her scoliosis. And not just healed from that, but she’ll be healed from all those other aches and pains and problems she’s been living with for years now.
I’ve found accounts from families who’ve been through tethered cord surgery. As the child grows, the spine can actually straighten, because the cord release surgery takes away what had been causing the scoliosis. (With ‘normal’ scoliosis, there’s no known cause and so no way to prevent it or to correct it.) If her leg pain is rooted in either neurological issues stemming from the compression where the cord is tethered, or in a compensatory motion type of problem due to the tight tether in her back, then that could resolve after surgery as well. And while some kids don’t get full relief from bladder and bowel troubles with tethered cord release surgery – some do.
We’re about to unplug from the daily grind for our Spring Break vacation, and then we’ll come home and chug through a few weeks of ‘normal,’ and then we’ll take our girl to Louisville for a test and some answers. I sure would love it if you would pray with us. You can pray for God’s will to be done, but you can also pray big, bold, mountain-sized prayers for healing.
Won’t He do it?