Rachel's Testimony of Healing

For those who missed it, here is Rachel's incredible testimony of God's power to heal:

Two years ago, I was a different person.  I was miserably and chronically ill.  Nobody could give me a diagnosis, and my symptoms were beyond anything any of my regular doctors could understand or treat.  A barrage of life stresses—combined with a lifetime of overmedication for minor health issues—had brought me to a point where my body had just had enough.  I was covered in dry, itchy skin from my forehead to my feet.  I slept horribly.  My liver wasn’t working quite right, my kidneys couldn’t properly regulate my body temperature, and there was so much toxicity in my body that I’d break out in a sweat just sitting still in a chair.   I got random patches of “rugburn” on my legs, arms, and ankles, where there had been no rug and no burn.  There was an enormous amount of stiffness in my joints, and I felt about 50 years older than my age.  It hurt to turn my head; it hurt to hold my husband’s hand.   Even taking a shower was excruciatingly painful.   There was a full year when I couldn’t really straighten my arms, and there was a winter in Pennsylvania when I was so constantly flushed and overheated that I never wore a coat, even when it was 20 degrees.  I was so physically exhausted that it was unsafe for me to drive, even in the middle of the afternoon, because there was nothing I could do to keep my eyes open.  I developed sensitivities to an extraordinary number of foods, and for 8 months had to follow the strictest, most deprived diet I have ever heard of.  There were 94 foods, herbs, and spices I couldn’t eat—even down to the most basic and innocuous things, like cinnamon, and iceberg lettuce.  Anything with flavor was pretty much out, so I ate mostly chicken, applesauce, hummus, and potato chips.  I spent an exorbitant amount of money on special groceries and herbal supplements, because I truly had no other choice.  If Steve and I ever went out to a restaurant, there would usually only be one item on the menu I could safely eat.  Sometimes nothing.  Usually we just avoided going out, so that both of us could avoid having to face the despair of that experience.

Any time I went out in public I was liable to get comments from well-meaning strangers who would ask me, “Do you have shingles?,”  “Do you have a cat?”, “Do you have a sunburn?”,  “Ouch! Did the rose bushes win this weekend?” or “Have you ever tried Benadryl?”  I couldn’t escape from my illness anywhere.  If I ever forgot about it for a moment, someone would remind me.  Even doctors and nurses made insensitive comments.  Going to the doctor became a trauma of its own.  I was tested for diseases I obviously didn’t have, including cancer.  We made payments for months on several useless diagnostic tests.

My immune system was so weak and my body so exhausted that the stress of just getting out the door each morning literally caused me to break out in hives.  And not just a few.  It was a full-on hive attack that felt like my entire body was on high alert and led me to frantic, unstoppable scratching and—since I was often alone in the car when it happened—to crying and screaming at the top of my lungs.  I was late to everything, all the time.  I had no energy to make time for friends, and I dreaded the idea of traveling, even to go home for Christmas.  Any disruption in my routine took an enormous amount of effort, planning, and stress, especially since I had numerous time-consuming treatments I was supposed to do at home almost every night of the week.

And throughout this whole experience I was in grad school full-time, studying counseling.  I nearly had to drop out of school with only one semester to go, since attempting to repair my health had literally become my full-time job.  Some of the clients I counseled during my internship (who I tried never to talk to about my health) tried to give me creams or their mother’s leftover prescription medicine, which I didn’t want or ask for.  I was humiliated.   I cried in front of everyone—professors, classmates, bosses, ladies at church, random people driving past on the highway.  I was in a constant state of agony and grief.  I felt betrayed by and thoroughly disgusted with my body.  And although I knew that God had not betrayed me, I couldn’t understand why a loving Savior with the power to raise people from the dead, to heal someone with the hem of his robe, to speak a word from miles away and bring a man’s servant back from the brink of death, would not simply speak the single word needed to heal me. He could do it, so why wouldn’t he?

I developed two different life-threatening skin infections in the span of 7 months.  I lived in constant fear that I would get another one, and I had horrifying dreams about strange things happening to my body.  The second infection that I got happened two days after Easter, the date I had been pleading with God to miraculously heal me.  It was one of the bitterest disappointments I’ve ever experienced—not only to not get better, but to get far, far worse.

But to my surprise, once the infection healed, I found that I was starting to get a little bit better.  God opened the door needed for me to cut back to half-time at school without losing my internship, and gave me the strength to finish my degree.  He provided the grace to sustain me and Steve through a cross-country move to California, even though all I had to snack on during the trip was popcorn, grapes, and some disgusting homemade cranberry-buckwheat cookies.  God led me to a wonderful naturopathic doctor and a couple of acupuncturists who were wildly successful at treating my symptoms and at identifying the 2 worst culprits in my diet, so that we could finally re-introduce all the other foods I had gone without for the previous year and a half.  God fortified me with timely conversations and encouraging sermons during my first couple of weeks of work at Fuller Seminary, when I was fearfully trying to adjust to the schedule of a full-time job and scared that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.  He gave me good things to focus on and be thankful for, instead of just my illness.  I was finally able to start moving forward again, to think about the future and not just about surviving the present.

It has been such a gradual process of healing that I haven’t even noticed all of it happening.  But now instead of random strangers feeling sorry for me, I suddenly have old friends coming up and telling me how unbelievably healthy I look.  A mention of my food sensitivities came up recently at work, and one of my new co-workers was astonished to learn that I had had any health problems at all.  What an incredible change.

I’ve had numerous people praying over me throughout the duration of my illness.  I was anointed with oil once or twice, and I know that I prayed some of the most fervent prayers of my life during the time that I was sick.  But it always felt like the answer was so far-off.  And then, a few months ago during a Sunday service at St. Luke’s, I felt a whisper in my soul that seemed to say, Today.  Something is going to happen today.  And that was the day that Father Rob felt stirred to pray for the “breaking off” of certain unknown spiritual things going on in the congregation.  He prayed, and clapped several individual claps as a sign of the breaking, the release.  And as we moved into the preparations for the Lord’s Supper, I had my eyes closed, reflecting and waiting.  I heard another clap.  And as I opened my eyes I realized that it wasn’t a clap I had heard, but the breaking of the bread, and that the two sounded exactly the same.  The body of Christ, broken for you.  The body of Christ, breaking chains for you.

I still don’t know exactly what happened that day, but the truth of that moment wasn’t lost on me.  It is Christ who breaks himself for us, “who forgives all [our] sins and heals all [our] diseases, who redeems [our] life from the pit” (Psalm 103:3-4).  And in the worst of our pain, he is still with us. 

At one particularly difficult time in my illness, when we were still living in Pennsylvania, I was sitting in church utterly miserable, feeling sorry for myself, and staring at the broken skin on my wrists, which were deeply scratched and bloodied.  And suddenly it occurred to me, that although I would never, ever choose to go through what I did, Jesus’ wrists were bloody in the exact same place as mine—only by choice, and cut deeper.  Jesus not only allowed but willfully chose to submit to the piercing of his body, the utter humiliation and pain of an experience he did not deserve, “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,” and that we could have the real and tangible hope of being restored to whole bodies, healed bodies—if not in this life, then certainly in the life to come.

And by God’s grace, I’ve reached a point in this life where things are normal again.  I feel no stiffness at all anymore.  I can straighten my arms and legs without the slightest difficulty.  I sleep through the night and have all the energy I need to face the day.  I can eat virtually anything I want to, except for meat and dairy, which compared to everything else are the easiest things in the world to give up.   Suddenly I look forward to traveling, to spending time with friends, to eating at restaurants, to doing simple things that used to be a burden.  Suddenly I realize that I hum to myself again while washing dishes, that I laugh more than I used to, and that certain possibilities that had been erased from my life have become possibilities again.  This month I celebrated a year of full-time, joy-filled work at Fuller, and just a few weeks ago I was finally able to begin seeing clients again in the pursuit of my longtime goal to become licensed as a marriage and family therapist.  This girl, who used to be too sick to get off the couch, now counsels cancer patients and their families in her spare time.

“Sick” is no longer a label that I use for myself.

And Jesus, who walked with me through the whole thing, deserves all the glory.

 

 Rachel Engels

November 2014