Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own… (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Initially, Gil and I spoke to very few people about the cancerous tumor in my right parotid gland, which was discovered in mid-November of 2011. Since we were still in shock and not certain what kind of cancer it was – or if it was anywhere else in my body – we decided to keep this shocking and upsetting report to ourselves, for the most part, until we had more accurate information to offer. However, when my friend Mary called on the evening I received the diagnosis, to confirm plans to get together later in the week, I told her the news I had just learned.
Over the previous summer Mary and I had spent time talking about healing prayer – a subject of interest to us both. Mary lent me her copy of Agnes Sanford’s autobiography,
Sealed Orders, and when I finished that I bought Mrs. Sanford’s first book, The Healing Light, and began to read it. For those of you who may not be acquainted with Agnes Sanford, she was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries and the wife of an Episcopal minister — and one of the first people in modern times to write about how God heals the body (as well as the soul and spirit) through prayer. To coincide with my reading and conversations with Mary about healing, I began a careful study in early September of the passage in Luke’s gospel where Jesus sends out his apostles to preach and heal (9:1-2)
I had read these two verses countless times but never before had I noticed that followers of Jesus are charged to preach as well as to heal. I also discovered that the word translated in that passage as “heal” (ιάομαί) can be used synonymously with a word used elsewhere in the gospels which means “to save” (σώζω). Both terms imply the restoration of health – and that restoration can be physical as well as spiritual. So, when Jesus healed, it served as evidence that he is the Messiah – the one who saves. And when his followers healed, it demonstrated that the message they were preaching was true – that Jesus (whose name in Hebrew means “God is salvation”) restores health to the soul and spirit — and to the body, as well. Once had I reached a fuller understanding of these verses, I was eager to learn all I could about healing so that I would more fully carry out the charge I took up when I was ordained. Little did I know that in just a few months I would be the one in need of healing prayer.
So that night, when I told Mary about the tumor, she immediately said she would come over the next morning to pray for me (the same morning on which I noticed the water slowing dripping from the kitchen ceiling). I sat at my kitchen table and she stood beside me, but neither of us was quite sure how to go about praying for healing. Yet, we both sensed that the Lord had been preparing us for this moment. It would be the first of many occasions when I would receive the laying-on-of-hands and prayers for healing. Although I can’t remember now what she prayed, I was truly blessed by her ministry to me – because in that moment I came under the care of the Christian community, for that is what Mary represented – and the comfort it gave me was profound: I was not alone in a time of great need.
That evening, I picked up my copy of The Healing Light and began to read it again, this time making careful notes about healing prayer. As Agnes Sanford suggests, I visualized God’s healing power entering my parotid gland and destroying the cancer, cell by cell. That night I slept soundly, for the first time in a week, without anxious thoughts keeping me awake or pain from the tumor (which had begun to press on the nerves in the back of my head).
The next morning, Wednesday, November 16, I went to a local radiology center in Raleigh for an MRI of my brain and neck. The experience was not as unpleasant as I had heard it could be. I did not experience any sense of claustrophobia while lying in the machine and the noise level was tolerable. Although the scan took little more than an hour, I was told that I wouldn’t hear back about the results until I met with the E.N.T. oncology specialist in Chapel Hill the following Monday. My heart sank because I knew from years of pastoral ministry that there’s nothing worse than waiting to hear the results of a test. For the rest of the morning I tried not to imagine the worst.
At one o’clock that afternoon, I was surprised by a call from Caleb’s godfather, who is also a surgeon in town. He and his wife, also a doctor, had been the first people we had shared our news with two days before. To this day, I remember the words Woody spoke to me over the phone: “the MRI shows that the tumor is contained in the parotid gland and there is no sign of node involvement.” I was standing when I took his call, but fell to my knees, weeping with gratitude, as I realized what his words meant. Although I had requested Woody be given a copy of the radiologist’s report, I had no idea it would be available so soon. What a blessing to have a knowledgeable friend in the right place at the right time. I was spared, by God’s grace, the trial of wondering and fearing – for the next four days – what information the report held. Best of all, it contained good news. Although the tumor was big, it had not breached the walls of the parotid gland.
The following afternoon I lay down for a nap and just before I awoke from it, I had a very prescient dream. The action in the dream takes place both outside and within a house, which seemed to be set in a neighborhood somewhere in the Mid-west. The house is mine and from a physical point of view the property is far deeper than it is wide. There is a fence around the backyard of the house; the back fence is chain-link, the sides are tall, made of a golden-colored wood. The street outside the house is congested with cars.
As a crowd of people swells around my house a driver in a “muscle” car (perhaps a Mustang?) drives through my backyard, uprooting the side fences. It appears he has done this in order to get to the street corner, due to the congestion in the street out front. I’m standing inside my house and I’m wearing my black clergy shirt and collar. (I don’t recall ever having a dream in which I’m wearing symbols of my “office.”) Gathered around me is my “family” but as I thought about the dream later I did not recognize any of them as actual members of my extended family.
I tell these family members that I’m not going to put up with this destruction to our property – no one may drive through our backyard. My family is concerned I will upset the crowd outside, but I am determined to deal with this matter, regardless. I then speak, politely but firmly, to the crowd outside telling them they can stay on my property and talk, but the fences are going back up, and no one may drive through my backyard. It was at this point that I awoke from the dream.
I know that dreams are usually highly symbolic, and often their meaning is not readily apparent, but this much I could tell immediately: Both consciously and unconsciously I was in agreement that this cancer (which “drove” through my “backyard”) would not be allowed to vandalize my “property.” With the healing power of Christ within me and upon me, the “fences” would be going back up. What my dream seemed to indicate is that I was ready to stand the ground the Lord had already won for me and receive His healing.
Next week: information overload.