So, how long do you think I’m going to be here?” I asked the physical therapists who were evaluating me. The night before, I’d been admitted to the rehabilitation facility after spending eight days in the hospital with a rare autoimmune condition called transverse myelitis.
The two young women, both about my age, looked at each other, slightly startled, then back at me. “Most people don’t ask,” one of them said.
“Well, I need something to go on. Nobody’s given me any idea.” At one point in my hospitalization, I had been completely paralyzed from the neck down, due to swelling in my spine. I arrived at rehab having regained the use of my arms but not my legs. Not only had no one told me how long I would be hospitalized; I wasn’t even sure if I would walk again.
“You really want to know?” the other therapist asked.
“Well, to be honest, you have only trace movement in your legs. I think you may be here about eight weeks …”
“I put ‘12,’” the first one interjected.
“And even then, I think there’s a good chance you’ll be going home in a wheelchair,” the other concluded.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I swallowed over and over, trying to get the lump in my throat to go away. “Well, thanks for being honest,” I said, wiping a tear from my cheek and taking a deep breath.
“Nothing is for certain,” the first therapist offered. “We don’t know much about what happened to you, but things could change. That’s just what we’re expecting at this point.”
An hour or two later, my dad came for his regular evening visit. I told him about the assessment, including the realization that I might spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. “You know, if the Lord wants me to walk, I’ll be able to get up and walk tomorrow,” I said. “But if He doesn’t, no amount of wanting will ever change anything.”
But remarkably, the next day I did begin to walk. It wasn’t a “pick up your mat and walk” kind of miracle. But first a little wiggling in my toes, followed by movement in my ankles and knees, followed by standing and using a walker. I went home a few days later and trudged through pain and physical therapy for months. After a lot of hard work and prayer, God restored me.
“Don’t let my hope rest in a good outcome,” I’ve often prayed to the Lord while waiting for the phone call, “unless You promise a good outcome every time.”
But not because I had prayed for a miracle. In fact, I never remember asking the Lord to let me walk again. What I prayed for most was greater faith. I knew I couldn’t deal with the difficulties of a hospital stay and recovery unless the Lord gave me faith to match the needs of the day. That’s what I prayed for. And that’s what I asked others to pray for as well.
Since then, I’ve been restored many times when I didn’t ask to be: three more occasions of paralysis from what became recurrent transverse myelitis, and later from multiple battles with stage four cancer. In each case, I longed for complete healing, and I let the Lord know that in prayer. But I was hesitant to ask for it, because physical restoration—a wonderful and welcome blessing—is at best temporary. No amount of past healing and recovery can avert injury, illness, aging, or death.
I’ve often wondered about the people Jesus raised from the dead. The widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, Lazarus—how long was it until they died a second time? And how many of those days did they spend worrying about what that death would be like?
As a four-time cancer survivor, I’m regularly tested for signs of a recurrence. Thankfully, test results from the last dozen or so of my three-month checkups have all come back negative. The long stretch of good health doesn’t make waiting for those reports much easier, though. I worry about what the next battle will be. But I also fear that good health now will give me false reassurance for the future. “Don’t let my hope rest in a good outcome,” I’ve often prayed to the Lord while waiting for the phone call, “unless You promise a good outcome every time.”
Jesus isn’t going to make that promise, however. Instead, as we face the uncertainty of rising and falling and rising again, He offers us something better: “I will be with you.”
This is our ultimate restoration: God’s presence. It’s a promise we can count on for eternity.
Originally published at In Touch Magazine on February 24, 2017. Photograph by Darren Braun.