Poison Oak, Celiac Disease, and Miraculous Healing

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A year ago, my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. This is relatively common in people with a bonus 21st chromosome, which is the only reason we found out about it in the first place—initially she appeared asymptomatic, but it showed up in routine bloodwork that had been delayed for years.

As I began to process the new world God had, yet again, thrust us into without our consent, two reactions from people of faith made me want to pull my hair out. The first was that she should take regular Communion and not worry about cross-contamination and all that jazz, because God would never allow the Eucharist to harm his faithful. Which is the same logic behind drinking poison and snake handling, I might add, and none of us believe any of THAT is a valid expression of faith.

The other was that we should take her to a healing prayer service so she would be cured.

Now, on the one hand this was a pretty attractive idea, b/c we’re foodies and I didn’t want to sacrifice anything we love. (Selfishness alert!) At the same time, I was painfully aware that I DID NOT BELIEVE she would be healed. And I knew that without belief, there wasn’t much point in going.

Part of me excoriated myself for my lack of faith.

The other part of me is a firm believer that every suffering I have been given has burned away parts of me that are not Godly. We’re supposed to take up our cross and follow, not go around demanding God remove it.

But then, why EVER pray for healing?

And I totally do pray for healing. In fact, here’s a memorable story. In 2019, my husband and I went to Napa Valley for a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary. On Day 2, I got into poison oak. Bad. To make matters worse, we were hiking and I was sweating. Badly. Which means the sweat spread it EVERYWHERE.

When I woke up in the middle of the night, I knew that sensation. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. In the morning I asked him to look. My entire back was a sheet of red. So were my legs. And arms.

Now, we went and did the things. The Tecnu, the Zanfel, washing all the sheets and clothes at the bed & breakfast.

But I know how poison ivy goes. This is a two-week course that gets worse before it gets better. And this was our TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY TRIP.

So yes, I prayed. I sat on the edge of the bed, quivering and desperate, and said, “God, I know how poison ivy goes and I know what I’m about to ask is counter to all the things you put into place in the universe. But please, please, PLEASE let this go away overnight.”

Well, it wasn’t totally gone. But it WAS about 75% gone! And our trip was not ruined.

So I know, from my own experience, that God CAN perform miraculous healing.

But when the suggestion to go to a healing service for my daughter’s celiac disease came up, it felt all wrong. It hearkened back to a prayer offered when she was born, asking God to “heal” her of her Down syndrome—as if that extra chromosome were God’s mistake that he was just waiting for us to pray and he’d rectify it, instead of part of the rich tapestry of EXACTLY WHO HE INTENDED HER TO BE ALL ALONG. Because GOD DOESN’T MAKE MISTAKES.

This year, which I have spent trying to reconcile the irrenconcilable—the balance of detachment and Godly anger at injustice in the world—has taught me one thing, which is that two contradictory truths can both be true, at the same time, and in the same heart. We need detachment. AND we need Godly anger at injustice. There is an irreconcilable tension there that is part of the mystery of Christian living.

I think this business of healing is the same.

I have no pithy wise saying to end this reflection, unless it is that the tension between irreconcileable truths is part of the mystery of God, and that we have to learn how to grapple with that tension.

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