When I was fifteen I had a couple of experiences that would shape my expectations of how God works in the lives of those who love and follow after him. On a warm spring Sunday morning in 1967, I asked Jesus to come into my heart in the living room of a woman everybody called “Gifford.” About ten of her followers were gathered around me, their arms lifted, their heads jerking and shaking, most of them moaning and praying in tongues. Gifford, being the homeowner and leader of this band of exuberant worshipers, had come up with her own brand of Christianity, and to say it was a little “off” is an understatement. In the Bible there is a little scripture that packs a powerful wallop. Romans 3:4 proclaims “Let God be true and every man a liar.” So, whatever Gifford’s belief system, she did love and trust God, and He tends to show up wherever he’s invited.
A little later that morning, I walked off of Gifford’s front porch and out into the California sunshine feeling light as air, as if some heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt a deep sense of profound love for every person on the planet. “How beautiful and wonderful people are!” I thought, wanting to hug strangers on the street. It didn’t quite fit in with Gifford’s theology that everyone, except Catholics and African Americans, were worthy of this love, and so naturally I began to wonder about her belief that her church was one of the few that held the Truth.
A few months later I was going through a mandatory “foot check” in my physical education class at Morningside High School in Inglewood, California. I was lucky enough to have a sore on the bottom of my foot that was alarming enough to get me sent home from school immediately. Later, a podiatrist diagnosed it as a papilloma, and surgically cut it out. He warned me that it could grow back, and if it did, I would have to have another surgery.
Sure enough, by my three-week post op appointment, the darn thing had reappeared. I didn’t really care one way or the other. It had gotten me out of school one time, and maybe it could get me out of school again. But then Gifford got wind of it, and during a Wednesday night prayer meeting at her house church, I found myself once again in the midst of the group, rocking and rolling, shouting and moaning, and praying for my foot like my life hinged on the thing. My foot was anointed with oil and hands touched and jerked back, fingers vibrated over my toes and one particularly fired up prayer warrior played the top of my foot like a flute.
When it was time to get myself off to the podiatrist that next Monday, my mother was, shall we say, “unavailable” to take me to the appointment, so I walked, which caused me to show up very late. By the time I arrived, the podiatrist was irritable but I had a hard time feeling any remorse. The guy just did not know what I dealt with.
Hurriedly, he pulled my foot up onto the stool, ready to inject Novocain into the area of concern. He seemed puzzled as he carefully studied the bottom of my foot and glanced at my chart. He picked up my other foot, took off my shoe and sock, and stared at that foot. I watched as he looked from one foot to the other, several times. Finally, he looked up at me, both feet in his hands.
“It’s gone!” he said. He seemed stunned.
“Oh! Well, I had my foot prayed over last Wednesday night!” I said, as if that should explain everything.
He continued to stare at me for a moment longer, and then told me he had just felt the hair on his arms rise up as if in protest. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom. She didn’t like me going to that “Bible thumper” group, so now I had solid proof that my participation had actually saved her some money on medical bills.
A lot happened in the eight years following my encounter with Christ within Gifford’s faithful group of followers; a lot of terrible things. I ended up dazed, and confused, but I had not forgotten those experiences at her house church. Because of them, I believed Jesus could do ANYTHING! So it was not out of the realm of possibility in my mind that since I had come crawling, broken and contrite, back into the fold, I would be healed again toot sweet. All fear, all sadness, all grief, all pain; it would all be lifted out of my brain as quickly and easily as the papilloma had disappeared from the bottom of my foot.
I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
~ Jack Korouac
I had a plan, and that was to escape hell, both now and in the world to come, as quickly and easily as possible. The Lord had a plan too, and upon reflection, his made a lot more sense. He wanted healing for me more than I wanted it for myself. But he knew an instant healing would have been a temporary fix. I would have just “thought” myself back into the same set of symptoms. And besides…I had more trauma and heartache coming. Being God, he knew this, and he got very busy preparing me for what would come next.