Monday, July 11, 2016

Let's Talk About Faith Part 6: Healing

Previously on Let's Talk About Faith:  Introduction / Pre-Church / Confirmation / Saved / Jump /

It started out a completely ordinary Friday.  I went to all my classes at the local community college, and before the day was done, Liam approached me:

“Do you want to go to this healing conference downtown with me?  It’s really cool.”

“This what?” I asked.  Less than a year after being saved, and immersing myself in church culture at The Edge, and there were still many things I was unfamiliar with.

“It’s basically people gathered together to pray and be prayed for.  For healing and deliverance.”

“From what?” I wondered.  What could be so bad?

Liam shrugged.  “Whatever they need prayer for.  So, will you come?  I think it’d be really good if you came.”

“Sure,” I smiled.

I had no idea what healing or deliverance entailed, but Liam had said the magic words:

Do you want to come to a healing and deliverance conference with me?”

I did.  I really did.

It wasn’t romantic.  It was just...he wanted me to come with him.  He wanted me, not someone else.  He sought me out.  People didn’t do that.  People, I had found, didn’t adapt.  They weren’t accepting.  No one sought out the girl who took more time than everyone else to walk places.  No one sought out the girl who meant they’d have to think about accessibility.  Entrances and exits.  Elevators.

But Liam was different.  He cared.  He cared to get to know me.  He cared about what mattered to me.  He cared when I was struggling.  He did something about it when I was struggling.

WALK BY FAITH:  

That night, as the events of the evening wrapped up, the pastor called up people who wanted prayer.  It was an auditorium-style room and full, to boot.  Many people wanted prayer.  Many got up and went forward.

Immediately, I heard noises.  Yelling.  Screaming.  Crying.  People fell.  It all sounded very intense to me.  Still, I was drawn to the front of the room, in the area between a large stage and the front row of auditorium seats.

On the way to the conference, Liam and I had talked more about it.  About the possibility of my own healing.  It sounded fantastical to be honest, but Liam really believed it could happen.  He seemed to want it to happen.

If I got healed and didn’t have CP anymore, I’d be more acceptable.

People would like me more if I was like them.

It was this thought that had me on my feet, and walking slowly down the long aisle toward the front.  I was so timid that my  journey took a long time.  I wanted people to like me but I was not so sure I wanted this.

I came closer and closer and eventually had a good line of sight to what was going on.  Being on the short side, I hadn’t been able to see what exactly was transpiring, as most in the audience were taller than me, and were standing up to get a good view of the action.  Now, though, no one was blocking my view.  People were falling.  And crying.  The pastor was praying out loud and touching them on their heads.

Well...I wasn’t planning on screaming.  I was pretty sure healing wasn’t physically painful.  And I definitely wasn’t planning to fall over...so I guessed it was okay if the pastor prayed out loud for me and touched my head…

I was inching my way forward, and looked onstage to see Liam, playing guitar as part of the worship team.  He wasn’t playing a song.  He wasn’t singing.  He was nodding at me.  Nodding and nodding.

He wanted this.  He said it was a good thing.  I wanted to be able to do more things with my friends at church.  Things where they didn’t have to carry me or piggyback me places.  Where they didn’t have to drive me everywhere.  I wanted them to value me as much as they valued each other.

FAITH AND BIRDS:

By the time I reached the pastor to receive prayer, I was the last one.  He said some words to me - I don’t remember what - and then took my crutches from me and propped them against one of the front row auditorium seats.  Then, he took my hands and began walking back and forth.

Heat flooded my cheeks and tension seized my legs.  This was embarrassing.  Why couldn’t he just touch me once like all those other people?  Then I could go home and maybe tomorrow when I woke up, my legs would work like everyone else’s.

But no.  This was the way.  And it was taking forever.

Back and forth we went.  I was nervous in front of the giant room full of people and at trying to keep pace with him.

At some point, a microphone was thrust in my face:

“Do you believe that God can heal you?” the pastor asked.

“I…” I hesitated.  This isn’t church but it might as well be!  God will know if I lie!  “I want to.”

 I had grown up knowing surgery as the only option in dealing with CP.  If God could just heal me, what were all those surgeries for?  What was all that pain I endured for, if God could just decide to heal me?

In truth, the idea of me being healed like this and in this exact moment was as outlandish as praying I would grow wings and fly around the room.  In fact, for those of you who are not disabled and can’t quite grasp the terror of what was going on, imagine that instead of pacing and praying that this man I had never met was lifting me higher and higher in the air, waiting for my wings to grow.  Waiting for me to flap them.

Eventually, I felt my hard grip on his hands was not as firm.  As we were walking, he was trying to pull his hands away from mine.  My legs got tighter and tighter.  He had let go of me altogether for a second here and there, so I had to split my already singular concentration dedicated to walking and use half of it to make sure he didn’t pull away completely and leave me to fall on my face.

I didn’t want this.

This was humiliating.

This needed to stop.

 But I had no extra focus or energy to put toward asking him to stop.  Every ounce of strength, stamina, and concentration I had was going into struggling to keep up with him.

I was grasping only at his fingertips by this time, and the only thing keeping me upright was not faith but a fear of face-planting in front of an auditorium full of strangers.  It went on.  And on.  And on.

People were leaving.

My metaphorical wings were not growing.  To encourage the process, it was as if, now, the pastor were attempting to toss me into the air.  I was hanging onto him for all I was worth.

I’m not a bird!  I’m a person!

I’m a person.

[Image is: Me, crouched on a folding chair.  My body posture is closed and my facial expression is serious and sad.]


FAITHLESS / FAITHFUL:

Eventually, the pastor gave up.

“Your healing, God has already done it.  It is your lack of faith that is keeping it from coming to pass.”

He let me sit down beside my crutches again, and walked away.

And me?  I was crushed.

The experience sent me into a serious depression and effectively stopped any further growing I could have done spiritually.  All I’d wanted since I’d first stepped foot into The Edge church a year earlier had been acceptance.  Had been love.  Still just 19 years old, I had been dealing with real life.  Real trauma.

Now, not only was I not healed, but it was my fault.

 For many years afterward, I tried to speak to other people about what happened that night.  Friends from church.  And they were sympathetic, but dismissive.

“That shouldn’t have happened.  He shouldn’t have said that to you.  But you know what?  Just forget about it.  He didn’t know what he was talking about.”

 Fifteen years later, it’s still painful to think about what happened that cold January night at a random downtown venue. It was painful because I had no idea what I was walking into. I felt completely blindsided.  It felt like abuse.

In fact, in talking to my sister about her memories of that night, watching from the audience, she echoed my own long-held feelings:

“The longer it went on, the more I started to question your consent to what was happening.  Does she still want this?  Because it felt like I was watching a violation.  You know, that feeling where your heart drops and you want to do something but you can’t?  I wanted to do something, but it was like I was frozen.”

Her words are like balm to an open wound.

***

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8 comments:

  1. This is abuse. It is called spiritual abuse and it is real and painful and deep. This makes me so angry. So very angry. You see, my dear Tonia, you were saved the minute you were born. You affirmed God's hand of salvation on you at your baptism and confirmed it for yourself at your confirmation. Nothing more was needed. You were a child of God and are a child of God from the moment you took breath. You were and are a perfect child of God. Completely in who you are. You prove it everyday as you learn to live fully into who you are. You confirm it everyday as you love the moments in your life that bring you joy and joy to others. You live it everyday as you learn more and more what it means to be YOU. Not the you, you wish you were. Not the you that others will 'accept. But the YOU you are. Any other message is abusive.
    Spiritual abuse is so deeply harmful. I cry when I read your words. I HATE the evil that has damaged your soul and spirit in the name of faith. I HATE the evil that has given you the message that you are not whole. Spiritual abuse can destroy the soul. Imagine your soul or your spirit unable to unfurl into all their beauty. That is what spiritual abuse does. It cripples the soul and spirit. It bends them out of shape. It clips their wings. It tarnishes their shine. Spiritual abuse creates a place for healing. And that is the only kind of healing you need. Healing of soul and spirit.
    Your writing is a healing act. For you and for others. For me. Thank you for your spirit and your soul. Thank you for sharing your inner wounds. Please don't give up on God. The God who loves you is not the god whom others have shown you. That god was an idol of their making. Remember the God who created you and loves YOU. Fully and completely.

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    1. Debra,

      Thank you so much for your kind, loving words. It actually helps knowing you are angry. You, as someone in a position of authority in a church. It helps so much just knowing that this was not something widely condoned in the faith community. It helps to know it WAS exactly what it felt like. It helps to know it was not my fault.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a true voice of Christian leadership: a soft, safe, loving voice. A contrast to most of the other voices I have encountered in churches throughout my life.

      Writing IS my healing act. While it has taken many years for me to be able to give these things a voice, I do think it is important that people know these things still happen. How they can happen. And that they shouldn't. That we are okay. We don't need to be changed or fixed or healed. We are enough. I do know that now, but it always helps to hear.

      Talking to you gives me hope in a God who loves me. Who would not want to change me. Who would accept me, chair and all, into heaven.

      Thank you for always accepting me for ALL of who I am and never trying to change me. Though I know it was and is natural and a part of being human for you, I have had so many experiences to the contrary that the ones that differ really stick out.

      So, thank you.

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  2. My heart was beating faster and faster and faster as I was reading about you up there with the pastor...I am so upset that he put you in such a vulnerable situation and then blamed the whole thing on YOUR LACK OF FAITH. What?!! I, too, am of the belief that you were made perfectly, just as you were supposed to be - and God would not want to change your CP. It is a beautiful part of who you are. I want to go find that pastor and ask him....whatever happened to "fearfully and wonderfully made?"

    I lovelovelove that you had you sister in all this, though, and that she was able to help you start to heal, instead of offering empty sympathy.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, as always! xo

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    1. You are such a gem. It helps so much to have your support because you know what it's like to have people react in completely unfair ways. Thank you for your sweet words. Having friends and loved ones speak out about this (even via comments) helps tremendously.

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  3. Wow. This post is written so vividly that I can feel your pain. I can feel your hurt at being so publically "healed" and violated in the process. I wish that stories like these were few and far between, but the sad truth is that sometimes some churches hold ableist views, which can destroy a person's confidence and make them feel that their disability is an unsavory part of them that needs to be vanquished in order to receive acceptance from the church and from God. I feel the hurt and shame you expressed so vividly because something similar (though far less violating) happened to me.

    I have extremely mild CP, so people don't know I'm not able-bodied, and when they see signs of disability in my body, they don't realize it's from a disability. As a result of CP, my affected leg is shorter. An acquaintance of mine with whom I was in a prayer group noticed, relentlessly questioned me about it, and stated that I would be healed. I retorted, because I knew CP is incurable, and besides, it's shaped my character, so I don't know that I'd want a cure. This person essentially accused me of not having enough faith in healing. I felt ashamed because one of my best friends was there and I didn't want to start off a disability conversation about this eventually. I was the center of attention when I had no desire to be, just as it seems you were. For weeks afterwards, I hated how "crooked" my body looked. The experience nearly destroyed my body image.

    I mention this because I believe it's further proof that some people of faith have a string lack of understanding towards people with disabilities and I hope that someday that can change so that people feel protected in worship spaces, bit hurt and violated.

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    1. *strong lack of understanding
      *not hurt and violated

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  4. I'm so sorry to hear that something similar happened to you. My sister has CP similar to yours to I know just what you're describing, regarding how your CP presents. There is so much ableism in so many churches. I have found it to be more of an anomaly to find a church (or people) who do NOT hold these views. I have experienced the same as you - people have accused me of "settling" regarding my disability, and it hurts, especially when it comes from friends.

    In case no one has told you, your body is perfect just as it was made. You were created on purpose, with purpose, and with a lot of love. Your CP gives you a connection to a community of people who are like you, who share your experiences, your hardships, and your victories. You are not alone.

    I am with you in hoping the attitude in most churches will change for the better, so that people deemed "less than perfect" will be AS embraced as those deemed "perfect."

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    1. Thank you. :) I now know that my body is just fine. A few days after the incident, I sort of "woke up" and realized that I needed to stop believing that my body isn't valuable and my contributions to society won't be perceived as valuable. They are. I was made perfectly.

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