(by Kathryn Belicki)
Five years ago I had a remarkable lunch with my friend Linda. It was a tough period for both of us—Linda had cancer and dearly wanted to avoid the prescribed surgery, and so had turned to naturopathic medicine and prayer. I had an undiagnosed neuromuscular disorder and was in the nail-biting “wait and see” period, which would tell whether this was benign or something that would kill me.
After greeting each other with a hug, we squeezed into our seats. It was one of those narrow cafés that would comfortably hold maybe eight or 10 people, but instead wedged about 40 in Lilliputian tables. With a flourish Linda pulled out a slim plastic bottle in the shape of the virgin Mary. I looked at her quizzically—she was not Roman Catholic.
“My neighbor is back from Lourdes. When she heard we were having lunch she insisted on loaning this to me so we can anoint ourselves with a bit of the water.” Lynda’s excitement was palpable. “Here. Dab me with a drop and then I’ll do you.”
She passed the bottle to me. We learned something quickly: never hand a precious object to a person with a neuromuscular disorder. As I moved to take off the cap shaped as a crown, the bottle flew out of my hand and the water poured out. Aghast I snatched up the bottle and set it on the window sill by our table, but the damage was done. We stared in dismay at the pool of water a good eight inches in diameter.
“Well,” I said, drawing a deep breath, “we can’t put it back in the bottle so we might as well anoint ourselves.” At that we burst out laughing, and splashed water on our faces and arms, then grasped each other’s hands and prayed. In true Canadian style all the other diners, seated literally at our elbows, stoically acted as if nothing untoward was happening.
Picking up the ill-fated crown I turned to put it back on Mary’s plastic head and stopped short. Silently I showed the bottle to Linda. Her eyes widened. It was full except for a few drops—about the exact amount we had planned to take from her friend’s precious store. It was a miracle and surely it meant that we had been healed.
But we were not healed. The next ultrasound revealed that Linda’s cancer continued to brood in the depths of her body and I continued to be beset with deeply painful cramps, waves of tics, and that ever-growing clumsiness.
A year later, her tumor had grown and she was told that the chances of surgery being successful were now reduced. Profoundly disappointed, but deeply afraid, she consented to undergo the procedure. It went swimmingly well, curing her not only of the cancer, but of a long held phobia of surgeons and surgery.
I was subsequently diagnosed with a benign neuromuscular disorder. The specialist informed me gravely that while it wouldn’t kill me, it was incurable and I would not get better.
“But I am already better,” I said. By that time my symptoms were about half what they had been. “Really!” he said, startled. “Well, that’s good,” he said, clearly bemused.
At present I am still waiting on the Lord for my complete cure. I didn’t get the miracle I wanted, but I got something better: hope and confidence in God. As I pondered his perplexing action, I came to realize that if our only hope is in a miraculous healing for today, then we have no hope worth having. Momentary joy at the gift of restored health will sooner or later be forgotten as life’s cares overtake us.
This is why we must fix our gaze on that promised, ultimate healing of creation, when weeping will be no more. That is a hope worth having! But faced with a world racked with suffering and with the inevitability of our own death, hope in a restored world eternally free of suffering can seem to be a foolish, foolish hope indeed.
However, a miraculous sign proves that we are not such fools after all. It shows that God does intervene in history. Extending Saint Paul’s metaphor (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:20-22), it is a deposit on a future inheritance, a sign that God can and will heal creation, just as he has promised.