“Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”” Mark 10:48
One of the first things you’re told when your child is diagnosed with epilepsy is: there is no cure. Directly on the heels of that revelation, you’re told the condition is life-threatening due to SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy). Sometimes a happy, medical-minimizer phrase may be thrown in: “Don’t worry. Many times epilepsy can be controlled and epileptic people can live happy lives.” In our case, these statements were followed by the neurologist’s medical assessment of our daughter’s first EMU (Epilepsy Monitoring Unit) test results. She was seizing a hundred times a day and her condition, in the epileptologist’s opinion, was not one she’d ever outgrow. That was two weeks before Christmas 2015.
We were too shell-shocked to have much response. Dan and I just left the EEG lab holding hands, speechless. Mercy was waiting for our return to her hospital room, unaware of the way her future had just been re-scripted. We re-entered her room with smiles that didn’t reach our eyes and packed her up to head home for the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Dan and I cried ourselves to sleep every night leading up to that Christmas morning.
It had been 2 1/2 months since Mercy had re-entered the seizure world, and our Christmas looked different. There were no cookies, candies, cakes and pies made with mom’s and grandma’s nostalgic, mouth-watering recipes. No mashed potatoes and dinner rolls. Mercy was on a ketogenic diet so that year we choked down coconut fat bombs, cauliflower, and almond sugarless cookies, in extremely restrictive amounts, counting carbs, measuring ketones and analyzing seizure response. Mercy cried before or after every party. There were no cinnamon candles burning because we were eliminating synthetic chemical compounds from her environment. Our Christmas jammies didn’t smell like fabric softener, because we were now washing our clothes in hypoallergenic soap nuts. Never a fan of winter colds, now we were terrified of their affect on Mercy’s seizure status and our lack of knowledge about how to fight them without traditional (seizure-threshold-lowering) OTC children’s medications. Our Christmas budget had taken a blow from medical expenses, and there was now another large hospital bill looming.
Despite all of the gray in our holiday, God preserved a flame of hope inside of Dan and me. I don’t know why the epileptologist did it. In my mind’s eye, I look back on that conversation, review the progression of it, see our faces fall as the doctor delivers his medical diagnoses, and then watch as he throws one, tiny lifeline as we begin to sink into the waves. “But,” he says, after telling us Mercy will never outgrow epilepsy, “I could be wrong. You never know.” As I look back, I appreciate the humility in his statement and recognize that character trait in him as the main reason, even over his distinguished medical expertise, we chose to keep him as Mercy’s primary neurologist that year.
By Christmastime, I’d lost track of how many people told us Mercy would probably outgrow her seizures or, alternatively, maybe we should stop asking God to heal her. We’d already asked Him, both years ago and now for the past 2 months, but she was still seizing. So, maybe His answer was that His grace was sufficient to help us bear her disease, not heal her of it. On the flip side of that coin were those implying that if we believed better, if our faith was stronger, of course God would heal her.
In our heads, Dan and I screamed. Our daughter did not have a diagnosis of childhood (outgrow-able) epilepsy. Is asking God 3 times, only, for healing the hard and fast rule? What about the parable of the man who wouldn’t stop knocking? Or, the son who didn’t get a snake when he asked his Father for bread? Hadn’t we asked God, hundreds of times, to heal our daughter as an infant and toddler, and He had given her four healthy years? Couldn’t God’s grace be sufficient to BOTH sustain us now, and also heal her later, for His glory and her good? And, if faith is all that’s required for healing, why does any Christian die of any disease, ever?
There’s an account in the Bible about a disabled man named Bartimaeus. He was blind and his whole life was impacted by his condition. It isn’t hard to imagine what Bartimaeus’ past had looked like. Whether he’d been born blind, or if it was the result of illness or traumatic injury, doctor visits are reasonable to assume. The fact that he was sitting in the dust, as the Bible account starts, rather than in a therapy clinic suggests his diagnosis was incurable. Maybe Bart had tried different potential remedies from doctors and strawmen like. One thing’s for certain: if there’d been a cure for his blindness, he wouldn’t have been sitting along the road that day.
Bartimaeus didn’t have a job earning money to sustain him so, he was left with a life of begging for charity from others to survive. He would position himself in a spot beside the road leading out of the city of Jericho and call out to passersby for alms. One day, Bartimaeus wasn’t alone in his begging. Another blind friend sat beside him, stuck with the same debilitating and humbling condition, crying out to pedestrians for financial aid. Hearing a large crowd begin to pass by, the two blind men wondered what was going on and finally realized that Jesus was coming their way. Jesus the Healer. On. Their. Road.
Anyone with a bone of empathy in their body can imagine how gray the blind mens’ circumstances were, prior to that moment. That’s why it’s incredible to me what happens next. No, not that Bartimaeus and his friend began screaming, over the noise of the large crowd, for Jesus to hear them. What else would they do? No, what shocks me is the people in the crowd.
As the blind men began screaming out to Jesus, no one helps them. Can you imagine? Where is the compassion in these people? Where is their ability to relate to another’s pain and their willingness to act? Why does no one run to the blind men and lead them to Jesus? Why don’t they help the men shout for Jesus, because their need for Him was so obviously great?
Not helping the blind men was bad enough. But, the crowd didn’t stop there. Some of the people actually told the blind men, sternly, to shut up. In other words: Jesus is not going to help you! Stop asking! God’s grace is sufficient for you to endure blindness! If faith hasn’t healed you by now, it’s because you don’t believe well enough!
I both hate and love the way this crowd of people acted. I hate it for obvious reasons. How clueless. How selfish. But, I love it because their ignorance and assumptions actually served to elevate the miracle Jesus did for these two broken men.
Undaunted, the blind men just “called out all the more, Son of David, have mercy on us!”. Really, what did they have to lose? Blindness defined their present and, without Jesus’ intervention, was all they could expect of their future. Jesus was their only hope. Why listen to a crowd of people who didn’t understand?
Picture it. Two blind men screaming out to Jesus for mercy! A crowd of annoyed people hushing them with poor advice rooted in their assumptions of what Jesus would or would not do. And one beautiful Savior… Stopping. Turning. Speaking. Caring. Healing.
“What do you want me to do for you?”, Jesus called out to the blind men.
“Lord, we want our eyes to be opened”, they replied.
Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.
Matthew 20: 32-34
What would have happened to Bartimaeus if he’d listened to the crowd and gone silent?
Friends, here is spiritual truth worth remembering when others try to silence you from crying out in faith to God to heal or change your circumstances: Ignore them. And, CRY. OUT. ALL. THE. MORE. Yes, do this at the same time that you’re depending on His grace to bear you through each day that your condition requires you remain on the side of the road. I’m sitting there in the dust next to you, crying out too.
But, here’s the thing: your story has not been completely written yet. For today, you’re in the dust. So, cry your tears. Sit by the side of the road. Get out your alms jar, if you must. Humble yourself and accept from others the help you need, day to day. Visit doctors and work on care plans. Support scientists looking for a cure. But, don’t stop waiting for Jesus to pass by. Don’t listen to naysayers who don’t believe in miracles. Don’t waste time arguing theology with easy-believism proponents. And, don’t stop crying out for mercy to the One who can change your circumstance.
Christmas 2015, we spent in the dust. It was hard. While others were enjoying early wakings and delightful smiles on their children’s faces, we watched helpless as waking induced our child’s seizing. Mercy’s arms, face, and mind froze in seizures, dozens of times, as she tried to open her presents and see what was inside. As parents we became adept at re-performing our own reactions to opening our presents, like actors in movies doing repeated takes, because Mercy would seize and miss our responses after the weeks of hard work she’d put into making our gifts. We filmed Pierson’s gift opening so Mercy could watch videos to relive it.
Dan and I fell into bed that night sad and relieved that the holidays were finally over, but with renewed gratitude for the Reason for Christmas. After all, Christmas is about a miracle Child. It’s about a God who’s love was so great, He sent the most sacrificial, expensive, miracle-gift this world will ever receive: His very own Son, to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He gave though it was costly and painful for Him to do so. He gave when we did not earn or deserve it. He gave before we’d asked, even once. He gave when we had no faith to believe. His grace changed our eternal circumstance.
That Christmas, Dan and I talked about God’s miracle gifts and thanked Him for His grace in helping us bear the sorrow of our holiday. But, we also cried out to Him for our daughter’s healing.
You see, we ask God to heal our daughter not because we deserve it, not because we think His grace isn’t sufficient to bear us through this painful disorder, and not because we feel it’s owed to us if our faith is big enough. We cry out because we know His character is full of grace, and abounding in mercy. We cry out because He is both our hope for our present sufficiency and our future reward.
And, that’s why we’ll never stop crying out to Him to change Mercy’s circumstance, no matter what the crowd advises.
They could be wrong.
You never know.
Well-intentioned believers and unbelievers, both, offer good and bad advice to hurting people. Most of us have both given and received poor advice. What are some things you’ve heard that have helped? What helps YOU hold onto faith in trying circumstances?