In order to explain the spiritual abuse that occurred during the two years that I actively sought healing from Cerebral Palsy, I need to fill in a few background details to help you understand why I wanted the Lord to heal me. These factors may shed light on why I didn’t recognize that I actually suffered abuse.
First of all, my right hip dislocated when I was 15 or 16. (The reasons for the dislocation would distract from this narrative.) The adductor muscle spasms in my right thigh caused me such pain that my orthopedist put me on aspirin and Valium to keep me as comfortable as possible. By God’s grace, I remember little of that experience, though I know I did suffer quite a bit. I had a failed surgery to correct it when I was 16; that failure made me resist proposals of more radical surgery.
In addition to the situation with my hip, I struggled with my social position. I turned 19 three weeks after beginning my senior year of high school, mostly because the school for the handicapped wouldn’t mainstream me until I was 14. I mention this fact only to say that I felt awkward. That sense of being older than my classmates dissipated somewhat because of my participation in Kent’s ministry, but it always stayed beneath the surface. I saw my age, in addition to my disability in general, as a hindrance to attracting a nice Christian guy.
When people introduced me to the idea of physical healing, I wanted it badly! I believed it would make me more attractive to the opposite sex. And I really wanted my hip pain to end without having another operation that might not be any more effective than the first one had been. So when the Pentecostal church I attended on Sunday mornings decided to devote an hour after each service to pursue my healing, I agreed eagerly.
A group of us from the church fasted every Saturday in anticipation of Jesus healing me the next day. Mom feared that I was anorexic, and sometimes ordered my favorite type of pizza to coax me into eating. When Kent began the Saturday meetings that included potluck dinners, I found relief from her pressure.
Each Sunday about ten people would remain after church to join the three pastors (one of whom had been paralyzed by a gunshot wound and required a wheelchair himself) in “discerning” the causes of my Cerebral Palsy. They believed that spiritual forces blocked the Holy Spirit from healing me.
Sunday after Sunday, the pastors rebuked me for lacking faith. In obedience to them I horrified my mom, my teacher at the special school and my physical therapist by going off my aspirin and Valium for a week. Another time, I went to a Kathryn Kuhlman healing service after informing all my non-Christian friends that they’d never see me in a wheelchair again. Those incidents, and others (like my attempts to walk on the lawn at high school) convinced them of my faith. Kind of…
Next, they interrogated me, thinking that the Holy Spirit couldn’t heal me because of unconfessed sin in my life. At that point, I destroyed all my occult paraphernalia, showing them my repentance. Satisfied that I was right with God, they informed me that God had shown them that Daddy had committed adultery. Although skeptical, I obediently confessed that. I confessed my mom’s sins as well.
When confessing the sins that my parents and I committed didn’t allow the Lord to heal me, the pastor in the wheelchair figured out that I must be demon possessed. He reasoned, “Only Satan could make something this ugly!” I tried not to take his words personally, but being two years behind in school with no prospect of a date for the Senior Prom made it difficult. He had taught me that I was ugly.
As time went on, my pain grew worse. The Sunday afternoon healing sessions continued, often with the pastors staring into my eyes and yelling at Satan to come out of me. Meanwhile, my acceptance into college, combined with an awareness that I would soon need to increase my dosage of Valium, softened my heart toward having the surgery I had resisted for so long. After much prayer, the pastors agreed that God would probably heal my hip through the operation.
Indeed the Lord did use that surgery to alleviate my pain. Within six months after the operation I took my last Valium, and have been pretty much pain free since then.
But the abuse of being told I lacked faith, of having to confess my sins and the supposed sins of my parents, as well as the haunting pronouncement that my Cerebral Palsy rendered me ugly, remained with me for many years. It took decades to realize that God could have healed me without any efforts on my part to deserve that healing. Those Pentecostal pastors most likely meant well, but they damaged me theologically and emotionally. Even worse, their words and actions denied God’s sovereignty. Perhaps this slander of His character was the most abusive part of the whole episode.