For most of my adult life, triggered by glandular fever when I was 12 years old, I have suffered with M.E. It is a truly bewildering and holistic illness which seems to affect people in different ways. For me, there were better times and worse times over the years. There were periods when I could do very little, but I was fortunate that for quite a lot of the time, even though it was a struggle, I could get on with life with some semblance of normality.
That was until just about 6 years ago, in the Spring of 2007. At the time I was working as a Curate (a trainee Vicar in the Church of England) alongside my husband, John. Gradually I became aware that I was teetering on the edge of an abyss with my health. Then I was struck down by viral meningitis and completely flattened. For a long time, I could do nothing at all and was stuck in bed. At last there were some signs of recovery beginning, but then everything went downhill again. As time went by, it became clear that the viral meningitis had triggered a far more severe version of M.E. and that is what I was left with.
My world shrank to the four corners of my bed for what felt like an age. However, the time came when I was able to get out of bed on most days, but I could manage very little else. I was in constant pain and had no energy. It felt like I literally had no energy in my body, no power going to the muscles. I was unable to walk anywhere and had to surrender to being pushed around in a wheelchair. Sometimes I couldn’t even lift a glass of water to my lips.
I needed to spend most of my time on my own, in one room, in one chair, in a controlled environment as I found it very difficult to cope with noise and light. My concentration was limited and there were times when the weakness slurred my speech so much that no one could understand me. I could only see people for a very short time and needed days to recover from visitors. It was a necessary isolation, but it was often lonely nevertheless. Time with my family even had to be limited.
Two of our children were teenagers and the third was in his last year at primary school. They were amazing at adapting to what was happening and getting used to looking after Mum, rather than the other way around – Pushing my wheelchair, attending to my physical needs, modulating their behaviour in my presence so as not to overwhelm me. It was humbling for me and heart-mangling.
My husband, John, had to adapt to becoming my Carer, which he did with such love and grace, but I know it was very costly for him. At the same time, I had to adapt to being so very dependent and all the implications of that.
This continued for more than 5 years and it was a dark and difficult and painful time. But the Bible talks at one point about ‘treasures in the darkness’ and, through this time of darkness, God brought me some immensely valuable treasure, the most valuable of which was a revelation of his love which is transforming my life.
I have always struggled to receive love, particularly God’s love, but, as the illness took hold and stripped me bare in so many ways, somehow I was able to let God strip away layer after layer of guilt and shame and self-deception and self-protection until, at last, I was standing naked and empty before him. I could have felt exposed and terrified, but there I found God’s total acceptance and love in a way I had never known before, and I felt safe and secure for the first time in my life. In a way, it was the deepest healing that I needed and is now an ongoing process of believing and receiving.
However, there is always more than we can possibly imagine with God and he had not finished with me yet, which brings me to last summer. Even though we were always looking and hoping for sign that my M.E. was getting better, we were having to face the fact that I was actually getting worse. We have a caravan and were planning to go away as a family to Pembrokeshire for our summer holiday. We very nearly decided to give it a miss because we thought I simply would not be able to cope.
As it turns out, I am rather glad we did go for it because one day John took me for a drive in a beautiful valley. It was the need for a disabled toilet that led us to a remote car park and, as we turned into it, I noticed a sign at the bottom of a driveway – a sign that read ‘Ffald-y-Brenin’. We suddenly realised that it was vaguely familiar, although it took us a good few minutes to pin it down. It is a Christian Retreat Centre in Wales where a wonderful outpouring of God’s life and blessing I happening. We knew very little about that at the time. All we remembered was that a friend of ours had recently read the book ‘The Grace Outpouring’ all about it and had mentioned Ffald-y-Brenin to us with some excitement. We had absolutely no idea that we were anywhere near it and yet here it was and here we were. We could not write it off as a coincidence, it seemed to have the hallmark of God stamped on it far too clearly for that. We knew we needed to do something so, before the end of our holiday, we went to spend a day there.
When John phoned to check whether we could go there and to check accessibility because of my being in the wheelchair because of M.E., he was dumbfounded by the response, “Oh, we’ve had so many people healed from M.E. here!” It was not what we were expecting, or even what we had been looking for, but, as we prepared to go, I was aware of anticipation building in me, almost despite me.
This is what I wrote in my journal that morning before we set off:
Thursday 2nd August – 8am
... “Here I sit in our caravan bed with the sound of the kettle heating slowly for early morning tea, wondering what today will hold.
Will I meet the risen Jesus?
Will there be healing?
I am afraid to hope, in case of the deadening disappointment that might follow. And yet hope is rising and trembling...
Maybe it is time – God’s time – for me...
What do I really want?
I want to meet the risen Jesus,
To believe and not doubt
To be really healed from M.E.
Could it possibly be my time, my day? God’s time, God’s day for me?”
We left the children in the caravan and, as we drove to Ffald-y-Brenin, I had a growing sense that I was somehow going to meet Jesus in a particular way. It was not easy to get there in the wheelchair over very uneven ground but we made it. We had a while on our own in their prayer room and the peace of the presence of God there settled into us in a wonderful way. Then, after a while a couple came to pray with us – Roy and Daphne.
We talked a very little, then Roy looked at me directly and said, “Rachel, this is your time, this is your day!” ‘My time, my day!’ It echoed so exactly what I’d written earlier in the morning it took my breath away and faith rose up in me.
We started to pray and honestly it was like Jesus was standing there, reaching out his hand to me and saying, “Rachel, get up and walk!” One moment I was sitting in my wheelchair hardly able to move – exhausted and in pain – the next it felt like energy surged up from the soles of my feet, up through my body and lifted me out of the wheelchair. I stood. I walked a few steps. And then I started jumping and leaping around. I just couldn’t help it. I was vaguely aware of John with tears rolling down his cheeks as I cavorted around.
As we prayed some more, together we had a clear sense that all the roots of M.E. in my life going back 32 years and beyond had been completely pulled out. So comprehensive. Such freedom! One moment I was very ill. The next moment I was well – because of Jesus. That was on the 2nd August and I’m still well now – going from strength to strength!
The first thing I did was make John and me a cup of tea – so ordinary and so wonderful! As Midday Prayers at Ffald-y-Brenin approached, we folded down my redundant wheelchair and put it on the table in the middle of the Prayer Room – resting on the Bible and with the Cross on the top.
I suspect that image and all that it means will stay with me for ever – the Word of God, the Cross, pain giving way to healing and freedom and life in all its fullness because of Jesus and the truth that ‘by his wounds, we are healed.’ Alleluia! I guess it goes without saying that Midday Prayers exploded with joy and celebration!
Returning to the caravan and showing our children what had happened was the most marvellous thing. Shocked, bemused, then overjoyed pretty much sums up their reaction. That evening we went for a walk together, played Trivial Pursuit, shared a bottle of wine and fish and chips and laughed so much.
The next day we headed home and everything felt like a revelation. I never thought I would find motorway service stations a thing of wonder. But it was amazing to stop on our journey home, to jump out of the car, to walk side by side with my daughter into the ordinary ladies toilets. Mad, no doubt, but I remember sitting on the toilet saying, “Thank you, Jesus, Thank you, Jesus, Thank you, Jesus!”
Sharing the good news with family and friends and dentists and hairdressers and doctors has been fantastic. So many people have been overjoyed and filled with hope. My GP is amazed and delighted and has been so supportive. Her jaw hit the floor when I walked into her surgery for the first time. When she heard what had happened she said, “It’s like a real Bible miracle!” I’m inclined to agree!
For us, it has been transforming, joyful, shocking and bewildering at times. The world is huge and busy and full of people for me after living in virtual isolation for years and there is a continuing process of adjustment and reorientation. Strangely perhaps, I am finding that joy wells up almost more than anything in the ordinary, everyday things. The normal things that just haven’t been normal for me – even washing up and taking out the rubbish!
It has been like coming out into a spacious place with panoramic views and fresh, fresh air after being stuck in a tiny cave – and all the while my wheelchair is gathering dust in the shed.
I am so aware all the time that the only reason I can stand, the only reason I can take a single step, is because of Jesus. Sometimes when I am out walking our lovely golden retriever Kingsley, I cannot prevent myself from shouting ‘Thank you, Jesus’ with each step or singing ‘Praise my soul, the King of Heaven!’ at the top of my voice!!
How great is our God! Alleluia!!