Restored: A Journey of Freedom from Multiple Sclerosis
“If I were you,” I said, “I’d think I was crazy too.”
“Sir –” Her word lingered in frustration. “I didn’t say that.”
“No, no, of course not, but I’m a chaplain. When I served at the hospital, I was sent to deal with people like me.”
After another long pause, the nurse practioner said, “All I’m saying is that if you choose to stop taking your meds, you’re putting yourself at greater risk. You have a degenerative disease. By this time next year, you could need a cane. In two years, you could be in a wheelchair.”
I exhaled, considering the cane and wheelchair. I agreed with her – it was a risk – but I couldn’t discard what God had done for me. I couldn’t deny his confirmation. Finally, I said, “Do I need to sign a release form?”
“No, sir,” she sighed. “We’ll just chart you’re going against medical advice.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I only ask one thing of you.”
“Promise me you’ll come to your scheduled visit in six months and have a MRI. Then when you see the progression of your disease, we’ll get you back on Copaxone.”
When I started the car engine, my breathing was tight, nervous. I had never done such a thing before – to go against a doctor’s advice, much less the advice of the premier Multiple Sclerosis (MS) doctor in Central Texas. But I was choosing to trust the Lord.
Up until three days earlier on June 26, 2010, every decision I made was through the lens of MS. Everything before me, I’d think: I can’t do that or else I’ll get too hot or too tired or too stressed. Living this way was depressing, but the alternative was to exacerbate fatigue or numbness, even to the extent of vertigo or confusion. Once during an MS “flair up” in April 2010, I stumbled like a drunk man and set off an alarm trying to get to a restroom. Not a good memory.
Thankfully, such “flair ups” were rare, but fatigue was so common that my mother lamented, “Kevin’s just so fragile.” Even on good days when I had a little energy, I’d tell myself: I better go swimming with my kids today because I might not be able to next year. In addition, as a hospice chaplain, I witnessed the havoc of end-stage MS. Some of the patients were so entangled and contorted they couldn’t move. Some couldn’t even talk. In the 1990s, two of Jack Kevorkian’s first “patients” had MS.
Such awareness pushed me to take Copaxone every day, even though the injections were crazy expensive and even though they felt like bee stings because of my lack of body fat. From the time I started taking the medication on August 8, 2009 until June 26, 2010, I only missed one injection.
So it was not by random feeling or denial that I stopped taking Copaxone. As the doctor himself concluded, “Well, your eyes are wide open.”
What happened to me on Saturday, June 26, 2010, was revolutionary. The morning began with the sad news that a friend of mine with MS had died. Then, after attending a funeral at 10 am and joining a family reunion that afternoon, I was completely spent.
That evening was the last service of a conference hosted by my church. The previous services had been very good, centering on aspects of healing from church hurt, but all I wanted to do that night was go to bed. I’m sure if I had talked to the senior pastor about my fatigue, he would have told me to stay home and rest, but I felt obligated to be there. I was the associate pastor, after all. I should be there.
The preacher was Victor Plump, and the subject was healing from pain. He had actually been scheduled to preach the night before, but he was prevented from coming. He was in a hospital in Arlington, TX, with excruciating pain of his own. But earlier that day, his symptoms had miraculously disappeared and his stats returned to normal, baffling doctors. “We can’t find anything wrong.”
So they discharged Pastor Plump from the hospital, but he was advised to go home and rest. He told them, “No, God wants me in Waco tonight.”
The pastor shared many encouraging and challenging words, but what grabbed me was: “Are you worshipping fear?”
As horrible as the thought was, I knew I was. I was worshipping fear more than God. I was a pastor and chaplain, trained to help others avoid fear, yet I was imprisoned. Apparently, the fear was so profound that others saw it, even those who barely knew me. “Kevin, do you realize you’ve used the word ‘limited’ three times now?”
During that night of June 26, God jolted me awake. He reminded me of a call he had placed on my wife and me to minister in China. For more than a year, my attitude had been: “There’s no way, God. I know that nothing is impossible with you, but you know I have MS. We can’t go to China. Maybe we could go somewhere like Spain, but not China.”
The death of my friend that morning was still fresh on my mind. She had always wanted to live and serve in China, but she never could because of the debilitating limitations of Multiple Sclerosis. When she was able to get around before being bed bound, she always leaned to one side, having to use her only usable but contorted hand to steer the electric wheelchair.
That Saturday night, though, Jesus was breaking through the “protective” MS barriers I had built. The conviction within me was so heavy that it was hard to sit up. All that my mind could think was: I can’t bow down to fear any longer. When Pastor Plump finished his message, I turned to the senior pastor. “Is it okay if I share something?”
I barely had the strength to walk up to the microphone, but I managed to say, “Tonight, God has really convicted me. I need to make a public declaration because as a pastor, my disobedience affects you. These past months, I have allowed fear to control my life. I have a debilitating disease called Multiple Sclerosis, which has darkened my vision.
“A few years ago, my wife and I lived in China. We believed we were to go back once we had kids, but during these past couple of years, I was diagnosed with MS, and everything changed.
“But I am here tonight to confess before you and before God that my family and I are called to go to China. I don’t know how God will take care of insurance or finances. I don’t know how he’ll help me receive MS medicine, but I know he can make a way. And tonight, I am taking the first step.”
The congregation nodded in agreement, and a few clapped or said “Amen.” Pastor Plump came up beside me and said, “On the way to Waco tonight, I told my wife I was given a special anointing to pray for someone’s healing. God wants to heal you.”
As he prayed for me, I knew God could heal me, and I longed for something amazing to wash over me. But after the prayer, I didn’t feel any different. I sat down, disappointed. However, I was still happy to find spiritual cleansing. That alone was profound. I was grateful my repentance was leading to a restored peace and hope.
When the service was over, I found the visiting pastor and said, “I know God can heal my MS, but I feel like that the man in the Bible who said, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.’ I don’t want to make a decision based on wishful thinking or presumption. I have young kids and an amazing wife to take care of. If I make a foolish decision, it would harm them.”
He smiled at me and said, “I know you have been healed. Your MS has been taken care of, and the next thing I hope to hear is your arrival to China. But God is pleased you are concerned about your family. He wants you to be a good father. Why don’t you ask him to show you he’s healed you?”
“You mean with a sign, like Gideon in the Bible?”
Nodding, I said, “Okay. I’ve always given Gideon a hard time for needing ‘signs’ before obeying, but okay. So Lord, I ask that tomorrow, someone who has no idea about what has happened tonight will contact me and let me know that I have been healed and that my medicine is no longer necessary.”
It was after 11 pm when I got home, but I still wanted to read my Scripture passage for that day. My reading began at Matthew 12:38. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’ But he answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.’
“Oh, dear,” I said. Of all the passages of Scripture that I could read … wow. “I’m sorry, Lord, for asking for a sign.”
Before falling asleep, I contemplated the “sign of Jonah,” the sign referring to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mentally, at least, I knew it was true: Jesus has conquered death, and he offers everlasting life to those who believe. Of course I believed it was true; otherwise, what was the point of me serving as a pastor? More important, what was the point of calling myself a follower of Jesus if I didn’t really follow and trust?
I looked up towards the ceiling and prayed, “Lord, if you truly are the resurrection and the life, as I believe you are, then I know you can do this. Healing MS is easy for you. And Lord, please increase my faith. I’ll just have to trust you day by day. Thank you. Good night.”
The next day, at the end of the Sunday morning worship service, the senior pastor asked me to come forward. He surprised me, asking a man to come pray for me – a man who had only recently started attending our church. I had spoken to him before, and I knew he was helping with the youth, but I could not even remember his name.
This man started to pray, but after a minute or two, he hesitated, as if listening. Finally, he asked, “Did you pray?”
“Excuse me?” I said, caught off guard.
“I mean, did you pray a prayer? Out loud?”
I still wasn’t sure what he meant, but I said, “Yes, I pray out loud.”
“Did you pray a babble prayer?”
“A babble prayer.” He stopped but then said, “I don’t even know what that is. What’s a babble prayer?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “The Tower of Babble is related to confusion. So maybe it’s a prayer of confusion. You think I prayed a prayer of confusion?”
Something came over him, as if he were about to faint. I was ready to stabilize him when he looked at me intently and said, “I’ve never done this before, but I have to tell you something. I have something burning inside me. I have to tell you a message, a message from God. The prayer that you prayed – this babble prayer – it was unneeded, and the answer that you’re looking for … it’s already been given to you. All you need to say is, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’”
I could only stare at him as he left. For several long seconds, I was bewildered. But then, in a fabulous moment of insight, I muttered, “Oh, my Lord and God. Thank you, Jesus!”
After learning the man’s name was Tony, I hurried and found him outside. “Hey!” I said. “Thank you! God has really used you to bless me today.”
“Really?” Tony said. His eyes looked wet, as if from tears. “Oh, thank God. I was sure you thought I was crazy. I mean, you’re a pastor, and …”
“No, no, really. Thank you! You probably didn’t know it – I know you weren’t here last night – but I have the disease of MS, Multiple Sclerosis.” I paused; my mind was racing so fast it was hard to concentrate. “At least, that is, until last night. From what you just told me, God has confirmed that I am healed!”
“Oh, wow,” he said. His tears were now obvious. “I’m so glad you came and told me because really, I’ve never done such a thing before. I’ve never trusted God enough to say something so foolish … something sounding so foolish.”
“Yes,” I smiled. “It feels good to be a fool for Christ. Thank you, Jesus! Wow!”
Within days, my physical strength improved, and on January 20, 2011, at 9:15 am, true to promise, I entered the MRI machine. Since 2002, it was my fifth time to endure the MRI’s loud whirling and knocking around my head, but for the first time, I was excited to discover what the MRI showed.
When I finally received the call, the office assistant said, “Good news! Your MS is stable.”
“Well, good, that’s great,” I said. “Thank you. But what does that mean, exactly – ‘stable’? Remission?”
“It means there hasn’t been any new development since your last MRI. You have scars but no new lesions. The doctor said to call him in about a year.”
I closed my eyes. “Thank you, Lord.” What exciting news: nothing new since April 2009 when I was officially diagnosed! Both the doctor and nurse practioner had expected the opposite, but God proved faithful to his promise. China is still a “Go!”
“Thank you, Jesus!”