I woke up with the same tormenting headache I had gone to bed with, and struggled to the bathroom. I grasped the sink with both hands and reluctantly raised my pounding head to the mirror. The face reflected in the glass was a fiery red mask of tiny bumps and large acne like sores. Hundreds of them.
The horrible rash covered my face like the Egyptian plague of boils in the Bible. The unending headache and rash comprised the mysterious condition I had lived with for 12 long, unbearable years. Here I was, a middle-aged woman with two teenage sons and a husband and I could hardly raise my head and look in the mirror.
Tears blurred my vision as I tried to remember the smooth, milkwhite complexion I used to have. My fingers twitched, longing to claw at the fiercely itching skin on my face.
I had tried everything - special diets, oatmeal soap, baby oil, vitamins and enough creams and ointments to fill a small drugstore. And the long line of doctors I had seen had passed by like a dwindling parade of hope. The rash had only grown worse, and my face swelled, itched and turned tomato-red at the slightest stimulus.
Suddenly the pain behind my eyes tightened as if someone were packing cotton into my sinuses. I reached for a bottle of pain medication and quickly swallowed a couple of pills. I took the maximum of eight pills a day. But they only forestalled the worst of it - when the pain crept down my neck, making clear thinking nearly impossible.
I felt consumed by despair, by the long years of this strange affliction. I had prayed so many times for it to go away. "Oh, God, why don't you help me?"
I dabbed at my eyes and dressed for work. My head ached so much I could hardly pull a comb through my hair. I thought about crawling back into bed. But, of course, I couldn't. I liked my work as a third grade school teacher. I had to keep going.
As I entered school that morning a little girl peered up at me, her eyes wide with surprise and dismay. "How come your face looks like that?" she asked.
I raised my hands over my cheeks and tried to explain. But I fell silent. I had no answer.
Not long after, someone told me about a dermatologist. I had seen half a dozen specialists already, but I made an appointment, ready to grasp at anything. I sat slumped on his examining table after long series of allergy tests.
"Well, maybe we have an answer," the doctor said. "It appears you are allergic to yourself."
I stared at him disbelievingly. "You must be kidding!" "I know it sounds strange, but these allergy tests show you are allergic to your own bacteria." Hope blew away like the last autumn leaf. Allergic to myself. How could I escape that?
"We'll make a special serum, using your saliva," said the doctor, "and teach you how to inject it."
And so began the next three years of giving myself shots. The headaches were not quite as severe, nor the rash quite as red - partial relief. The doctor did everything he could, prescribing medicines, creams and consultations. Still, the ever-present plague was agonizing, embarrassing.
So I followed my old, exhausted pattern and found yet another doctor. This time an outstanding allergist. More tests. More money. He decided I was allergic to a long list of foods, and put me on a diet. For a year I existed on nothing but peas, potatoes, carrots, lettuce and lean meat. My weight plummeted to 102 pounds.
"You're wasting away, Mama," said my son one morning as I packed my lunch of canned peas. He was right. Something dreadful was happening to me. And despite it all the daily headaches persisted and the humiliating rash and acne were splashed across my face as big and as red as ever.
This is no way to live, I thought dismally as I draped a scarf across my head and left for work.
Then one Sunday as I struggled to teach my Sunday school class, I heard myself saying, "God, is the answer." I paused, the echo of my words thundering in my head. As the class continued, the words burrowed inside me like a splinter.
At home after church I lay on the sofa with a warm cloth across my forehead. I gazed out the windows at the silent woods across the road. The words I had spoken that morning nudged at me. I am a Christian, I thought. I tell other people God is the answer, that they can find wholeness through him. Yet I've been a prisoner of this condition for nearly sixteen years.
Suddenly the familiar old story of the woman in Mark 5:25-34 focused in my mind. The woman who touched the hem of Jesus' robe and was healed. I was so much like her. I too had suffered a condition for many years, gone to countless physicians, spent nearly all I had and was not better, but worse. The difference was the woman in Mark had finally gone to Jesus with faith - and was healed.
Did such healings still happen today? I wondered. If so, could healing really happen to me? There on the sofa, the idea of real healing from God spun in my head. It almost seemed too ancient to be real. If only I could be sure.
The weeks passed and winter melted away. The incredible idea of healing lingered in my mind like a held-over Christmas present. I toyed with the ribbons, afraid to open it, afraid it might turn out to be empty. . . but strangely unable to turn away.
Then one Sunday something happened. I lay in bed trying to find diversion from my headache by watching television. On the screen stood a beautiful young woman - Cheryl Prewitt, Miss America 1980.
"God healed me," she said. "I prepared myself to be healed, and God healed me."
My heart began to pound with a strange excitement. She was speaking to me! He did still heal people today.
"Come quick!" I called to my husband and boys. As they hurried to the bedroom I pointed to the TV, where the radiant young woman still spoke. Tears poured down my face. "If God can heal her, then He can heal me," I said.
Finally, after 16 desperate years of trying everything else, I was ready. Again I relived that biblical story in my mind. What was it Jesus had said to that woman after she had brushed her fingertips across His robe? "Your faith has made you whole." And what had Cheryl Prewitt said? "I prepared myself to be healed."
Faith, there was the key. There was what had been missing before. My faith had grown flabby, like out-of-shape muscles. I knew intellectually that God is powerful and can heal. But somehow I had to get that knowledge from my mind down into my heart. I had to believe it as absolutely as I believed the sun would rise tomorrow.
On May 1, I began to prepare myself for healing like an athlete training for the Olympics. I sat down in the kitchen rocker with a pad of paper and my Bible. I flipped to the concordance in the back, to the heading of "healing, health and faith." I picked out verses, then looked them up, writing each one down word for word. It took a couple of days, but I finally compiled a list of 36 Scriptures - sort of a training manual for my faith.
The next day I tucked the papers into my purse. While driving to work I pulled them out and laid them on the seat. At the first stoplight I focused on Psalm 103:2-3. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. . . Who healeth all thy diseases," I whispered. I closed my eyes, saying it over and over, letting it sink down inside me. At a stop sign my eyes fell on another: "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed. . ." Jeremiah 17:14. I said it over and over.
All day I kept it up - before getting out of the car, walking along the school corridors, sitting in the playground at recess. Not a spare moment was lost; by the end of the school day my Scripture papers were dog-eared from wear.
In the weeks that followed this became my constant routine. The papers were as inseparable from me as my shadow. And by some inexplicable process the 36 Scriptures were slowly sinking into the core of my being with roots of belief. I was actually beginning to believe - really believe - that I could almost feel my faith stretching and rippling with new strength.
I circled July 12 on the kitchen calendar. "Lord, this is the day I'm asking for complete healing," I said.
Then I added another exercise. I began to visualize my complexion as pink and clear as a newborn baby's, and my sinus passages free and well. I imprinted it on my mind day and night. This exercise became rather a strenuous one, because the mirror was such a contrast from my image. The mirror is wrong, I told myself. Soon it will reflect my inner image.
Late that spring I hurried past a mirror at school. Suddenly I stopped, backed up and peered into it. I ran my fingers across my face. Was it my imagination or did the fiery-red rash seem a bit faded? And my headache. Didn't it seem better? "Oh, thank you, Lord!" I cried. "You are healing me."
July 12 dawned warm and shiny through the bedroom window. I tiptoed to the bathroom mirror, took a deep breath and looked into it. The rash still lingered in the lower part of my face, and a faint sinus headache tugged behind my eyes. I will not give up, I thought. With a sudden burst of faith I said, "Well, Lord, this is the day! I know it will happen."
When the sun set in an orange glow I went to the mirror again. Again I stared at my reflection, tears sparkling on my face. A face completely smooth and clear! It was the face I had imagined. The headache of the morning had drifted away as well. God and faith had made me whole.
For almost a year now I have not experienced a single headache, and my skin remains clear. I've gotten rid of all the old ointments, medicines, allergy shots and diets. The only thing I've kept are my precious dog-eared papers - those powerful Scripture exercises that brought my faith to life. For there's one thing I've learned: Though it's important to keep physical muscles well-toned, it's even more important to keep "faith muscles" strong. For they are the ones that churn the spiritual energy, that move the mountains in our lives. Even a mountain like mine, which had towered over me for 16 years.
A few weeks ago at a meeting a stranger tapped my shoulder. "Your complexion is so beautiful," she said. "Oh, thank you," I said, breaking into an unusually big smile. A smile, I'm sure, no one there really understood, except me and God!
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Taken from Guidepost. Story
of Marilyn Ludolf, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.