Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How could anyone not believe....

Amy didn’t want friends to call, or email, or text. She wanted a weekend to just rest, try to calm her overactive pancreas, and rein in her depression. Two severe bouts of pancreatitis had transpired in less than three years. One major and several small bouts had occurred over the past year, leaving the doctors befuddled and Amy frightened, and weary. There did not appear to be an obvious cause. Yet, the horrifying effects of the last two severe bouts had landed her for over a week each time in the hospital, with no food or water allowed, to try to let the flaring pancreas heal. She almost died, and was brought back by a powerful chemical stimulant.
             Then the devastating news. Two thirds of her pancreas was dead or dying. I was with her when the doctor did further tests and confirmed his initial impression.
            “Two thirds of it is dead, essentially?” she asked him.
            “Yes,” he said.
            A person cannot live without a pancreas. There is no artificial pancreas, and no substitute for a pancreas. Without a pancreas, you die. It was clear that the past two severe episodes had each destroyed a third of Amy’s pancreas. The unspoken fear was one more episode would be the last one she could endure.
            Amy enrolled in a research study, in the hopes that other rare patients of pancreatitis of unknown origin might be helped. The study gathered information about this unique population, of which Amy was an unwilling member. If enough puzzle pieces fell in place, perhaps one day, a cause would be found.
            Amy had another few minor bouts of pancreatitis and the doctor decided to do a test where they would examine the pancreas by inserting a tube down her throat. The procedure was not without risk, which is why they had waited. The test itself could set off pancreatitis. But Amy had run out of options.
            I spent almost as many sleepless nights as Amy, praying to God. Amy is an enormously special person. I know everyone’s sister is enormously special, but I couldn’t think of any sister but my dear one in such need. When Amy was growing up, she was a pain in the rear. She carried grudges, she complained, she argued, and she was discontented. She drove my family nuts…but she was my beloved little sister. And when she had nightmares, and came into my room frightened, I always let her crawl into bed with me. I loved Amy, despite all her faults.
            And then she grew up. She became an interpreter for the deaf. She sent all the nieces and nephews gifts whenever she saw something they might like. She traveled to see all of us several times a year, despite having little money to do so. Family was all important, much more important than money. She cried whenever she left to return to her home. She never tired of helping friends in need, showering them with time, money, her impossibly creative crafts. In the past year, she took up water color painting and excelled in it. She sent all of us hand painted cards. Amy became in her husband’s words- “The finest person I know.” I agreed.  No one could have predicted that outcome based on her childhood.
            So I prayed in a way I had never prayed before. I asked God for a specific miracle. I prayed constantly and fervently, night after night.
            “I know this is often not the way you work,” I told God, “But I don’t think I can do without Amy…the world cannot do without Amy. I pray, dear Father, that you will restore her pancreas. All of it. Return life to the two thirds of it that are dead. And may you be given all the glory.” I knew this was a prayer that is not often answered, not in the way the distraught petitioner hopes.
            The procedure found the first semblance of an answer. Amy had a congenital defect of the pancreas.  In Pancreas Divisum, the duct that empties the waste from the pancreas fails to join in utero, as it should, and is divided into two ducts. In some unfortunate cases, the narrower ducts become blocked, backflow, and often cysts form, as well as the life threatening and excruciating pain of pancreatitis. All those awful things had happened to Amy. Doctors don't all agree that this defect causes pancreatitis, since many people have it with no symptoms whatsoever. 
           During the procedure to fix the defect, the doctor placed a stent in the narrow duct and repaired a hole in the pancreas. He left Amy's large cyst alone, as cyst drainage can introduce infection, another dangerous procedure. He hoped the cyst would drain on its own.
            Amy thought her troubles were over. The doctor said that in most cases, prognosis was good with the surgery he had performed. Yet after the surgery, Amy never returned to feeling normal, and continued to have small bouts of pancreatitis. She fasted often to decrease the strain on her pancreas, and grew despondent. We all knew she was one bad attack away from very severe consequences.
            “Please Father,” I prayed, “I know you know best. But I beg you, please heal Amy completely…completely. Restore her pancreas to full function. All of it. All three thirds of it. It’s Amy we are talking about.”
            “How are you?” I wrote to her in an email.
            “Squiggly,” she answered, “And very tender where my pancreas is.”
            “Have you told the doctor?”
            “Sort of… they do more tests next week.”
            “Hound the doctor!” I begged.
            She hounded the doctor. He told her to wait for the tests.
            “Please Lord,” I prayed, “Make her pancreas whole. Bring it back, restore it to full function.”
I told Amy I was praying for complete healing, a pancreas fully alive and healthy. The week dragged on, but Amy said she was feeling normal finally, at least for that brief time.

            There was a message yesterday on my phone that Amy had called. I knew her test was this week, but I had forgotten the day. I called her back.
            “I am on my way from the doctor’s ,” she told me.
            “Oh! The tests were today! What did they find? Is the cyst draining?”
            “The cyst is draining. But listen to this. Remember the middle third of the pancreas that was, as the doctor put it, dead as a doornail?”
            “Yes.” How could I forget?
            “It is alive. And remember the back section that couldn’t communicate with the front section because the middle was dead, and the back third was dying?”
            “It is healing. They don’t know why, they don’t know how, but my pancreas is alive. All of it.”
            I jumped up out of my seat and Asherel raised an eyebrow as I danced around the room, waving my arms in the air. I shrieked and I think Amy might have a damaged ear drum after that resounding exclamation of pure and unbridled delight, praise, joy, gratitude….praise.
            “That is just what I prayed for!!!!!!”
            “I know, I told the doctor my sister would be happy to know that the miracle she had prayed for had been provided.”
            She had called me first. Not even her husband knew yet.
            “You didn’t call Jim!?” I asked.
            “No, if he was praying for a miracle, he never told me,” she said, “You told me. You are the only person I have called.”
            “Well I am sure he was praying. Call him now. This is maybe the most wonderful thing I have ever heard!”
            After dancing and hollering, while Asherel watched with a bemused look on her face, I could not stop smiling.  God knows how small my faith is, how tenuous my hope, how fragile my walk with Him. I don’t pray with assurance…I often pray with despair. Sometimes life seems so overwhelming that I don’t pray with words. I pray with groans, that slowly cascade into tears.  But how could I not believe?  How could anyone not believe?

Romans 8:25-27
New International Version (NIV)
25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.



  1. Praise the LORD God, who always answers our prayers as He chooses! So happy for you and your sister!!!

  2. Oh, Vicky, this is just such wonderful news! How awesome is our God? So happy for your family!

  3. So happy! A very wise friend told me we don't often pray for miracles because we fear the loss of faith if they don't come about. God doesn't always work this way, but what a boost to my soul that He did so now, when my poor hubby has no job and the economic outlook so bleak. Thanks friends for sharing in my joy!

  4. Rejoicing, rejoicing, rejoicing with you in the wonderful news, my friend! Praise the Lord!! How amazing that He takes the mustard seed of our pitiful faith and with it moves mountains. God is so good. I can't tell you how delighted I am for you and for Amy. Thanks for so beautifully sharing the great news.

  5. I knew I would hear from you on this one, my faithful friend! If there is anything to be learned from my life, it is that faith does not need to be perfect or even greater than doubt. God honors the feeble steps of the weary and befuddled.

  6. I was crying as I read the beginning, then sobbing as I read the middle, then cheering as I read the end. Alleluia! I've shared this story with many people. Everyone is thrilled with the wonderful outcome - such great news. Amy is such a special person - we're so glad she is on the road to healing!!!

  7. Amy deserved a miracle if anyone does...