GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
OK, so I was born into a church that didn't believe in doctors. Instead, our church taught that true healing, real healing could only come from the Lord. And the pastor let us know that sickness and disease were traps laid by the devil. And when I was six or seven, I was caught by one of Satan's snares.
I had this pain in my ear. But pain, it feels like too soft a word. It felt like something living was eating its way through my skull. Pain like - I just remember writhing on the floor screaming for the hurt to stop. Our pastor came to the house, and according to our tradition, he had a piece of cloth. He poured a special anointing oil on that cloth and placed it on my ear and put his hand over the cloth. My parents, they laid their hands over his, everyone pressing into my side. Even as I screamed, they prayed. We know dear Lord, that you do not mean for this boy to suffer. The pastor's hand tight against my ear.
We know that this is an attack from evil forces and we rebuke this devil in Jesus' name. I couldn't see, I couldn't move. We demand Satan quit this boy. It wasn't just inside my head, the pain spiked inside my mind. And right there in the middle of the floor with the pastors, my mother, my father pressing their hands against my head praying, out Satan, I heard my ear explode. And just like that, the hurting stopped. I felt something dripping out of my ear - I must have smiled. The pastor and my parents start hugging each other and praising God for his kindness. We've seen a miracle here today.
A miracle. In the weeks that followed, I waited and waited for my hearing to return all the way. I took to asking people to repeat themselves. What did you say again? Could you say that one more time? But I could still hear mostly. And I knew that the Lord worked in mysterious ways. So when the pastor asked in church how many of us had ever seen a miracle before, I always stood first to recall how the Lord had lifted fire from the side of my head - a miracle from God for me. I grew older and advised friends and family to have faith, to know that you can't presume to limit God's power.
And when I was a teenager, my friend James, his dad got sick. Something was sapping his strength. So he went to the doctor - not for treatment, that was against the rules, just for diagnosis so the church would know exactly what to pray for. They did some tests and the answer came back, liver cancer. The doctors wanted to intervene right away. They said they'd caught it early, that with aggressive treatment they could fight it. But James' father was a man of deep faith. He told the doctors not to worry. He told them everything was going to be just fine. But James was scared for his pops. He wanted his dad to go ahead and get the treatment. I wanted to tell James about my miracle, but for some reason I just couldn't. It didn't seem right. But still, I stood there as others told their stories.
As they told James to have faith, they told James to expect miracles, they explained again and again that the Lord works in mysterious ways. And as a community, we expected a healing, we all did. We prayed, we fasted and watching James's father - his faith, his certainty, it was beautiful. And when the disease finally trapped him in a bed, he was the one who kept reaching out to touch us, to keep our spirits up. Be patient, he said. God has his own calendar. Expect a miracle. And we did. We wanted it in for this good man.
We waited, we waited. And then surrounded by the people who loved him, James' father died. And after he passed, I felt empty, I felt sad. Of course, I wondered what it would be like to lose my own father. But in addition to all of that, I felt tricked. And yeah, I felt stupid because deep down, I did expect a miracle. Only a couple of weeks later in church the pastor reminded us to be strong and to remember that the Lord works in mysterious ways.
And when he said it, the looks of cold anger - the congregation glancing around at each other. Mysterious ways? It was too soon. It just felt too soon. And I didn't know it but looking back, those words, they feel like the beginning of the end for me. After services, the oldest lady in the church, she said it out loud, she said she'd been going to a doctor for years. That's what the good Lord made doctors for, to keep her dancing. This was blasphemy, but she was too old to get kicked out of the church. And when she spoke, I saw other people nodding in agreement. There was no big declaration, it just seemed like half the congregation just decided - they just decided they were going to do things a different way. And I thought, you know what? Maybe - maybe I should go and get my ear checked out by a professional. So my very first doctor's appointment, I went to an ear specialist.
And when the doctor started examining my ear, the look on his face made me feel ashamed. And under his examination he poked something, scraped something, and I could hear him. Maybe not as loudly as I should, but I could hear him. I could hear him when he whispered that something bad had happened here. When he said, oh, no, no, no, what happened here? I could hear him. I could hear every single word. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.