From 1999 to 2003, Vonna Wala of Waseca, Minnesota, suffered progressively worse symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She eventually became too debilitated to walk without aid, suffered severe optic nerve pain, and had to close her counseling business. A diagnosis of MS was confirmed by spinal fluid tests and brain scans. Here is how Wikipedia describes MS:
Multiple sclerosis (MS), also known as “disseminated sclerosis” or “encephalomyelitis disseminata”, is an inflammatory disease in which the fatty myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord are damaged, leading to demyelination and scarring as well as a broad spectrum of signs and symptoms. Disease onset usually occurs in young adults, and it is more common in women…MS affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other effectively. Nerve cells communicate by sending electrical signals called action potentials down long fibers called axons, which are contained within an insulating substance called myelin. In MS, the body’s own immune system attacks and damages the myelin. When myelin is lost, the axons can no longer effectively conduct signals. The name multiple sclerosis refers to scars (scleroses—better known as plaques or lesions) particularly in the white matter of the brain and spinal cord, which is mainly composed of myelin.….There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatments attempt to return function after an attack, prevent new attacks, and prevent disability.
This is nasty stuff. Vonna’s plight was written up in a local newspaper in June, 2002, so there is no doubt of her prior affliction. Following prayer for healing, the indications of MS suddenly disappeared. Was this a miraculous healing? I’ll let the participants speak below, and you decide.
First, here is Vonna’s version of the story, between the rows of asterisks below:
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…After a family vacation in Orlando in December 1999, in which I had to stay and rest at the hotel while the rest of the family was out enjoying Sea World, the second episode occurred. Severe eye pain and twitching, resulting from an attack on the optic nerve, became the conclusive evidence that I did, indeed, have MS.
The diagnosis, at first, was “relapsing-remitting” MS, which is marked by occasional flare-ups, with mainly symptom-free periods in between. Soon, however, the MS began an unrelenting attack on my body as the symptoms progressed rapidly over the next three and a half years. The numbness persisted and worsened.
Even the tongue became numb, making talking and swallowing difficult. My left leg suffered “toe drop”, as the muscles failed to respond, causing my left foot to drag as I walked. I began using a cane, then a leg brace, and eventually a wheelchair. Fatigue became debilitating; I slept 16 or more hours per day. Some days I was unable to make myself get up, and others had difficulty waking me. I became extremely sensitive to heat, and would wear a T-shirt and shorts outdoors in 20° weather. The weakness spread to my arms and hands, and I found it difficult to hold on to objects. The disease was also affecting my memory and ability to concentrate; cashiers had to repeat the amount for me three times as I attempted to write a check. Some days were worse than others, but there were no remissions — the disease had become “secondary progressive”, and showed no signs of letting go.
My doctor at the Noran Clinic in Minneapolis started me on weekly, and then daily injections of medication, along with at least ten different oral medications to try to combat the symptoms. Intravenous steroid treatments were tried, but helped for only a short time, and caused severe side effects. Finally, running out of options, my neurologist approved me as one of the first patients to try a new chemotherapy treatment. The chemo made me ill with side effects for about a week, gave me about one week of improvement, then back to the worsening symptoms until the next treatment three months later. At that point, my doctor said he began to dread seeing my name on the appointment list, because I was one of the five patients he worried about the most, and he had no more answers for me.
By May 2002, three years after the first symptoms, I made the difficult decision to close my counseling practice. It was the loss of a dream, but there was no way I could physically continue, and have any energy at all left over for my husband and two teenage children. Shortly thereafter, I was certified as having a “permanent disability,” and was approved for and received an electric wheelchair. We were forced to put our recently remodeled split-level home up for sale, and to begin looking for a single level house that could be made handicapped accessible. We found such a house, and moved in October 2002.
The following June, my home church at the time, Waseca Christian Assembly, hosted a series of special meetings with Dr. David Nichols of Heart of the Father Ministries. On the evening of Sunday, June 8, Dr. Nichols spoke of attitudes that could block God’s ability to bring healing to our lives. I felt that God had healed me of some deep-seated feelings of resentment over the years, but I asked him to take away any remaining resentment of which I was unaware — including resentment about not being physically healed. During the service, I somewhat hesitantly went forward to ask God one more time for a healing touch, and allowed Dr. Nichols to pray for me. I felt God’s presence and peace, but no change physically. I went home and went to bed.
As I lay in bed that evening around ten o’clock, I was startled by a strange sensation. MS has done many unusual things to my body, but this was unlike anything I had experienced as part of the MS. I felt heat enter the left side of my body from the head down to the feet. It was so unusual, that I told my husband, “I think God is healing me!” His admitted skepticism was reflected in his subdued reaction. After about five minutes, the heat subsided, and I fell asleep.
When I got up the next morning, I was stunned to realize that my left leg, which I had been dragging for four years, was suddenly working again. It was so unexpected, that it took me a while to relearn how to walk with a left leg that worked the way it was supposed to. Over the next day or two, I came to realize that other symptoms had disappeared as well. The pain, numbness, weakness, fatigue – in fact all the symptoms of my MS – weren’t just improved; they were, for the first time in over three years, completely nonexistent.
Later that week, I left on a planned vacation to visit my mother and other relatives in the Seattle area. Not wanting to be presumptuous, I took my wheelchair with me as usual, just in case. The wheelchair, however, sat unused while I began taking long walks, and visiting until the early hours of the morning without fatigue. After spending two hours kayaking with my sister, I began to realize the completeness of the healing.
On July 23 I returned to see my neurologist. His reaction was one of stunned disbelief as, for the first time in the three and a half years he had been seeing me, he saw me walk without a limp. He repeatedly tested my reflexes, arm and hand strength, and examined my eyes for evidence of the usual optic nerve inflammation,– looking hard for any evidence of MS, and was able to find none. At one point, he even questioned whether I was a twin sister playing a joke on him. His jaw dropped as he kept asking me to walk around the room one more time, saying over and over “I can’t believe this. I’ve never seen anything like this before. This is incredible. It’s a miracle.” Confirming that medical treatment played no role in this healing, he saw no reason why I needed to take one more dose of any of my many MS medications.
Since then, I have seen others strengthened in their faith as they see me doing things I hadn’t been able to do for four years. A few weeks after being in a wheelchair, I was playing volleyball with the church youth group!
More than nine years have now passed, and not the slightest trace of any MS symptom has ever returned. I have a gym membership and work out regularly. After being healed, I was able to resume my counseling practice, and in June 2008, I was approved by the State of Minnesota as a fully licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
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On this blog I normally highlight healings where there is video evidence to examine, or there was credible, indentified professional examination involved. See, for instance, Healing of Nearly-Deaf Boy on YouTube, and Healings on YouTube: Legs Growing Out. However, this story seemed authentic, and was included in a collection of such stories investigated and written up by James L. Garlow and Keith Wall in Miracles Are for Real: What Happens When Heaven Touches Earth. Three details that struck me were the sensation of heat (this frequently is reported in substantive healings), the key role of letting go of resentments, and that it occurred at home some hours after the prayer, rather than in the midst of some emotionally wrought-up meeting.
Another factor that got my attention was the response of Vonna’s husband, Phil. Phil is a solid electrical engineering guy. His website, Faith For Thinkers, displays the geekiest expression of faith I have yet seen:
(I believe these are Maxwell’s equations which describe the interactions of electromagnetic phenomena, including light. Way cool.)
Anyway, the incident with Vonna challenged Phil’s thinking on miracles. Here Phil recaps his wife’s story:
Eight years ago today, on June 8, 2003, I was a witness to an extraordinary event that many people have called a miracle. At about 10pm that evening, my wife Vonna, who had been deemed “permanently disabled” from a highly aggressive and rapidly advancing form of crippling Multiple Sclerosis, felt a sudden surge of heat through her body, a few hours after being prayed for at our church by a so-called “faith healer”. She woke up the next morning to the astounding realization that that the disabling symptoms that had plagued her on a daily basis for the previous four years, were suddenly nonexistent. Today marks eight years since every trace of an incurable and incapacitating disease instantly vanished, never to return.
He then notes:
I’m always skeptical of stories like this. My first inclination is to wonder how much of the story is fabricated, distorted, or just delusional. So how did I handle it when I suddenly had to deal with the evidence on a firsthand basis? Did a skeptical, scientifically-minded person like me have to resort to a “then a miracle occurred …” explanation? …As objectively and succinctly as I can describe it, we have a victim of a rapidly advancing, incurable, and crippling condition, who is zapped by a faith healer and is instantly, completely, and permanently healed of that incurable condition to the utter bafflement of medical science. How’s a scientifically-minded skeptic like me supposed to deal with that sort of evidence?
Phil was in a bit of a bind because, as a good theistic evolutionist, he is normally reluctant to immediately say “God did something supernatural” whenever there is some gap in our current understanding of some phenomenon. However, Vonna’s experience pushed Phil towards a more balanced approach. As he writes:
Automatically jumping from “no known mechanism” to “therefore, the mechanism must be this” is the classic “God of the gaps” fallacy (the one the “intelligent design” advocates are always falling into). Of course, a presupposition that just as automatically rejects certain mechanisms is another fallacy — what I would call the “cynical fallacy”. The path between those two extremes, blind faith and blind cynicism, is what I call “healthy skepticism”.
Phil invited questions from his blog’s readers, and offered thoughtful responses to each of them. These questions include (I paraphrase a bit here):
( A ) “How connected do you think the physical miraculous healing is to the internal spiritual health of the person being healed? Does a person’s lack of faith or unconfessed sin block the chance or reduce the likelihood of healing? Or is it all about God choosing to do a miracle for some and not for others?”
Phil’s response: “…The way we have made sense of this goes something like this: First, we have postulated that there is something real out there, which we identify as “God”, that wants to bring healing into our lives, and with which we need to, in some sense, cooperate in order to receive that healing. Second, we recognize that “healing” can include many areas other than our physical bodies. In Vonna’s case, the years of dealing with family issues was definitely a long, slow healing process. Finally, it would seem that we don’t get to prioritize which area of healing we want first. In Vonna’s case, it seemed that after closure on the family issues, physical healing was, for whatever reason, next on the list. But the list for other people might be prioritized completely differently, and physical healing may not even appear on the list, other than in the form of a new body in another life….”
( B ) “In reports of miraculous healing, I’ve always found it easier (more probable?) to believe that the initial diagnosis was wrong than that the recovery was a miracle of the “zap — you’re healed” variety. Perhaps the book goes into sufficient detail to cut off this objection in your wife’s case, but since I haven’t read it yet I’ll proceed.”
In response, Phil recounts the many indicative symptoms of MS that Vonna had. Besides the progressive disabilities, “…The numbness and deterioration of neurological pathways was confirmed with nerve response tests, and a spinal tap detected markers characteristic of MS…Optic nerve inflammation caused severe eye pain and double vision. This inflammation was observable by eye exam, and confirmed by eye doctors… MRIs of the brain showed evidence of lesions, and Vonna was referred to a neuropsychologist who conducted tests that confirmed the loss of cognitive function….Could it have been a misdiagnosis? The level of medical care, number of tests performed, and symptomatic history seem to make that unlikely. But I’ll let the reader decide.”
( C ) “Why doesn’t God seem to heal people as much in this country as He does in other lands, as reported back by missionaries? Do we lack the required child-like faith?”
I thought Phil’s response here was particularly insightful: “Rather than miracles being a reward for child-like faith of believers, it may have more to do with whether the miracle would serve a higher purpose as a sign to non-believers. Hence, miracles would be more prevalent in cultures where the pre-existing belief system of the local populace would be more likely to ascribe divine origin to the miracle. In western cultures that take pride in their intellectualism, the pre-existing belief system tends to discount divine explanations, so miracles may not be the most effective tool for God to use.”
( D ) “Why do you think the healing wasn’t instantaneous, but rather took several hours to take effect?”
Phil’s response included:
…Whatever the reason for the delay, the effect it had was that for me was that it made the “hysteria of the moment” explanation highly unlikely. Lying in bed, still feeling the symptoms of MS, and resigned to the assumption that this was she was not going to be healed, would be the least opportune set of circumstances for her to conjure up some sort of self-healing power of the mind. The heat she felt at that moment came as a surprise. While I can’t speak for God, some of the things I could imagine him communicating through that timing include:
1) This isn’t about you. You aren’t making this happen.
2) This isn’t about the person who prayed for you. It’s to draw your attention to ME, not to him.
3) I waited until you were alone, so you could enjoy this moment without distraction, and so you could know this is a special gift of love from me to you.
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