Of all the names of God, Jehovah Rapha is my favorite: The God who heals. On this day 15 years ago, my life changed forever, but I'm so thankful I'm here to tell my story about meeting the Lord who heals.
I went to school in the morning. I attended a large high school with over 300 other students in my class. It was big enough that I didn’t know everyone at the school, yet somehow small enough that by mid-semester I knew, or at least recognized, most of the other students I passed each day.
I was an active and engaged student. My teachers liked me. I was glad because I needed to confide in a few of them.
Stepping up to their desks immediately after class, I briefly mentioned my health scare and told them I’d share more when I had answers. I told a few close friends too. After school I stopped by home for a quick snack before heading to the library. I’d worked there for over three years every Tuesday night.
A few hours into my shift, my parents showed up and found me in the back near the children’s section. They’d spoken with the doctor and finally had answers. With very low voices, even lower than the typical “library voice,” they explained that the concerning mass found during my colonoscopy was colon cancer.
My reaction wasn’t typical for the average cancer patient. I didn’t immediately cry or weep.
I didn’t call everyone I knew. The truth is, I didn’t know how to respond.
I pushed my cart back to the front of the library, grabbed my coat and stood next to my boss as my parents explained the situation to her. She loved me like a daughter and had tears in her eyes when she hugged me goodbye.
In the following hours I struggled to comprehend the severity of the news. I couldn’t conceptualize what the future looked like. There was only one clear thought running through my head: “This is totally going to spice up my testimony.”
For some background: I grew up in a faithful, church-going family where at least twice a week we were in some type of worship service or Bible study. Most of my earliest childhood memories involve church picnics, felt board stories and Vacation Bible School. As a kid, I’d heard about Jesus my whole life.
But not until the summer before I entered junior high did I really get why people loved Jesus so much or cried on Easter. I attended my first youth camp in the northern Minnesota woods a month before I entered seventh grade. I felt so proud as I shuffled into a big lodge-like sanctuary with the other teenagers from my church. Although they were a few years older than me, they let me hang out with them. I loved it.
We found a row of seats in the dim room and soon the worship service kicked off. Upbeat songs playing through speakers and a loud guitar set the pace. This was not the average hymn-filled Baptist worship service I was used to. A powerful and loud voice began echoing against the sanctuary walls as the music trailed off.
A Gospel preacher began speaking to our room full of suburban white kids. I had never heard such animated yet challenging preaching, I doubted the others had either. It didn’t matter to him that we were teenagers. He was passionate about Jesus and at the end of his message, he challenged us to consider if we were too. I bent over with my head between my legs during the prayer time. Thinking through the history of my short life, I realized that I’d never really prayed a genuine prayer to accept Jesus for myself in light of my own brokenness and sin.
I’d “walked the alter call aisle” and even been baptized years prior, but I'd made “my decision” to appease a lot of others. With my heart feeling as though it was about to jump out of my chest and my stomach crawling up into my throat, I stood up in the room that first night of camp and invited God into my heart in a truly transformational way.
I didn’t leave the sanctuary, nor return home a few days later, as the same kid who boarded the bus for church camp. I was on fire. I loved Jesus. And I couldn’t get enough of Him.
No worries, Jehovah Rapha. Right?
I was thankful for such a strong faith as I left the library. Just an hour or so later, I found myself doing what church-going people do after crisis hits: praying. I’d just spent the prior four years pouring into Bible studies and sermons, youth camps and Christian clubs. I welcomed the opportunity to face something new. I was convinced I'd be like so many others in the Bible who'd met God as Jehovah Rapha. I trusted God heals all our diseases, and He would heal me.
As the surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments began, I put my hope in God and the return to my normal teenage life. Bible verses written on colorful construction paper adorned my hospital room walls. Newsletters featuring my name showed up in the mailbox each week.
Asking God to bring healing became as routine as eating dinner. And at one point, in a dark hospital room, I was convinced that I’d heard God’s answer: I’d never get cancer again. He'd heal me. On my last day of chemo, I nearly skipped out of the doctor’s office not only relieved that the treatments ended, but that God had come through. Jehovah Rapha indeed!
For eight years, that was my story. Until one day, a doctor walked in and said the words I never expected to hear again: “Danielle, it’s cancer.”
Disappointment - Cancer's Back
The feeling I had when I realized Santa, nor the Easter Bunny, were not what I’d believed them to be were minor previews to the gut-punch I had sitting in a hospital bed hearing I had cancer again. The news that followed regarding my genetic disease of Lynch syndrome and lifetime risk for cancer added salt to my wounds.
It was hard to swallow, and it was tempting to believe God lied, He didn’t heal me, and He certainly could not be trusted. I'd paraded around so proud of Jehovah Rapha my healer. What on earth: Why did I get cancer again? The strong faith began to fade, and my trust in God toppled.
The Journey Back to Trusting God
Some people experience breakthroughs and instantaneously experience life change. The night I met Jesus at youth camp, I experienced that kind of situation. I was instantly different, filled and renewed. But the journey back to trusting God as my healer wasn't so instant for me. Inner healing takes time.
I had to get honest and real about the burnout and disappointment I was feeling. I was angry at God, and I couldn't pretend I wasn't anymore. I was questioning. Doubting. Festering. Wandering. Yet with prayer, wise counsel, pastoral support and a counselor, I realized that's all normal. And, it's part of the process.
It took me some time, and some intentional nights and weekends, to unpack everything I was carrying, the traumatic events and their effect on me. But along the way, clinging to my faith, I found God to be who He'd always said He was to me. A good Father. A loving friend. A hope-filled Savior who heals the brokenhearted. And Jehovah Rapha today: my healer. I realized that after my first cancer, I'd met him as a physical healer. After my second cancer, He healed my heart.