Foraging for Healing
By: Alicia Motter-Vlahakos
I love spring. The anticipation of summer is refreshing, and life is appearing everywhere. Leading up to Easter, the fields burst with dandelions and buttercups, as if they are celebrating resurrection. I’ve always loved the dandelions filling the background of our family Easter pictures, but I didn’t know that God would use them one day to bring about my own little resurrection. Now when I see them, I remember the days we foraged for their leaves in joy, in anticipation of healing, and I remember the fulfillment that eventually came.
On Friday, Aug 17th 2018, I walked into the Pearland Surgery Center to have what I thought was my last colonoscopy ever. I had been telling everyone for a year that I had been healed from my almost 20-year bout of ulcerative colitis. It had been a year since I had experienced a bleeding colon, or had to rush to the bathroom over and over again. There had been one freak time since then when I had experienced extreme gas pain, but nothing afterwards. I had also quit taking my medicine when my symptoms dissipated. Medical professionals might say that I’m not healed, but just going through remission, and truly, there had been times in the past that I thought I was healed, only to see the symptoms crop back up.
Once, when I lamented to Cynthia, my twin sister, “I guess it was just remission, because it’s back,” she said, “No! You were healed. I know, because I fasted and I prayed, and God answered my prayers!” She had heard a preacher speak on the subject of sickness returning after healing had occurred. It was an issue that had disturbed her in the past. If the healing was really from God, why didn’t it last? But the sermon she heard had given her understanding and reassurance. The preacher had taught that because we are in a spiritual battle in this life, we need God to give us faith to hold onto our healing. And, looking back, I really feel like that’s what I was missing: supernatural faith.
Jesus told several people who were made well, “your faith has healed you.” (Matt. 9:22, Mark 10:52 and Luke 17:19). Their faith was the openness they presented to Him, so they could receive His healing power. But the Bible says that even faith itself is not of ourselves but a gift of God (Ephesians). And Jesus also says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44). So it is Jesus who gives us ultimate salvation for our souls, if we are drawn to Him, but it is that same Jesus who, by His wounds on the cross, has bought us healing from our sins and our sickness, according to Isaiah 53:5. For several years, I had been occasionally praying this scripture, along with others about healing, but I sometimes felt silly, especially when I would reword them and speak them in authority to my colon, as prompted by Cynthia. I admired her faith and was inspired by the time she was healed from acid reflux about 5 years before, but I certainly didn’t feel that same level of faith.
Then came the day that God gave me the faith I needed. The third week of March in 2017, we spent spring break in the mountains of northern Georgia at my mother-in-law, Sam’s, house. One night during our visit, I dreamt that I was picking dandelion leaves to make tea. When I woke up, I had the distinct impression that God wanted me to do that very thing. Later that afternoon, when we took a walk, I excitedly looked around for dandelions, but I only found two tiny pitiful ones. Clayton, GA had undergone an unusual snow invasion for only half a day, and by this time it had disappeared, but it left the wild flowers with something to be desired. There was not going to be dandelion tea that night.
When we returned from the trip, we hit the ground running, and the dream got pushed to the back of my mind for a while. But one night, I decided to look up dandelion and its herbal properties. Several websites said it helped with digestion and inflammation reduction. I also found out that dandelion greens act as a prebiotic, which makes the colon a friendly place for probiotics, the kind of bacteria that are healthy for the body. When I saw this, I knew the dream was from God! That spring, I was a happy hippie, often taking my 3 year old daughter, Séraphine, on foraging escapades in the fields nearby, praising God for nature’s beauty and healing properties. Eventually, my husband Buddy ordered me dried dandelion leaves online, which was much more practical, allowing me to begin drinking tea steeped in its leaves regularly. He also bought me a dandelion seed pendant to wear as a necklace. I have cherished that seed as a symbol of faith, just as for many people, a mustard seed is a reminder of the same. (Matthew 17:20) The faith I felt in that season filled me with joy and hope, even though I hadn’t seen my healing yet.
One night, Buddy said, “I’m going to cure you of your ulcerative colitis,” and went on to explain that many people online theorized that digestive problems came from a lack of healthy probiotics in the gut. He had determined to buy kefir kernels, a colony of helpful yeast and bacteria, and start making kefir, a homemade probiotic yogurt drink. At this point I had stopped taking my medicine, Sulfasalazine, which is an anti-inflammatory, but also antibiotic. I didn’t want it killing off the microscopic fauna I was trying to encourage. Even though I hadn’t seen a change in my symptoms, I was still wildly optimistic about the eventual outcome because of my supernatural faith injection via the dream. By now, the dream had come to mean to me, not only that I should drink dandelion tea, but also that I should seek alternative means to healing. After all, Sulfasalazine might have kept my inflammation down, but it definitely didn’t cure me, and when I had flare-ups, I sometimes had to resort to Prednisone, a steroid that usually resulted in effective and fast healing, but also came with sleepless nights, anger, depression, and a racing heart. What’s worse, the previous December, when I had to pull out the Prednisonic big guns, they didn’t work as well, and I was hit hard with depression.
That’s one reason why I was so ecstatic to receive this dream and pathway to healing. By July, though, after using dandelion, kefir, kefir kraut, and chiropractic care, I still hadn’t seen the results I expected. So, I decided to go to a Chinese medicine doctor. By the end of my month with him, I still saw no change, and started getting discouraged. When I consulted Buddy, he suggested nicotine patches, which my dad (a doctor of internal medicine) approved. After using the patches for about a month, I finally started to see my symptoms wane, until they were eventually gone, at which point I terminated the use of nicotine. When I was finally well, I realized that it was only when I ate milk products that I had digestive issues. Discontinuing lactose was a joyful sacrifice for me, knowing that it would keep me well. When I mentioned my lactose intolerance to Buddy, he said, “Well then, you’re not healed.”
“I’m healed enough!” I replied.
A year later, Aug 16th 2018, I forced down the terrible colonoscopy prep drink and praised Jesus that this was the last time I would ever have to do this, because I believed my colonoscopy was about to prove that I was healed. The next morning, right before I was wheeled into the room to start my procedure, I told God how grateful I was that He had given me the faith to be healed from ulcerative colitis. I mused, “now if only I could have the same faith for getting rid of my heartburn.” It had been so bad for about a year that I found it hard to speak and sing most days, which is quite a problem for a voice teacher. But, my spirit was full of joy as I drifted off to sleep, still incredibly happy to be healed from the disease I had once thought would be with me forever.
When I awoke, my gastroenterologist confirmed that there were no lesions in my colon, but went on to inform me of two she had found in my ileum, the lower part of the small intestine. She theorized that I had been misdiagnosed, and that actually I had been experiencing symptoms for Crohn’s disease all this time. She suggested that I start taking Sulfasalazine again. I felt numb and lost. It didn’t make sense that all that had transpired was for nothing, or that God had healed me from ulcerative colitis, simply to let me fall into the hands of something worse. As I thought about all the people I had told about my healing, I remembered Psalm 25:3, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.” I didn’t feel like that was the end of the story, and I didn’t feel right about starting Sulfasalazine again.
When I got home, I looked up Crohn’s and found out that it is the inflammation of the whole digestive tract. So as Buddy and I talked about it, I realized that even though my colon was symptom-free, my esophagus was not, so if I wanted to track what kind of foods caused a flare-up, I had to pay attention to heartburn. Buddy suggested that I start keeping a record of what I eat and any symptoms I might have afterwards. The next week, I started mainly juicing vegetables for my meals, and when I ate, it was single-ingredient items. Within one day, my voice was restored to the youthful, uninhibited singing and speaking I had known before. I told Buddy I would be happy drinking vegetable juice for the rest of my life if it meant having a voice.
I knew that receiving my voice back was a gift from God, but I still didn’t know what to think about possibly having Crohn’s. I was humbled, and felt that I really could not presume upon God. I may think that it’s a good idea for God to do something, but the story He writes for me is really up to Him. As Romans 11:34 says, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” I clung to the promise in Jeremiah 29:11, that whatever happened, He was planning to prosper me and not to harm me, planning to give me a hope and a future. But what that future of prosperity looked like, only He knew. One morning a couple of weeks after the colonoscopy, I woke up to silence. I lay in bed and let my mind wander as Buddy and Séraphine slept on. Suddenly I was struck by how all-encompassing, all-important, infinite, beautiful, and complete Yahweh is, and how I was created to worship Him, that this is my destiny and meaning in life, and that my problems are tiny compared to His vastness. I had heard these concepts all my life, but I had never felt them with such fervor. And it was actual bliss to remove myself from what now seemed like unimportant worries, and immerse myself in the experience of worship. I have always struggled with the tendency to link my worship of God to what He does for me, but in this moment, I was given the grace to revel in who He is. 1st John 4:18 says, “Perfect love drives out fear,” and 1st John 4:7 says, “God is love.” This supernatural love God had given me for Himself naturally pushed out any fear I was dealing with, because it simply seemed tiny in the light of my purpose in Him. I have not retained the feeling that washed over me that morning, but what I have taken away from the experience was a sense of God’s glory. He is glorious and doesn’t need to do anything to prove that. He can do absolutely whatever He wants, and He will be glorious and glorified. I thank God that there are many scriptures on His love for us and His desire to lavish us with the gifts of a good life, but even if He doesn’t, my meaning in life will be fulfilled if I worship Him in all circumstances.
On September 24th, I went back to my gastroenterologist’s office to talk over the biopsy results from the colonoscopy, which she had recently received. As I drove to her office, I rehearsed the questions I would ask her, hoping she wouldn’t scold me for avoiding Sulfasalazine, but I resolved to be ok with whatever followed. As she handed me the paper, she said, “This is frustrating to me, because, I know what I saw, but according to the lab there is nothing there. The results were negative.”
I queried, a little in shock, “Is that good or is that bad?” She explained that the lab had seen no problem, and that I didn’t have to take Sulfasalazine. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” she instructed. She believed that I have a mild case of Crohn’s, and suggested I get blood work done to monitor it. I happily thanked her and drove home in joy. Later that day, as I walked up the stairs of our apartment complex with Séraphine, I told her, “It’s slowly dawning on me that I have received a miracle, that I am miraculously healed! It just took me a while to interpret the biopsy results.” They read, “No significant histopathologic findings,” which I finally understood to mean, “You are completely well!” I did decide to get the blood-monitoring panel, as the doctor suggested, expecting that it would reveal perfect health as well. But I knew that whatever happened, God would be glorified because God is glorious.
When I went back to my doctor to go over the blood monitoring panel results, she handed me a paper filled with numbers and words I didn’t understand. So, I asked her to explain it and she wrote on my paper, “Has Crohn’s disease. All Genetics higher risk. No inflammation- likely very mild disease/ low risk.” Now with her interpretation of the lab papers, I understood that the section of the chart that showed inflammation was completely negative. It’s the result a totally healthy person would get. In fact, the paper said, “Pattern not consistent with IBD” (Inflammatory bowel disease). My gastroenterologist took my genetic markers as evidence of Crohn’s, but just because my genetics are high-risk, doesn’t mean I have the disease. It just means it’s more likely for me to get it than others. When I asked her if she would be willing to tell me the lab results on video for YouTube, she declined because she was cautious about privacy. I thanked her for all she had done, and before I left, I shared with her that these results had been an answer to prayer. Holding my lab sheet like a flag of victory, I couldn’t hide my ecstatic smile as I exited the office, knowing that I would never go back to letting Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s set up camp in my body.
Today, Aug 10 2020, I’m finally sitting down to finish writing my story. It’s been nearly 3 years since I was healed and every day I thank God for the miracle I’m still experiencing. I can eat anything, including lactose if I use my over-the-counter pills. I am free of all symptoms and not taking prescription medication, and I have papers to confirm my healing, if ever doubts and fears should threaten me. For a while, I still wondered about the day I experienced extreme gas pain, until I listened to a podcast telling about the benefits of encouraging probiotic growth in our digestive system. The guest suggested that people make gradual changes in their diet and probiotic ingestion so that they don’t experience too much gas pain. Woops! I had not been gradual about my change at all! So, now, I even praise God for that day of pain, because I know it was a sign that my body had achieved a healthy and active microbiome.
Now, as I look back, I wonder what it was that brought me that ultimate healing. I had started with dandelion tea, expanded to kefir and other probiotics, seen a chiropractor and a Chinese medicine doctor, and finally used nicotine patches. Sometimes, I wonder if I had only started drinking dandelion tea and done nothing else, if I would’ve been healed in the same amount of time, or if that dream really was meant to send me on a quest for alternative medicine. I don’t know, but what I do know is that there were powerful spiritual dynamics at play that made a huge impact on my health. First of all, God infused me with the faith I needed to finally receive the healing He had imparted to me before. Also, I started daily quoting scriptures about healing over my body, believing that “faith comes from hearing” as Romans 10:17 tells us. Finally, I started regularly listening to healing testimonies on YouTube, and found great inspiration and hope through that. I have learned that keeping my faith while living in this world has to be a proactive battle, and so I still pray the healing scriptures and watch YouTube testimonies regularly when I feel my spiritual grip slipping. Most of all, though, I rest in the knowledge that my healing journey was started by God. So, it’s not up to me to be perfect. He accomplished my healing 2000 years ago through His death and resurrection, He gave me the faith to receive it, and He will sustain my health through His will and power, not my own. I rest every day in that realization.