Healing Line

Healing Line

Into His Healing Arms

by Tessa Afshar
Spring 2014

I was born in Iran, land of Cyrus, Esther, and the Ayatollah. I grew up speaking Persian, feasting on pomegranates, pistachios, basmati rice, and lamb. My family was nominally Muslim; although they believed in God, they did not practice the basic tenets of Islam. My mother wore the latest fashions instead of a veil, and neither of my parents prayed five times a day.

When I was almost fourteen years old, my parents divorced and my mother, sister, and I moved to England. Moving to a different country was jarring. Overnight, I lost my friends, my home, my language, and my father, who remained in Iran.

I began to attend an all–girls boarding school called Princess Helena College. Although not faith–based, our school was very traditional, and weekly church attendance was a requirement. I didn't get much out of those Sunday pilgrimages. The few foreign girls who attended the school were told to sit upstairs and read their own holy books. I decided this was an unrealistic requirement. For one thing, I did not own a copy of the Quran. For another, the Quran is written in Arabic, which I could not read (Iranians are not Arabs, and cannot speak Arabic).

So I made a compromise. I read in church — romance novels! Suffice it to say that I learned some things about love, but it wasn't exactly what Jesus had in mind.

Eventually, I moved to the United States to attend college, and this has been my home since. What is still shocking to me, however, is that having lived in the Christian West most of my adult life, I never heard the Gospel until I was twenty–six years old. Perhaps people did not want to intrude or offend. Perhaps they just did not know how to approach me. I am sure they had good reasons. What I do know is that no one invited me to church, to Bible study, or simply offered to pray for me.

The summer of my junior year in college, I met a young man from Venezuela. By our second date I knew that he would be my husband. We seemed to have the same values in life, and similar desires and dreams. When I graduated from college, we were married. I was twenty–one and he was twenty–three, not exactly the height of maturity.

The pressures of life, the stresses of graduate school, and discontentment born out of immaturity were not kind to our marriage. Five years after we were married, my husband asked for a divorce. It was a devastating experience for me. After my parents' divorce, I had vowed that I would never go through the same thing myself. This vow meant that in my heart, I had judged a failed marriage to be life's greatest failure. Divorce meant not only that I was rejected, but also that I was an absolute failure in my own estimation. My worst fear had come to pass.

Until that moment, I had believed that striving and strength could carry me through life. All I needed was hard work and perseverance to achieve my dreams. My husband's determination to be divorced regardless of my efforts at reconciliation taught me differently. Happiness didn't come from being smart enough, determined enough, moral enough, or attractive enough. I simply couldn't do enough.

My world had come apart and I had no solution. In the midst of drowning in this ocean of unalterable rejection, I had a dream of Jesus. I was standing by the Sea of Galilee when Jesus came to me. Having never read the Bible, my only real experience of Jesus had been through films I had seen during Easter and Christmas as a schoolgirl. In those movies, Jesus was very handsome in a movie star kind of way. In my dream, Jesus was homely. It was not until years later that I would read in Isaiah that the Messiah would not be much to look at.

My first reaction in the dream was disappointment. This was Jesus? Hot on the feet of that feeling, however, was a melting amazement, for in His eyes I saw reflected the power that created the stars mingled with the love that led Him to the Cross. I almost dropped to my knees when I saw the indescribable tenderness reflected in His eyes as He gazed upon me.

Perhaps the most miraculous part of this dream was that I knew who He was; I was aware of the fullness of His identity. I knew this man was the Son of God, and to be trusted above all. As our Lord once said, flesh and blood had not revealed this to me. In my dream, I knew Jesus enough to bow my knee before Him and to confess His Lordship. In the years since, I have come across many Muslim converts who had their first taste of Christ in dreams and visions.

In my dream, Jesus asked me to follow Him and I did. How could I do otherwise? To meet Him face–to–face is to fall in love. He even showed me a glimpse of my spiritual work for His Kingdom, which at the time meant nothing to me, but has grown to be a precious affirmation in more recent years.

I didn't wake up a Christian; I still didn't know what it meant to surrender my life to the Father. I did not understand repentance. But I knew I had had an encounter with the living God. I experienced an otherworldly peace that lingered for three days. And I believe a spiritual stronghold broke over me in that dream. My soul awoke to seek the Lord and to long for His touch.

Within months of my dream, Christians began to share the message of salvation with me and that is when my life changed. I learned about the love of God for me; I learned about the Cross and the resurrection and the Word of God. I even learned a little about the Holy Spirit. But still I learned nothing about healing. It wasn't a topic you talked about in those days.

After my conversion, I began working full time in Christian service. For several years, I worked six days a week, often for seventy–hour stretches. My emotions, mind, and body started to rebel against this pace. I felt that it was not in my power to change my schedule however; I simply had to meet the expectations of my job.

I did not yet understand that something more powerful was driving me. I derived my sense of worth from my achievements rather than from my heavenly Father. I needed to constantly accomplish and have the uninterrupted approval of my boss in order to feel well within myself. Though I did not realize it at the time, I had become a slave to achievement. My head understood that God had chosen me, but the rest of my soul strove to find my identity in meeting the broken measures of success that I had erected in my heart.

My body, unable to keep up with such a pace, began to fall apart. Undiagnosed neurological complications landed me in doctors' offices, with some very serious possible diagnoses hanging over my head. Tired and afraid, I began to experience panic attacks and constant anxiety.

My father was a doctor and I grew up believing that the medical community had all the answers. I discovered they don't. During my search for solutions, I found Francis MacNutt's book, Healing, and my life started to be transformed. Until I read that book, I believed, theoretically, that the work of the Holy Spirit continued in the church and that the Book of Acts was for today. After I read it, I realized I could expect God's supernatural move, not as a rare exception, but as a natural outpouring of Jesus' presence among His people.

My first experience of healing prayer had nothing to do with work, or stress, or anxiety. As the Great Physician, Jesus is more interested in the root of a problem than in the presenting issue.

In my case, He chose to focus on my early infancy. As we prayed, I had a memory of being held in my mother's arms. I had been a difficult baby who preferred to sleep during the day and fuss during the night. My father, a busy physician, had very little involvement in my care. My mother, only twenty–one at my birth, was overwhelmed by the demands of her baby. She loved me deeply, but she also felt frustrated with me much of the time. During the prayer, I saw Jesus take me in His arms, and again wash me with His incredible love and perfect acceptance. I realized that I was not overwhelming to Him; I was not a frustration or a problem. I was pure joy to Him.

My desperation to achieve, to find my worth in my accomplishments, had been born out of a desire to assuage the wound of my father's frequent absences and my mother's frustration. As a child, I had internalized their responses as rejection, even though I knew they loved me. But I had concluded that by myself I wasn't enough. I needed to achieve in order to have worth, to prevent people from rejecting me. Healing prayer set me free from that bondage and enabled me to live out my true identity as a precious child of God.

Another stream of healing that I experienced in my life was physical. Two years ago I started having headaches everyday. Because I have had sinus problems in the past, I just ignored them. After six months they grew so bad that they affected my ability to function.

It turned out that I needed sinus surgery — a simple endoscopic procedure that did not even require an overnight stay at the hospital. But my simple procedure ended up being more complicated than the doctors presumed. Inside my sinus cavity, beside the infection, which we expected, and the happy fat polyps that had found a comfortable home, the doctor found a tumor.

A second more serious surgery was planned immediately. The trick to removing this tumor was to find a way to access it; it had spread to a tricky spot in the back of my sinus and it would require a very skilled surgeon to remove it. There are only seven or eight people in our whole state capable of doing this procedure. Throughout this process, God gave me a sense of profound peace; I felt that Jesus had handpicked my surgeon and would bless her to do this work.

The doctor injured her thumb two weeks before the date of my operation, so we had to postpone the surgery by four weeks. As a result, I had the opportunity to attend a CHM conference where I received beautiful healing prayer. A few days before the surgery, my brilliant surgeon told me that the tumor seemed to have grown smaller. Not only that, but the tumor had disappeared from precisely the area which had been so difficult to remove. So the surgery would be much less complicated and require less invasive procedures. She couldn't explain this change, except that she thought perhaps she had originally made a mistake about the size of the tumor.

I knew she had not made a mistake. I believed, without a doubt, that God had shrunk the tumor. I wasn't going to say this to the doctor because they generally get annoyed when you start speaking about miracles in their pristine, logical offices. I didn't want to annoy her while she was sticking sharp instruments up my nose, but I also felt that I owed God some kind of credit.

So timidly, I confessed that we had been praying. To my shock, the surgeon did not laugh. She said, “I believe in that! Keep on praying. Pray for me too.”

I told her that we had already done that, for the healing of her thumb. She said that might have been why it had healed so quickly. By the end of the consult, she no longer seemed to assume that she had made a mistake about the original size of the tumor. She never came out and said it, but I sensed that she was open to the idea that those prayers had left their mark on my flesh. She even considered waiting to see if the tumor would disappear entirely with further prayer, though we both felt that we should go ahead with the scheduled procedure.

My surgery only took two and a half hours. There has been no sign of the tumor since, and the surgeon is confident that it is gone forever. I cannot explain this grace. I cannot tell you why this happened for me, or why it doesn't happen for everyone. I only know that it happened. I am not deformed. I don't have cancer. My health is restored.

Through all these victories, losses, and changes, God has taught me some precious truths, and this, in part, is why I write. I want to remind my readers of a few spiritual realities: You are precious. Worthy of unfailing love. You are a joy. You are inherently worthy of honor. God delights in you. Your life has a firm purpose. Your Creator made only one of you. The Architect of your being didn't want a world that was devoid of you. A universe without you is just not a good enough universe. It is incomplete.

This is part of your original design according to Scripture. These are unshakable truths about you. You were made to be loved — accepted, not rejected. The Lord still intervenes in your life for good, for healing, for restoration.

Novels by Tessa Afshar:

Pearl in the Sand Harvest of Rubies Harvest of Gold Bread of Angels Land of Silence

Tessa Afshar Tessa Afshar is Iranian born, holds an MDiv from Yale, author of several novels, and has spent the last fifteen years in fulltime Christian service in New England. Spring 2014