How to Make the Most of a Miracle

He gave God all the credit for his healing. Twelve years later, why was he sick again?

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- Posted on Sep 25, 2020

Cliff Shiepe; photo by Dan MacMedan

When God gives you a miracle, why would it be taken away?

I had really felt like that: God’s walking miracle. I traveled all over the United States, talking to different groups, telling my story and giving witness to my dramatic turnaround. I wrote a novel, got it published, did book signings. Everywhere I went, people were fascinated by how God had healed me of a mysterious illness. What an amazing thing! A miracle.

Why would that all suddenly come to an end?

Let me take you back two dozen years. Back when I was in my mid-twenties, an illness hit me and hit hard. High fevers, water retention, inflammation, dizziness, nausea, overwhelming fatigue. I was in the midst of launching my career, working for one of the movie studios in Los Angeles, hoping to become a producer someday.

I had to give all that up. Had to quit my job, give up my apartment, retreat to my parents’ house. I holed up in my old bedroom for month after month, the months turning into years.

I went to doctor after doctor, did test after test, tried different treatments, took all kinds of medication. Nothing worked. Nobody could figure out what was wrong with me. Maybe I had an autoimmune disease. Maybe a thyroid condition. Maybe anything.

For seven years, I barely lived, sleeping half the day, gaining weight, hoping against hope that some doctor, some new regimen, would bring me the cure I longed for. My friends were getting married, having babies, getting promotions at work. I was stuck. Going nowhere.

 

I came to see myself as a bundle of symptoms, a case study for doctors to ponder. I’d always had a strong faith, but what difference did it make now? Jesus had healed all those people in the Bible. Why was I still sick? What was I doing wrong?

 

I tried to let go of the past, the old me. The hundreds of CDs I’d collected over the years—Hootie & the Blowfish, Dave Matthews, Creedence Clearwater Revival—were packed in boxes in my closet. In a flurry of activity, I took them all to Goodwill. That Cliff was gone. This Cliff was the one who spent days at a time in bed.

One test showed that I was at a dangerously high risk of having a stroke or heart attack. A heart attack? I was barely 30! I used to be in great shape. I managed to drive up to northern California and volunteer part-time with a church youth group for a couple months. But I couldn’t stick with it.

Then after seven years—and some 70 doctors—I was put into a research program at Cedar-Sinai hospital. The physician leading the research proposed something that sounded outrageously simple. Because of the high levels of bacteria in my system, germs that no antibiotic seemed able to kill, he suggested I go on a 10-day fast. Water only. Not even brushing my teeth with toothpaste because it too could feed the bacteria.

The prospect was terrifying. Sure, I’d read about people going on fasts in the Bible, fasts to deepen their faith, but this advice was coming from a doctor. Ten days? That sounded like starvation. But what other choice did I have? I couldn’t bear the life I was living.

Huddled in my bedroom, I drank huge bottles of water, one after another. And waited. And waited. And prayed. No breakfast, lunch or dinner. I felt miserable, the hunger pangs intolerable, my body screaming out for nourishment. After a few days, though, my body adjusted. My metabolism slowed down. I marked the days down in a calendar. Day 10 finally arrived. I could eat again. Or at least drink a bit of fruit juice for starters.

Astoundingly, the fast worked. Such a simple thing, almost a natural thing. It had all the clarity of a miracle. The fevers disappeared. The inflammation stopped. No more water retention. My energy returned. I found a great trainer and worked out every day. I wrote my novel, Cliff Falls, and found myself doing book talks and interviews. The whole thing almost made up for those lost years. I was cured.

Then after 12 years, the symptoms started creeping back: fevers, fatigue, inflammation. Shortness of breath. I tried to ignore them. Told myself it was just a bug, the flu. Something completely normal. I’d go to the gym really early in the morning, then come home and collapse. If I was tired…well, wasn’t it because of the workout?

One day, I was flying back from giving a speech and stopped in Denver to see an old friend, staying in his basement guest room. I woke up in the middle of the night, my heart pounding, unable to breathe. It felt as if the walls of the room were caving in on me. I was going to die.

Somehow I made it to the airport and flew back to L.A. My parents picked me up and drove me home, back to the room I’d been cooped up in for all those years. Back to the misery I thought I’d escaped. What had I done wrong?

Again, days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Again I languished. Instead of boxes of CDs in my closet, I had boxes of Cliff Falls, my big success. I looked at the author photo on the back. Smiling, confident, unafraid. Who was that guy?

I’d turn to my Bible and read a few pages. Nothing clicked. I felt such despair. Was I no longer God’s miracle anymore? How did I let this happen?

One day, I was lying in my bedroom, the TV tuned to some inspirational talk show. I wasn’t paying much attention. Too tired, discouraged. All at once, the guest burst out, “I have nothing more to say to you people. I’ve said enough. Just do what God told you to do.”

Just do what God told you to do. Just trust God. Whether I was sick or not, God hadn’t gone anywhere. His steadfast presence was still with me. It was as if I were being shaken out of my denial. I was blaming myself when I needed to trust and listen to God more than ever.

The fast I’d done was so rigorous, so daunting, but if I’d done it once, I could do it again.

I did, marking the days. After only six days of fasting this time, my energy returned. The inflammation disappeared. The exhaustion was gone. I was back to myself again. No, someone else. The Cliff who understands that miracles are not onetime but living things. That sometimes miracles take perseverance. That God is still at work, even when I can’t see it.

As anyone who has had a chronic illness knows, I have to be vigilant, listening to my body as well as the Lord. I watch my diet, go to the gym and monitor myself for signs of exhaustion or inflammation. I’ll do a fast again if I need to. I have suffered a lot, but I’ve seen how suffering can bring blessings. And I know that by taking care of myself, I am helping take care of the miracle.

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