Tonight after supper the littles asked to take a walk.
It surprised me.
I’m used to them asking for dessert, or to play some kind of electronics, or to watch a tv show. But to take a walk? It’s been a while. And the irony of them asking on this day. It just about made me cry.
Four years ago exactly, in the evening, I was taking my second walk of the day. It was a luxury I didn’t take lightly. Walking through the neighborhood by myself, letting the breeze blow out the cobwebs. My husband was home doing prep for a procedure, so when I saw him walking towards me through the shadows of dusk, I knew something was wrong. It was Daddy. He was in the hospital ER and it wasn’t good.
Tonight as the littles and I walked, off and on Cooter would reach up and take my hand. So sweet. And our Princess would lean over and hug me happily as we walked side by side by side. The sound of thunder rumbling sped us along, as I didn’t want it to find us before we were able to get inside safely. The dark was closing in on us as the clouds grew darker and closer. Just as it did four years ago. That blasted darkness.
Just the day before we’d gathered at Mama’s and Daddy’s to celebrate my nephew’s fourth birthday. In the midst of the laughter and merry-making I sat next to Daddy on the brown couch in the big room. He was unusually quiet. I don’t claim to know something was going to happen but there must have been some kind of prescience as I remember wanting to hug him close and not let go.
We’d had at least six months of symptoms to seek explanations for, but it was when Daddy’s hand wobbled and he couldn’t get his glass to his mouth that day that Mama noticed and said, “It’s time to do something. Now.” And so they went to the ER.
I was relayed the message that I was NOT to go to the hospital that night. So I didn’t. I did what I was supposed to do which was make calls and share the situation with family.
That night was the beginning of the change in my relationship with prayer. Before this I really thought that if I prayed hard enough or believed enough…..
One family member asked what could be done. I said, “Hit your knees and start praying.” I was so convinced we could ward off the Giant with prayers.
The next morning I called to tell Daddy’s sisters and brother. My Aunt and I cried together as I recall. Her big sister, the one in the middle between her and Daddy, offered to pray with me, for me, for all of us. I remember being comforted and some of her words have stayed with me–words about how much I loved and needed my Daddy. And how much his grandchildren needed him too. She knew, she got it–her Daddy died when she was in her twenties. Her words covered me and held me tight as I knelt in the dark inside my closet, weeping where my children hopefully couldn’t hear me.
Prayer is a hard thing, you know. Or maybe it isn’t for most folks. But for me, I don’t get it. I read part of a book where a man walked around the property he hoped would be his community’s church one day, praying around it. And it “worked.” They got the property and have grown since then. I know people who say that their prayers have been answered in one way or another. And I’m not saying they haven’t been. I just know that when someone is sick or hurting or they ask for prayers……all I can say is “I’ll keep you in my thoughts” or “I will be thinking about you” or “You are in my heart and on my mind.” Which is all true. I cannot say “I will pray for you” because I don’t know what that is supposed to look like.
And here is why.
Starting very shortly after this date in 2009, when my children fully grasped that their loving grandfather, their “Cap,” was very sick, they ended their table blessings ALWAYS with “And make Cap better. Amen.” It was so much a part of their prayers that they even said it at his table with him sitting there after he came home from the hospital several weeks later. Loving friends and family let us know they were praying. Friends in Japan and Germany and young women in Ghana whom we never met were praying for us, for Daddy. If ever anyone was covered in prayer, it was my Daddy. And yet….
On a cold morning in November of 2011 I was driving as quickly as I safely could to my parents’ house, my three babies in tow. When our Princess realized we weren’t taking her big sister to school and that it was still rather dark out, she asked, “What are we doing? Where are we going?” I waited until we were on the backroads in case I had to pull over I guess. I told her, “Baby, God is coming to get Cap today. Sometimes He has to take folks to Heaven to heal them all the way.” Or something like that. And that’s when she started crying and said,
“Oh no, we didn’t pray hard enough.”
Dear God, what had I taught her about prayer? And what do I teach her now?
It’s a hard thing. And so I think about it more than I should probably. And I worry over it. Not so much for God’s sake as I figure I’m not the first to ask hard questions, but for those I love. Those I love enough to want things to be better but not really understanding the process enough to commit–“I’ll pray for you.” How can I if I don’t know what I’m doing?
After Daddy died, I spent fourteen months trying to get my faith and my prayers back on track. Then Mama went in the hospital. So many people praying, saying to us that they were praying for the surgeons, for us, for Mama. Three weeks later, after suffering more than anyone ever should, she too passed on from this world. My friend Mac has told me he has sat in the park and cried and prayed and asked God to take away the taste of alcohol. He’s prayed for strength. I’ve told God how much he means to me and asked God to help him through the constant battle of addiction. And still…..here we are.
I’ve talked with some folks about prayer. Told them that I don’t get it. I don’t understand exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Expectation management as my husband would call it. If I’m praying, believing God can or will heal my Daddy, my Mama, Mac…..then is it any wonder that my faith is shattered and my heart broken when they aren’t healed? And if I’m praying, knowing it could go the other way, then why bother at all? That would be praying, having no faith that it could help. I’ve heard some folks say, “Well you must not have prayed hard enough.” NO. I can’t take that upon myself, nor can I believe in a God that would punish for prayers said wrong or not at all. Somehow I think we’re missing a piece of the puzzle here. I pray and…..? And what? There has to be another part of it.
I don’t know what the answer is and may not know in this world. For now I borrow from a wise Mennonite minister, Hugh Hollowell, who shared in an old post that his prayers evolved into telling God how much someone meant to him and asking Him/Her to be with that person. That I can do. That doesn’t set expectations or requests–just puts someone in the Light for a few minutes. And I’m hoping that in the midst of the dark and brokenness that can be overwhelming, that if I talk to God and share how much I love that person, maybe for a moment the Light will shine through the darkness. And shine a bit of peace through it all. For that person I care about and for all of us.