Many years back, I belonged to an online group of women who were all having trouble conceiving or carrying to term. A smallish group of us took our friendship off the public forum into an email chain between only us so we could discuss our problems (and victories) in a more private setting.
In this group was a Boston woman, Christina, who had suffered two miscarriages, her second being a tubal pregnancy that nearly took her life. Our group was there to console Christina a few months later when the doctor said she was no longer physically capable of bearing a child.
Her endometriosis had already been significant enough for her to have been told, a year or two earlier, that pregnancy would be unlikely, but the added damage caused by the tubal removed every possibility she could ever become pregnant again. The bridge had been blown, so to speak. And the surrounding ground left too unstable for a surgical work-around.
Right around this same time, Christina’s mother-in-law, Rose, was diagnosed with an especially grim-sounding cancer, with “tentacles” wrapping around her heart in a way that made most traditional treatments not feasible. It could not be surgically removed. She was given just a few months to live.
Christina used to joke she only married her husband to get to his mom. The two women were especially close, and Christina was having a difficult time handling the diagnosis. Her own health soon began to falter. She was exceedingly tired. Swollen. Frequently queasy.
Especially in the mornings.
Yep. Somehow, an ambitious little swimmer had made it through. Her obstetrician verified its location was sound. The pregnancy wouldn’t be without risks, but a miracle had occurred. The impossibility disproven.
Before Christina could call her mother-in-law to share the news, her phone rang. It was Rose. She’d just come from the oncologist — where she’d been told her cancer appeared to be dead.
Christina and her husband ended up with three daughters, and the last time we talked, Rose was still going strong.
Oh yeah. There’s one detail I didn’t mention. It’s that these women had faith, believed completely and unabashedly in the power of prayer and weren’t afraid to ask others to aim some prayers on their behalf.
Their experience reminds me of another, shared by a young surgical nurse. On her floor was a patient — a middle-aged woman — who was scheduled for exploratory surgery to evaluate whether a large cancerous mass in her stomach could be removed.
A group from the woman’s church came and prayed over her “ferociously.” I’ll never forget her use of that word. She said they stayed through the night in the waiting room, never even pausing to rest.
When the surgeons opened the woman, they discovered the mass was completely gone.
The nurse asked one of the surgeons if the tests could have been wrong, if there might have never been a mass to begin with. He shook his head no. He said in his years as a surgeon, he’d seen that same sort of thing a number of times. He said there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for whose fervent prayers would get answered or why — some were and others weren’t — but he’d stopped being surprised when it would happen again.
There was a time I myself prayed fervently, yet my request was denied. I took it as a personal failure and was hard on myself for a long, long time, feeling that if my faith had been stronger, the miracle would have occurred.
But somewhere over the years, my understanding expanded and I realized there are times when the miracle we seek might not be an appropriate goal. Prayers are requests, and sometimes the answer is no.
As a parent, I know there were dozens of times my daughter came to me with a request, something she badly wanted, maybe even believed she could not live without, but I knew better. I said no.
Being denied isn’t a reflection of worthiness or a sign we’re loved less, just that we’re longing for or trying to hold onto something we may not be meant to have. Or to keep.
This is a time of year for resolutions, with people declaring their intent to lose weight, get organized or get in shape. Mine is to look for and appreciate the miracles that occur every day, big and small.
I realize they won’t all come with a drum roll, with fireworks set off behind them. Many will be quiet and easy to overlook, but I’m determined to see them. There’s something cool that happens when you start looking for examples of something specific — you begin to see examples everywhere.
So this is going to be my year for searching out miracles. And I’d love to hear about yours.