Many years ago, when my husband and I were in Germany, we were given a…
The fog was thick that New Year’s Eve as we drove my daughter to the psychiatric unit for the 3rd time. She’d spent the last four days on a steady drip trying to save her liver after her midnight snack late Christmas was a super-sized serving of Tylenol.
That slow and disorienting week between Christmas and New Year’s is forever changed, no longer just an over-indulgence of cookies and cheese. Instead of three French hens or six geese-a-laying, I wanted one beloved girl’s body to heal. Then her heart. Then our family. Christmas is a whole season… it didn’t really feel like too much to ask.
Except I couldn’t even ask. I couldn’t even pray. Barely a handful of short prayers left my lips that whole week. I spent 106 bedside hours with my girl when we weren’t sure her liver would survive and I couldn’t pray.
I spread the word, begged my friends— “Pray for me like she is your own child. I can’t find my prayers anymore. Please.”
I watched the steady 16-hour drip of medicine, bag after bag, wishing it could also be an infusion of hope, an infusion of faith. Not just faith in God or faith in me, but faith and hope in the beauty and goodness of life. My friend Heather said it best: She has to decide for herself what makes life worth living.
Why is this so hard to give my children? Why couldn’t this be the one gift I offered that shone the brightest and mattered the most under the tree Christmas morning?
The gift of wonder at these precious days we are given.
The conviction that life is brutal but, oh, the BEAUTY of it.
The certitude that the intensity of grief or fear or anger or despair that led my girl to the medicine cabinet that holy day is not the end of her story.
That (I know, sweet girl, it might seem impossible to believe) you are needed. You are wildly radiantly gloriously beautiful and the world shines with you in it. Please stay.
It was a privilege to sit vigil by her side for 106 hours. Terrible pain, night sweats, and vomiting slowly gave way to exhaustion and hours of sleep. I coaxed her to eat or sip. Labs were drawn twice daily and her liver enzymes and my fear rose dangerously before they fell. I woke her with a whisper early Friday, the drip still steady in her arm. “The numbers are down. You’re getting better.” A child-like smile broke across her face, eyes still closed. In the vulnerability of sleep, I could see my little girl without the stylish bravado of her 15-year-old self. She was happy to be healing. Her relief brought me relief. A steady drip of hope to my heart.
But how was it that I could not pray? I felt like a highly-trained athlete frozen after the start gun of a critical race. My life was centered around prayer: three part-time jobs in ministry, daily mass, adoration, the rosary.
My relationship with Jesus is the center of my life. It felt like system-wide failure to not have spent those 106 hours actually or metaphorically on my knees.
The glimmer of another perspective emerged, a whisper of grace: Yes, prayer reflects a right relationship with God. Yes, the scriptures compel us to ask, seek, and knock like the widow pounding on the door of the unjust judge.
What if I was experiencing a new kind of prayer? Prayer that transcended anxious rosary beads and desperate pleas?
My prayer was surrender.
I wasn’t frozen on the track. My training was not for “how to do what I could do” but “how to receive what He would give”. The sound of the start gun meant I should stop. Be still. Close my eyes. Open my heart. Lift my face. And let him love me. Let him love her. Let him enfold us in love. My breath was my prayer.
Every inhale was please please please and every exhale I trust trust trust. My breath was His promise. Inhale I hear hear hear. Exhale I am here here here. A prayer that is beyond prayer because it springs from surrender in the shadow of his wings.
My prayer was rest.
My prayer was trust.
We were Gathered. Sheltered. Held.
Whatever happened we were Seen. Known. Loved.
And now as the clock creeps to midnight and we welcome 2023, I ride in the front of this ambulance carrying my girl back to the psych unit in the hospital where her brother died five years ago next week. I don’t recognize the place I find myself. My daughter tried to kill herself on Christmas Day. Those are terrible words and only tell the tiniest bit of the story.
How do I do this, Jesus? How do I give her your hope, the hope you dragged up the ragged, cobblestone hill to Calvary? How do I capture the hope that flows from you and through me and that makes this life not just brutal but beautiful?
Why can’t the infusion that has slowly dripped into her tiny, broken body for the last five days heal not just her liver, but her heart? Why can’t it fuse the perforations that leak hope and faith and love and catch despair and fear?
For all my questions, You are the only answer. Love is the only way. Another lesson I am learning in the crucible of suffering. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Copyright 2023, Elizabeth Leon