Inadvertent Lessons in Prayer

On Tuesday, Micah got sick.

On Thursday, I got sick.

So when Jenica started yelling at 2:30 on Saturday morning, I had a pretty good idea what awaited me in the girls’ bedroom.

Jenica, who has been startled awake far too many times to major and minor medical events, has developed a hair-curling method of getting help. It consists of bellowing many words, sounding something like what I was hearing right then: “MOM! MOM! Tarica’s THROWING UP! MOOOOMMMM! TARICA needs YOU! MOM! COME QUICK! TARICA’S throwing UUUPPP! MOOOMMM!”

When Tarica wants help at night, she appears like a shadow beside my bed, barely visible, barely audible in the dark. Not Jenica. She stays on the scene and shrieks.

I leaped out of bed and raced for the girls’ room.

But I shall mercifully spare you the description of what I found. If you are a mother, you need no help picturing the scene. If you are not a mother, you don’t need any reason to dread becoming one.

I’ll stick with this simple summary: What little was spared in the first round of vomiting was nailed in the second, and it took me two buckets, two sets of pajamas, a set of clean sheets, and an hour to clean up her and the room.

Finally back in bed, I didn’t fall asleep until well after 4:00, and at 4:28, Jenica started hollering again.

This time, Tarica used the bucket I had belatedly provided.

At 6:30, Tarica shuffled to my bedside and whispered for help to go to the bathroom.

At 8:00—we were unashamedly sleeping in after such a night—Jenica yelled for help again.

After a shaky Tarica was tucked back in, I returned to my bed and collapsed, but not to sleep. I was too worried to relax. Would this be a repeat of that scare in January?

I thumbed out a text and sent it to family and a few friends: Please pray. Tarica just threw up 4 the 4th time since 2:30. In an hour, I should b giving her her meds & it will take a miracle 4 her 2 keep them down. If she cant keep the meds down, we’ll have 2 take her 2 the hospital 2 get the meds thru IV.

You know those red banners that run along the bottom of a TV screen when a news channel is on? It’s a running list of updates and breaking news and…whatever. I think of those banners when a particular need weighs on me.

I got up, got dressed, got breakfast on, and despite these ordinary events, a scarlet thread of prayer ran through my mind, an unending cry for help. When the replies to my text started coming in, I steadied, felt the prayers holding us up. It happens every time, and every time, it’s as amazing as the first time.

When 9:00 came, I decided to push off the medication just a little, to give time for her stomach to settle. But at 10:00, I knew I had to do it.

I took her morning dose up to her room and climbed on the bed beside her. “Tarica, I need to give you your medicine so you don’t have seizures. But since your tummy is all mixed up, I think we should ask God to help you to not throw it up. Do you want to pray?”

“You pray,” she said and closed her eyes, and so I did.

I felt a little silly praying. Although I had big worries about the hours ahead, it was such a small thing to say aloud, hands clasped beside my daughter.

She took the medication, and my ticker tape of prayer kicked up a notch as the minutes passed. If she could just keep it down for about half an hour, we wouldn’t need to redose. If she did throw it up after that, we ran the risk of seizures. Even with the medication, she still was more likely to seize than usual, since illness can trigger seizures.

She kept the drugs down. Thirty minutes turned into an hour. I moved her to the living room sofa. When the rest of the family sat down for lunch, I gave her some ginger ale to sip.

Over lunch, out of Tarica’s hearing, Jenica said quietly to me, “God answered our prayers, didn’t He? Tarica didn’t throw up again.”

But that afternoon, Tarica ran a fever, and I ran a few worrisome scenarios through my mind. We weren’t out of the woods yet.

And then Tarica said to me, her cheeks flushed and eyes heavy, “God answered our prayers, didn’t He? I didn’t throw up again.”

It was then, finally, that I realized I was looking at this all wrong. I was like the Israelites at the Red Sea, screaming at Moses for taking them into the wilderness to die, when before them lay a not-to-be-missed opportunity for God to reveal His power.

This is what faith means: Instead of an illness, a Red Sea, I should see an opportunity. This was a chance for God to show His care for us.

This was also an opportunity for our children to see God’s power at work in ways they understood and appreciated. Sure, God rescued the children of Israel at the Red Sea, but when God answers the prayer of a twenty-first century child, that makes God more real than a dozen Sunday school lessons ever can.

And not only could God become more real to our children, but they were also learning from our response. God wasn’t the only one with opportunities in this. Every time we faced a problem out of our control, we had the chance to teach our children by our example. Did they see us respond in faith or in fear? Those simple prayers I prayed with them might be the most important prayers in their young lives.

If this illness was actually all these opportunities rolled into one event, then I should be thanking God for it.

Put this way, in black letters on a white page, it sounds a bit too much like an insipid Sunday school lesson, where everything is always tidy and spiritualized. And they prayed to God and He answered and everything was all better and they knew they would trust God the next time.

Life isn’t tidy. Life is messy and hard and full of mistakes. In my life, the main character usually forgets to trust God the next time. Forgive me if I appear to be suggesting otherwise.

But the moment of realizing that God can make good out of the bad situation I’m in right now—that moment is startling and bright, standing crystal clear in contrast to my mistake-laden life. Our epilepsy story has been crammed full of moments like these. You’d think I wouldn’t forget them, but I do.

God can be found in everything that happens to me, good or bad. God is the scarlet thread woven into my life, the blood of redemption that washes the bitterness out of the bad.

As for Tarica, she is fine. Her fever disappeared on its own. She didn’t throw up again and she didn’t seize.

God answered our prayers, didn’t He?

6 thoughts on “Inadvertent Lessons in Prayer

  1. I’d say yes, God certainly answered the prayers that day! Stephanie, again you have written a wonderful story and ministered to me at the same time. Not to make light of the situation but at the beginning when you are describing the scene with Jenica screaming and then your description of what you found was quite comical. Yes, only a mother fully understands that middle of the night cries and the gifts that await us when we arrive on the scene!

  2. Thank you for the simple reminder. The hard part is when the prayer is not answered in the way we want. Then we have to have faith that God is still there and listening and will still answer.
    I am thinking of a time when I prayed as you did for my daughter to stop vomiting and for her fever to go down. She did not stop and her fever went up. When I told her we had to go to the hospital she screamed and cried, saying “NO! I’m not ready to go to God yet!”. At the hospital the nurses were so helpful and cheerful that her fears were soon allayed and she took the medicine needed to stop the vomiting and bring down the fever.
    Does this mean God did not answer my prayer? Absolutely not! He answered a prayer and a need I didn’t even know I had. He gave me the strength and courage to take her in spite of her protests, He sent nurses who were kind and gentle enough to show my daughter that not everyone who goes to the hospital dies, and He ensured she came out of a brush with a deadly virus with nothing more than an orange Popsicle stain on her pj’s.
    God always answers prayer, even when it is not obvious.

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