Back in my reporting days I did a story about miracles and the people who believe in them.
A neighbor woman, who had been suffering from cancer, got a clean bill of health, an answer to prayer, she said. In preparation to write that story I interviewed her doctor.
“This is no miracle,” he said. “The cancer will come back.”
He was right about the cancer coming back. It did. My neighbor died from that cancer.
But did that negate that she had experienced a miracle?
When daughter Ashley was just three years old she was diagnosed with a very rare spinal disorder, one that threatened her mobility and her very life. We were young, Tim and I, and this was in the days prior to home PCs and Internet. Days when we had to rely solely upon the information doctors provided to us, no way to question it, no way to consider alternatives.
The entire communities of Wallowa County, Oregon surrounded us, a young married couple of four children — the youngest only 10 months old — in prayer. People whose names I did not know would stop me in the street, in stores, in the library, the post office, and in church to tell me they were praying for us, for our daughter Ashley.
Our options for treatment were limited, Her long-term prognosis daunting. She was already experiencing neurological damage. They weren’t sure it would reverse itself.
We sought the wisdom of doctors, of friends. It was my own mother who explained the seriousness of what we were dealing with. She called from Alaska where she was then living and told me that I might lose my daughter. I threw up in the kitchen sink after that phone call. My mother was a nurse who believed in miracles, but also in the power of truth-telling.
There are times I can’t handle the truth.
We took Ashley for surgery at the University of Southern California in San Francisco. It was a grueling surgery. Hours long. Lost of incisions. Lots of morphine pumped into her tiny body. Tim and I stayed by her bed for 10 days in that hospital. Never leaving her side. We weren’t sure she’d be able to walk again, ever. But after a week, we told her she could call her twin sister, Shelby, if she would walk across the room. The first time she tried to walk, she threw up from the pain.
The next time she walked across the room and talked to her identical twin.
We stood beside her and wept.
The disorder caused these balloon like pouches in Ashley’s spine to fill with fluid, pressing on her spine from the inside out. The surgery involved putting in a drainage pipe to release the pressure on those balloons. The unknown was whether they were connected to one another or not. We needed them all to collapse and there was a whole train track of them stretching all the way to Ashley’s brain stem.
The surgery didn’t make them collapse. They got better but they didn’t empty out.
We asked the elders of the church to anoint her and prayer for her, just like the Bible instructs us to.
I remember the pastor of that church looking at me warily and asking, “What do you hope will happen from this?”
I knew he was cautioning me against expecting a miracle. He’d presided over too many funerals to do otherwise, I suppose.
Ashley’s condition would not change for years to come. Every six months we made the trek to Portland for MRIs and visits with neurologists. When she was nine, the doctors huddled together in the room. There was a lot of activity, whispering, studying the scans, that sort of thing. I was there alone with her when the lead doctor asked me outright, “Have you taken Ashley anywhere else for any other surgeries?”
“No,” I replied, confused as to why he’d ask me such a question. “Why?” I asked him.
The pouches had all collapsed. Every single one of them. That fluid was no longer threatening Ashley’s fragile spine. Anyone who knows her today will tell you Ashley has a backbone of steely reserve.
When we walked to the car that day, I turned to my daughter and said, “This is the day the Lord has healed you, Ashley. I don’t know what your future holds. I don’t know how long the healing will last. (Lazarus, after all, had to die again) But, for this day, on this day, you have been healed. Remember that.”
I can’t tell you if Ashley remembers that day or not but I do. I never forgot the look on those doctors faces as they pondered how, years after surgery, she could have such a marked improvement in her health. Ashley would go on to run on the college cross-country team, to be a college cheerleader, to give birth to our first grandchild.
Does the possibility that one day the fluid may come back, may fill those pouches again, negate that Ashley was healed?
That first week of August this year, Mama was admitted to a big hospital in Seattle after getting a bad headache. They told it to her straight, just like she had always done for others.
There were six brain tumors. One very sizable one and one very precarious one — sitting on her brain stem. And there was more.
The cancer that created the brain tumors came from someplace else.
Her lungs. There was a large mass in her lungs and it was growing rapidly. They offered her a choice of treatment that included two weeks of radiation for the brain and chemo for the lungs.
Mama wept and said she wanted to live to see my sister’s grandchild born. He’s due in November.
Doctors estimated Mama had a couple of months, maybe.
Mama replied that God was in control. Not man.
That’s true, the good doctors said, allowing for the mystery of healing while doing all they could to help Mama live.
And God’s people prayed.
People Mama has never even met have sent her cards, sent her flowers, sent up prayers on her behalf.
They are praying for her still.
Some of those praying people are you, blog readers, Facebook friends. Thank you for that.
It’s been two months now. Baby Landon is still growing in his mama’s womb. When I told the medical oncologist that Mama wanted to live to see Landon born, the doctor teared up and said, “She will. She will.” I did not know it then but his wife is expecting their first child. He is hoping and working to ensure that Mama lives to see the miracle of new birth in yet another, her fifth, great-grandchild. All boys.
If Mama were Jewish, she would be regarded with great honor among great-grandmothers for all those boys. Mama is old-fashioned Southern Assembly of God. She wants somebody to get pregnant with a girl and name her Matilda after her own mama.
I curl up on the bed with Mama and pray with her at night before she falls asleep, the way I used to do with my own children.
“You are a miracle, Mama,” I tell her. “A walking miracle.”
Of course, to us kids, she always has been.
What miracles have you witnessed?