Praying for Miracles

Praying for Miracles October 2, 2012


Mama with Mannie and Nicole Barnes in Landon’s room.

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.

I answered him clearly. “Obedience. Just expecting to be obedient to what the Word instructs us to do.”

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?


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  • My sister-in-law has been plagued with diabetes since she was eleven. When she married my brother, she wanted desperately to have children, but doctors warned her against it. Then, she miscarried two children until finally a third pregnancy. This baby was born at 2 lbs. and her birth nearly killed both of them. We prayed and prayed, cried and prayed. Then, the damage to her kidneys put my sister-in-law on dialysis and yet the diabetes continued to ravage her health. The difficulty of those years was hard to watch. My brother struggled through taking care of a baby and the baby’s mother. She was on the transplant list during that whole time and she waited and waited.
    I can’t tell you the number of times that we prayed for her. I begged God, bartered with him, anything I could think of. Then, after about seven years, the call came that we had all waited for. She received a double transplant both a kidney and a pancreas. Now, not only does she have a healthy body, but she no longer has diabetes.
    She received the transplant from the family of a twelve year old boy who died of a brain aneurysm. His death gave my sister-in-law life. It is hard to be joyful knowing that so I pray for the family who lost and yet gave.
    I believe in miracles, but you’re right that they don’t always come immediately. Sometimes they come after years of prayer, after years of waiting, after years of doctors, hospitals, and sick days. We all die. Maybe the miracle is that God showed the mercy to allow us more time. Maybe the miracle is that God wanted us to witness his mercy in a real and meaningful way.
    Now, when I watch my neice and my sister-in-law playing soccer in the front yard, I realize that regardless of what tomorrow brings, a miracle is a beautiful thing.

    • Kathy

      And that is exactly why my family has instructions to donate my body to science when I die!

      • People like my family thank you for that gift. We don’t take it for granted.

    • Oh, my gosh, April, what a lovely and terrifying story. Having witnessed my own loved ones struggle with infertility I can understand the desire to have a child, even to the point of risking one’s own health.
      Some miracles are the offspring of heartbreak, such as in the case of your family. Thanks for sharing your special miracle with us. Love the thought of you watching your niece and her mom together. It must take your breath away sometimes.

  • AFRoger

    At 10:16 AM PDT on this coming October 13, it will be 34 years since I stood by my wife’s side and saw the first part of my daughter’s body as she was being born. Freed from the womb and the birth canal, the tiny body had one tiny arm pointing straight up. At the very end of that tiny arm was a tiny hand–four perfectly formed fingers and one tiny thumb. They were held tightly together. Then, they spread out like a fan. The hand…. MOVED! Life itself is a miracle. Every breath is a miracle. Birth is a miracle. Love is a miracle. All these in a universe so vast it defies knowing or understanding. And here we are. Miracles, all.

    • Surrounded by miracles, we are, every moment of every day. Lord, give us eyes to see, hearts to receive, and whispers of gratitude.

      • AFRoger

        Another miracle is this: the ability to give. On Friday, I will give yet another triple unit of platelets at the Red Cross for three recipients whom I will never meet or know in this life. And as I do that, and in breaks from the homework I take along to proof-read (draft engineering reports, etc.) I pray for those praying for the miracles.

  • Sharon O

    wow what a beautiful story. I do believe God heals it happened to me. I was supposed to have aeorta surgery I had a 90% blockage between my aeorta and my stomach artery and they told me it had to be repaired. I had two little children and it didn’t sound like a good surgery to go into so I told the doctors no.
    It took almost 10 years of resting and being careful but it went away, finally leaving only slight scar tissue. It was not my timing but His PERFECT timing that is all we can ever ask for in this thing called life.

    • Wow. Sharon, what a story. I can’t imagine living with that for 10 years. So thankful it went away and that you are still with us, a walking miracle moving quietly, cautiously among us. Bless you, dear one.

  • The Real Zippy

    My aunt, Della, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer many years ago. She was given 6 weeks to live. My cousin, Pat, who owned a BBQ restaurant wrote on her sign “PRAY FOR MY MOMMA.”
    And people did.
    Then, someone placed an article about Dr. Bast (MD Anderson) in Pat’s hand and said, “I think you should read this.” From there Della- who had never flown- boarded a plane with her daughters and off to Texas they went to meet Dr. Bast.
    6 weeks became 6 months, 6 years then twelve. Dr. Bast will tell you that Della’s treatment has saved countless lives. Della, who died twelve years after her 6 week diagnosis would tell you that everything she experienced was worth it. Today, my mother is struggling with ovarian cancer. Last week, they found a new mass. According to Mom, she is “not happy with those result.” hahahaa. Let me say that with God all things are possible. Doctor’s aren’t God, they are merely his hands and feet. I believe in miracles every single day and twice on Tuesdays.Sometimes this life takes faith. I believe in the power of prayer. Love you both 🙂

    • Zippy: I am saddened with you and your momma. Tell her I am not happy about it either and I’ve reported my unhappiness about it to the Complaint Department at my local prayer bank. But I love the story of Aunt Della. Tough woman, that Della. And brave, boarding that plane. I’m pretty sure if Mama had to board a plane to seek healing, she’d just find a dark corner under a front porch to curl up under. She’s afraid of flying. Good for Della for facing her fears and that cancer and proving once more that God has the whole world in His hands, all the time, everyday.

  • When my mother was doing her dying, I never prayed for a miracle. I prayed that she would know peace, that she would feel comfort, that she would know she was not alone. We hoped she would respond well, but that didn’t happen. The miracle is in the mystery somewhere, and there are days when I feel the miracle still happening, even with Mama gone nearly a year. Earthly healing is always temporary unless we wish for eternal physical life, and I try not to pray much for temporary things. But peace? In whatever way that can come for any of us, for you and for your mother? That I pray for, will always pray for. Love you, Karen.