A presenter at the Eucharistic Congress last month told several stories of evangelization that involved his praying for particular, and very specific, favors for non-believing friends He would always honor even the most patently sarcastic requests for prayer ("Can Jesus get me a basketball?" for instance) with a sincere prayer, but always prefacing it with the admonition that, if the prayer request were granted, to remember whom to thank. Often--in fact, very often--the prayers were answered in an immediate and sometimes spectacular way (think basketball literally dropping from the sky). I talked about it with him later and he reiterated to me the point that he made in his talk: I think God especially likes granting those kinds of prayers because they get the attention of non-believers.
I smiled, in part because, despite myself, I fall into that all-too-broad category of self-reliant Christians who figure that God has better things to do than to worry about my own particular problem of the moment. Intellectually, I am very comfortable with God involved in the Universe, but in my zeal to avoid seeing God as a sort of beneficent slot-machine-in-the-sky, I think I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking His action too limited, in the world, in life, in me. I have too often forgotten the truth of the faith: fear not...for God is pleased to give you the kingdom. I have too often fallen prey, in spite of myself, to the modern idea that God--if He exists at all--is a distant and disinterested force.
Lydia Faith reminded me otherwise.
My good friend announced in November that she was expecting again after fifteen years. She and her husband were thrilled, and so were we. A new baby--what could be better? Having no children in imminent danger of being parents, this was the next best thing I was going to get to a grandchild, at least for a while.
Almost immediately then the problems began. My friend has a history of miscarriage, and I held my breath until the first trimester was over, and asked the intercession of St. Gerard and Our Lady of Hope. A moment for a sigh of relief, and then more news, bad news: the first ultrasound revealed a potentially life-threatening complication, one that could cause massive hemorrhage and loss of both mother and baby if the placenta separated itself from the uterus too soon. I know the numbers. It often does.
I’ve seen that happen and dealt with the aftermath, both in the operating room as a long-ago medical student, and after that as a pathologist. My experience with this particular complication is not happy. I prayed again, even more, for the health of my friend and the safety of her child, a great, grey fear lurking in the background of every petition. I prayed, but I believed in the most private recesses of my heart that my prayers would come to nothing, that this pregnancy would end like so many others like it I had seen, in pain and heartbreak. But I kept praying. Not expecting, but praying.
My friend, on the other hand, never lost her optimism. Like me, she prayed; unlike me, she expected. She expected to get through without a bleed. She stubbornly resisted the admonitions of her family, friends and obstetrician to have her delivery at the (very expensive) high-tech hospital, pressing for a family centered C-section (look it up) at a smaller, less expensive hospital nearer home. She made contingency plans for what she’d do if and when she was confined to bed, confidently expecting that she never would be. She did her research, developed a birth plan and prayed, and kept on with herlife as though nothing were amiss.
I worried enough for both of us.
I prayed and watched, just knowing the other shoe would drop. In some part of myself, I thought that, in her place, I would have long ago capitulated, would have given up the plans, would have simply let myself be carried along on a tide of fear and precaution. And even as the weeks stretched on, with no problems, I would not permit myself optimism, though I managed to keep a quiet counsel and offer support when others voiced to her the fears I held close to my heart.
Finally, the date was set, and I scarcely breathed during this past week. My friend continued making her birth plans and everything began to fall into place. Insurance coverage materialized at the last possible moment. A second study for a suspected, even grimmer complication that would have meant hysterectomy proved normal, the worry a false alarm. No need for the ultra-high risk obstetrician, and the green light for the local hospital. Enough weeks of gestation that even an emergency delivery would mean a baby big enough and healthy enough to breathe.
Still, me of little faith, in the back of my mind, I wondered about that birth plan. I know enough about hospitals and protocols to know how hard it is to get staff to do something different. Even as my friend planned, even as I supported her with my words, my mind and my heart were thinking: Not a snowball’s chance that she can pull this off.
Let me go on record here and now as saying that snowballs have excellent chances.
My friend showed up on the appointed day having lost not a drop of blood over the course of her pregnancy. She passed out copies of her birth plan in the delivery room, complete with literature annotations, and explained what she wanted, even though she knew it was unorthodox. It’s against protocol, but it’s safe, see here? The anesthesiologist cheerfully relocated the oxygen monitor and the EKG leads so as not to interfere with her ability to hold her new baby to her chest. The obstetrician dutifully lowered the screen to let her see her baby being born and then ordered a recalcitrant nurse to bring Lydia Faith to her mother, so she could hold her new little girl. Height, weight and footprint waited until later, much later. And everyone, my friend, her husband, the doctors and even the recalcitrant nurse, teared up at the sight of a tiny little child, crying from the shock of leaving the safe, warm home of her mothers womb, sigh and calm and settle as she felt the warm safety of her mother’s breast instead of being whisked away to be poked and prodded and bathed and handled by everyone in the area except the woman who carried her for nine months.
I had prayed for just such an outcome, not really having much faith it would happen, not even believing that it could happen.
God likes granting such prayers, if only to prove a point to unbelievers.
For the safe delivery of Lydia--and a lesson in the mystery of faith--thank you, Jesus.