There is a huge part of me that is really, truly, uneasy with writing about the subject of miracles. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable discussing religion, prayers, or the subject of God. But for a child raised in a quietly Presbyterian household, miracles were the stuff of the Easter sermon or old-time religious revival tents with a laying on of hands.
In my limited childhood experience, the people who threw that term around liberally were the 1-900-Sunday morning cable ministers, many of whom were later snared in the skeins of their own sins.
Sort of like the words "awesome" or "unique," the word miracle is now officially overused. We seem to slip it into everyday sentences and conversation. "It was a miracle I found you in that crowd," or "It’s a miracle they have a size 6 left on the sales rack."
As cheap a verbal currency as the "M" word has become, I know from experience that there are real miracles at work in life. In talking with others whose lives have been changed by something miraculous, I have come to realize that there exists a kind of "Miracle Club," swollen with members.
Our family’s induction happened on March 6, 2006. My husband Bob had been in a coma for 36 days after being hit by an IED, a bomb buried in the side of an Iraqi road as he covered a story for ABC News.
With each passing week of little or no progress, my spirits were beginning to flag, although I remained optimistic on the outside for my four children. After one month, I had begun preparing myself to think about nursing facilities for Bob. He was not waking up, not responding to commands as the doctors had hoped. He would move in an agitated fashion, stare with blank eyes, but there was no "Bob" there, no bright light behind his eyes.
I went to bed on March 5 at the lowest point in my life. I had been living apart from my children for five weeks, and I had to face the fact that my loving husband and life partner more closely resembled a helpless child than a man.
I said a silent prayer that night to God with a plea to Bob. "There is nothing more I can do, honey," I whispered in the hotel room. "You have to do this yourself now, you have to wake up. It’s in your hands and God’s."
Early the next morning, as I walked into Bob’s hospital room, preparing for another day of disappointment, there was my husband, sitting up in bed, his eyes as bright as two candles asking me where I had been. When I think about the definition of a miracle, I will always remember that moment in freeze-frame. I see the rapture on Bob’s face and I imagine the stunned disbelief, gratitude, and then joy on my own. It must have been the picture of answered prayers.
Vortex of prayers
Now that I’m officially a member of the Miracle Club, I am more keenly attuned to the stories of others; stories I might have written off before. A friend’s daughter had contracted Lyme disease and the symptoms had gone undiagnosed. Amy spent years with a horrible auto-immune reaction, finally succumbing to a wheelchair, unable to move, partially paralyzed and almost out of hope. Her body was racked with multiple seizures each day. Even the process of chewing food would set her into convulsions.
The family had taken their daughter to specialists around the country, to shamans, therapists and exorcists. They had tried massage and they’d had legions of friends praying for her recovery. One day, someone at their church suggested a prayer circle, a powerful vortex of prayers directed at their daughter like a laser beam. They had nothing to lose.
Improvements didn’t come overnight. There was no sending the wheelchair skidding across the living room floor with one swift kick as we see in movies. Changes began incrementally. That first night she was in less pain. She described feeling "lighter," simply better after the prayer circle. By the end of the week she was able to get out of the chair and begin moving her limbs. The seizures stopped and she slept for a six hours a stretch. Today, Amy is a normal 18-year-old child, headed off to college and playing beautiful pieces on the piano.
Surely scientists and physicians will have some explanation for Bob’s sudden wake-up or for Amy’s dramatic improvement. There are reasons, I suppose, why my grandfather "Doc" was diagnosed with MS and then through the power of prayer, as my grandmother told us, was cured.
Perhaps those explanations exist, but I think honestly that miracles are things that defy explanation. "There is no physical reason why Bob should have woken up like that, why he should have so much of himself back," Dr. Peter Costantino, one of Bob’s neurosurgeons told me.
Just the sheer possibility of one of these "moments of grace" sustains us. That kind of hope is a powerful human emotion. Imagine if we lived in a perfect world where there was no need for answered prayers, for the blessed goodness of forgiveness washing over us, or the satisfying feeling of working to earn something desired.
For many living with daily pain and illness, the thought that a miracle might in fact happen keeps them moving forward. Bob and I met Nancy Levin and her son Miles in the Detroit airport by chance. At age 18, Miles’ cancer had come back, and in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds, both Miles and Nancy chose to cling to the hope that they could beat this again. Miles lost that battle this past August, but in the process he blogged and wrote and spoke publicly about childhood cancer to legions of all listeners. He educated those who knew him about the power of life, grace, the generosity of spirit, compassion and endurance. He made all of us who met him better people individually and collectively than we might otherwise have been.
My friend Gretchen, like legions of mothers before her, has spent the better part of a year at New York’s Sloan Kettering Hospital with her 4-year-old son Liam, fighting a childhood cancer that is tenacious and cruel. With each timid passing of a milestone, she is marking his cautious progress in little miracles. And if you have ever watched a child suffer, you understand that these mile markers, these incremental achievements, qualify as miracles.
Watching my children process their father’s life-changing injury, meeting Nancy and Miles, and supporting Gretchen’s journey with Liam, all make me believe that God is not in the details. If he were, he wouldn’t be so arbitrary when assigning imperfections. He would have struck down Idi Amin with a fatal heart attack or given Charles Manson testicular cancer. No children would ever die from illness, accident or starvation. Those we love wouldn’t be in pain. Bad things wouldn’t happen to good people.
The longer I live and the more I see of life, warts and all, the less I believe that most of us truly are visited with the big miracles, the giant waking-up-from-the-coma moments, the leg braces hurled across the room.
But we all need to trust in the possibility. I think of it kind of like the lottery ticket system – millions buy a ticket but only one person is the winner. Yet, each of us holding a set of numbers believes we could hit the jackpot.
Even if we don’t hold the winning number, we need to be open to feeling the power of a life made up of many little white light moments. These moments of grace as I think of them, are as real and as powerful as the headliners.
In my life, what that big miracle did more than anything was to open the aperture inside of me to witness the presence of little, everyday blessings. I see them in the gift of a healthy newborn baby, a clean mammogram scan or a heartfelt conversation with an elderly parent. People talk a lot about living in the moment, but to do that, to really focus on it, is to be able to fully participate in all the tiny little miracles that make up our lives. I give it all my focus when I tiptoe into my children’s bedrooms in the morning and stroke their hair as I wake them for school. I count my blessings for having girlfriends and sisters with whom I can unburden and share myself like a second skin. It is one of life’s small gifts to be able to ease someone’s pain, to hold their fears for just a day. It is truly miraculous to sit and watch the sun rise and set, or study the perfection of a colorful blossom.
A few months ago, I was alone in the Bahamas after a day of work indoors. In late afternoon I pulled a chair right up to the edge of the water as the sun was setting. I willed myself to be still and tried to mainline pure joy with all of my five senses. I heard the lapping of the waves, smelled the salt air and felt the sun on my skin. I stayed in that glorious moment for as long as I could and it felt wonderful. Somewhere that night there was work to do in my hotel room, and back home I was pretty sure that there were dishes in the sink. The house would be thinly veiled chaos when I returned. But life in that moment, warts and all, was pretty spectacular.