We sat cuddled in Kevin’s recliner, watching “The Waltons”. In this life that feels like it’s falling apart sometimes, I need the reassurance and comfort I get from watching this show. I remember most of the episodes from when I was a kid, and my daughter thinks it’s funny that she’s the same age I was when I first watched John Boy and Jason and Mary Ellen and all the others.
My girl was especially interested in this episode, because Olivia had been stricken with polio. Anything medical is right up Beary’s alley, so she watched with particular enthusiasm. I knew I’d be in for a round of questions and a marathon polio research session at the laptop afterward, because that’s how my girl operates. The alternative remedies weren’t working for Olivia, though, and Grandma and John had all but given in to the resignation that she might not walk again. Not John-Boy, though. He fought against the prognosis with everything he had, and ran up into the mountains with his anger and frustration when it seemed as if everyone else had given up.
He shouted to his father, “All my life, I’ve been preached to about this God of love and mercy watching over us. You just show me one thing that’s loving and merciful about this.”
I felt the hot sting of tears behind my eyes, and thought about how many times thoughts like that had run through my head.
Why, God, why? Why does my little girl have to grow up seeing her Daddy so sick with cancer? Why does she have to know this kind of sorrow, this kind of pain? She’s so young. Why does she have to grow up without her Daddy? Why? Why?
She shifted toward me in the recliner, sensing my melancholy mood. “Mama?” The question in her voice broke into my thoughts.
“It’s okay, Beary, I was just thinking.”
“About polio?” Her mind was still on the show and the fascinating medical information she’d picked up.
“No,” A little laugh escaped me; I love her intensity and focus. “No, little girl, I was thinking about what John Boy said. And about what Grandma told him, about accepting God’s will. Sometimes I wonder if I’d prayed harder…or prayed more…” I choked back a sob. “I just wonder if Daddy would still be here. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or believe hard enough. Maybe I just gave up. Maybe I didn’t really believe he’d get better…” My words trailed off.
“I don’t think that’s true.” Her words were so confident. “Grown-ups get stressed about stuff like that but kids just believe God is good. We love Daddy and I think love is like a prayer.”
I think love is like a prayer.
I wondered at her words. At her ability to break down the confusion and doubt and self-blame and just get to the heart of it. To shout truth to the accusing voice that hammered in my head at my lowest moments, the voice that filled me with shame and remorse and recrimination. I wanted so much for Kevin to get better, to beat the cancer. I wanted a miracle; I wanted the hateful tumors and lesions to go away forever. Like John-Boy, I’d been raised hearing about a God who loves us, and a God who still works miracles. Like John-Boy, I was angry when those miracles didn’t come to us, when Kevin wasn’t completely healed. I found it hard to give thanks after a CT scan came back showing cancer’s vengeful march through his body. There were days, as I watched my husband retch and sweat and ache and cry out through the endless chemotherapy, when I felt such despair, felt so hopeless, that it seemed too hard to open the Bible and find comfort…so I didn’t. I never turned away from God – and I know without a doubt that His hand held us through every day of that journey – but I did grieve for the life I felt slipping away and I did get angry with Him. I did question Him and His will and His plan for Kevin and me and our girl.
And at the end, when I brought my husband home to die, I wondered if it was my fault. If I’d had more faith, if I’d trusted God more, if I’d believed harder, prayed harder – would Kevin still be dying? I cried as I held our daughter on my lap and we told her what was happening. I said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over, but I wonder if I was saying it to her? To Kevin? To God?
The last eighteen months have done nothing to ease the blame I feel. Could I have done more?
But here was my daughter – my thoroughly rational, tell-it-like-it-is daughter – telling me no. I’d prayed enough, just by simply loving him.
Love is like a prayer.
Could it be possible? When I drove him to chemo, when I fixed his favorite foods to tempt him to eat, when I slept on the couch to ease his discomfort in bed, when I sat on the arm of his recliner and rubbed his head, when I did everything I could think of to help him because I love him – she says I was praying. Is she right? Was I praying in the only way my breaking heart could at the time? Was loving him my ceaseless, constant prayer?
I rolled her words over and over in my mind.
Relief tingled, slowly bringing feeling in the numb shards of my broken heart.
Love is like a prayer.
I prayed. During all the awful days, during all the glorious days, I prayed. I loved and I prayed.
There are many kinds of prayers. Some are spoken out loud in moments of grateful thanks. Some are murmured through tears in times of great sorrow. Some are silent in the heart, when the pain is too much and the grief mutes the words. God hears them all. And He heard my prayers – the spoken ones, the murmured ones, the silent ones – and especially the ones offered in love as I cared for my darling Kevster. He heard them and He answered them – maybe not how I’d hoped, by giving us a miracle and more time – but He took Kevin’s cancer away and that was always my prayer.
I squeezed my girl close and turned back to the television in time to hear John Boy’s father tell him this: “Good times and bad times come to all of us and what counts is the way you take them. What you let those times do to you. That’s what counts.”
We took all our times with love. Love for each other, love for our daughter, love for the God who held us – even when we doubted Him and didn’t understand His will. We let those times strengthen our love and increase it so that it would always be with us, inside us.
And in the end, all that love was one long prayer that God answered.