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The Right Prayer

Story ID:6754
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Zion IL USA
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The Right Prayer

Note: This story has been published in a Guideposts Anthology titled In Times of Change. The book is one in a series titled Extraordinary Answers To Prayer. Stories like this are sometimes difficult to write, but they also continue a healing process, one that's gone on for more than forty years in this case. If it can help one other person through a difficult time, I will be satisfied.

The Right Prayer

Each morning before I left my bed, I prayed for my infant daughter. Please God, let the doctors help her. And again every night before I searched for sleep, I repeated the prayer. Please God, let the doctors help her. And off and on through the day and evening I uttered the same prayer or some variation of it.

Our first child had arrived a few days after Thanksgiving. We’d decorated and stocked a nursery, read books on the care and feeding of a newborn, had birth announcements ready to be mailed as soon as we knew the gender and name of this new member of our family. The delivery turned out to be a difficult one, and it was hours later when I came fully awake. My husband sat by my bed, and I asked him all the questions any new mother might. I learned that we had a little girl with blonde hair, but he couldn’t remember the color of her eyes. I thought he seemed distracted, but the joy of being a parent didn’t allow me to dwell on it. We selected the name Julie Kay for a girl weeks earlier, and now she’d become a reality, no longer a dream.

When I asked to see her, Ken told me she had to stay in a special warmer isolette overnight and I’d see her the next day. Still groggy, I accepted the excuse.

In the morning, I learned that our baby girl had a birth defect that I’d never heard of-- Spina Bifida and possible retardation. The pediatrician explained that Julie’s spine was open, that her legs, bowel and bladder were paralyzed, and her mental capabilities were probably also affected. “Put her in an institution and forget you ever had her,” he said. His cruel words shocked me into silence, my head spinning, my heart pounding. He left the room without another word, as tears slid down my cheeks followed by body-wracking sobs. Soon, a nurse appeared in the doorway. She rushed to my side and put both arms around me as I trembled and cried, releasing the agony within.

My obstetrician consoled me later that same day. “We don’t know if there is any retardation or not. And there are things that can be done to help.” He promised to put another pediatrician on our case. Dr. M appeared in less than an hour, looking more like a waiter in an Italian restaurant than a doctor. As the days went on, I thought of Dr. M as a true earth angel. His kindness and patience gave us hope. He arranged for Julie to be admitted to a large children’s hospital in Chicago later in the week. Thanks to his orders, I had the joy of holding my little girl and giving her a bottle several times a day. As she lay in my arms, I noted every detail about her. Ken had been right about the blonde hair, but it was platinum blonde, a wisp of silver. Her eyes were deep blue, and her ivory skin gleamed. I held her close to my heart, and I prayed. Please God, let the doctors help her
I asked for a miracle with those words, and I kept on asking for that miracle. I believed in miracles, so why not one for our family? I continued praying along the same lines after Julie had surgery at the children’s hospital.

A famed neurosurgeon closed the opening in her spine. Only days later, he inserted a shunt that would drain the fluid from her brain into her stomach, where it would be excreted with other wastes. She had Hydrocephalus. One more thing she had to overcome.

We lived fifty miles from the hospital but visited whenever we could. It was an era before hospitals allowed parents to touch and bond with the babies. All we could do was stand at a window and watch her as she lay on her tummy while her back wound healed. She often lifted her head and looked at us, one eye open, the other closed. Was she winking at us? Was my prayer being answered? Would she walk one day? The surgeon told us that she might be able to walk with braces and crutches as she got older.

On the days we didn’t visit, I called the hospital to ask what kind of night Julie had, what her vital statistics were that day. The answer was always he same. “She’s doing very well,” the nurse would say, and then she’d add, “She’s the best eater we have in the nursery.” A mother’s pride filled my heart, and I felt a bit of hope each time I heard that message.

Sometimes, Julie’s doctor would call us late at night, after a very long day operating on infants and small children and seeing his post-op patients. But he called often and kept us updated on her progress. He presented all the difficulties she would face. The risk of infection would always be present. She would need the shunt replaced as she grew. Another surgery would be needed to straighten her legs so that she might someday walk with aids. And still I prayed for the miracle that would let her be a normal little girl. But I lived every day tense and apprehensive about the answer, waiting for a sign from God.

Christmas came and went, the weeks slipped by in a blur. Julie’s condition took precedence over all other things. I spent a little time every day in the nursery we’d created for her. I touched the white crib filled with soft blankets and quilts, stuffed animals, and a musical mobile suspended above. I couldn’t help but wind it and watch as tiny bears moved in a circle while a lullaby played. How long would it be before our baby slept in this bed? How long before I could dress her in the beautiful outfits friends and family had given us soon after her birth? How long before I could sit in the rocker with her in my arms?
One morning after Ken left for work, I made the daily call to the hospital and heard the reassuring message that Julie had a good night and that she was eating well.

I cleared our breakfast dishes and filled the sink with water and dishwashing liquid. As I swished my hand through the suds, I started to ask God to let the doctors help Julie. But before I’d gotten halfway through the words, I stopped. Somehow, I realized at that moment that it was the wrong prayer, that this prayer fed my own wishes. The new prayer came to me, almost as though it had been given to me gift-wrapped and tied with a ribbon. This time I prayed Please God, do whatever is best for Julie.

My earlier prayers were heartfelt but selfish. Yes, I wanted what was best for our child, but I also wanted to be a mother who could care for her and raise her through the years. I thought I needed that miracle to do so. The moment I asked God to do what was best for Julie, a sense of peace settled over me. This new tranquility wrapped itself around me like a quilt and stayed with me all that day. I continued to pray the new prayer, and I knew with the utmost certainty that this prayer was the right one. The tension I’d had for so many weeks eased, as I placed my trust in God.

My new prayer wasn’t answered in the way I’d hoped. In mid-January, a middle-of-the-night caller from the hospital informed us that Julie had passed away. An autopsy performed the next day showed no cause of death. Her heart and lungs had just stopped functioning. God heard my prayer and did what He knew was best for our sweet little girl. I grieved deeply for a long time, but I found comfort in knowing that I’d stopped praying for a miracle and prayed the right prayer instead. I’d been able to let go and let God decide. Over time, the raw wound of my grief softened into an occasional dull ache. Now, when I think of our first baby girl, I can see her winking, and I smile.

© 2010

Photo: Me in 1965, one year before this story happened