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To Pray or Not to Pray: Miracles and Challenges

The thing about miracles is that they happen so that when you are called to tough it out, you can know that there’s a reason, even if you don’t get to see what it is in this life. I’ve experienced miracles, so you’d think I’d be cool when I’m facing a challenge. NOT! A spiritual counselor once told me that I have spiritual Alzheimer’s. I was very distressed over that at the time, but I have to admit, it’s true.
Life is hard. PERIOD! And different kinds of hard will defeat different types of people. Most of the time, when I’m faced with a serious life crisis, I pray, gather others’ prayers, then focus, rally my inner resources, and stay functional at least until it’s over. But sometimes when faced simultaneously with several challenges, I get overwhelmed.  I forget the answered prayers and the miracles of timing and want to curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb. But writing down and rereading my memories of God’s visible hand in my life helps my mustard seed of faith to grow when new challenges come.

 I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years old until I was thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten-story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a house in the country. As our own family grew, we spent many weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred-year-old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and beauty of a bygone era. It also had a two- hundred-acre rural setting of forests with a river like creek, a waterfall and swimming hole, fields of peonies, horses and barn, a pond, and a historic ruin of a civil war powder mill. At first, I had followed my mother-in-law on explorations to look for Jack-in-the-Pulpit and tiny wild Iris with a city dweller’s trepidations, “snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after experiencing the love of God, I began to see it in nature, from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section which would include a necessary hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, tenant house, and thirty-five acres for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, this was an incredible financial offer. Our home was a pleasant four-bedroom two-story house in an area of wonderful public schools, but Birdsong was twice its size, beautiful, historic, and unique with a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. After prayerful discussion, we decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market. While in the hospital on Thanksgiving recuperating from my surgeries, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could take possession on the First of January. To say the least, it was a somewhat daunting prospect in my post-operative condition, with a new baby, and four other children under ten. But again, it seemed a miracle to sell so quickly and I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, one of my husband’s brothers hired a baby nurse to help me several weeks, so it seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately my new son needed a hernia repair shortly after we had come home from the hospital. The night before his surgery, the doctor discovered that he also had a heart valve defect. The defect didn’t appear life threatening and it was one that sometimes is outgrown, so they only did his hernia surgery. The day we brought him home, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted another offer for the whole two hundred acres and Birdsong. So, we ended up two weeks before Christmas having to be out of our house in three weeks with nowhere to go. I was pretty much in shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling realtors turned up nothing to rent until we could figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools unnecessarily, but there simply wasn’t anything available. At that time the house market in our area was no better. I sat on the couch after I had called the last realtor with tears running down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, a middle-aged black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around me.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive a car or climb stairs for another month and answered, “A five bed room, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That would give us time to decide where to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A ca-ca-ca-can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes, we have to take the baby back to the doctor tomorrow and I’d rather drive my car, but it needs a can of oil.”
I tried to not look incredulous, as she began to pray specifically. When she finished and we said “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman I knew from our school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but my car has stopped running at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get the mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.”
After her phone call, she joined me for coffee as we waited for the mechanic and the oil.
“I hear you’ve sold this house,” she said. “And you’re moving to the country.”
“Well, we sold our house, but moving to the country fell through. I’m kind of in a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools, until we figure out what we are going to do. But there’s nothing available to rent around here right now.”
“Do you know about the Keck’s house?” she asked.
“No. Where is that?”
“It’s one street over and two houses down. You can see the back yard from here. They are going as missionaries to the Philippines for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first week in January if they can find a renter. They are trying to do that by word of mouth, because they don’t want just anyone to move in since they are leaving all their belongings.”
“What is the house like?” I asked, holding my breath.
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms, a study, and a nice den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “We have a large basement at our office where we could store their belongings, “I said excitedly. “With our having five children, that would probably be safer for their furniture and happier for our kids.” It turned out we had mutual friends with the Kecks. Three weeks later, we moved a block away.

I admit that even though I understood the practicality of my in-laws’ decision, I really resented what seemed like a very casual attitude about the predicament they had put us in. Facing our move and Christmas bills, I was trying to find money for a new coat for my no longer pregnant body. As I was pondering the problem, my doorbell rang and my mother-in-law came in with a large Dillard’s bag. She was running late for an appointment but as she handed me the bag she said,” You may not need this or even like it, but I was in Dillard’s and something just said, “Buy this for Eileen.”  It was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen and a perfect fit.  As I prayed that night, it seemed to me that if God could lead my mother-in-law like that about my coat, maybe God was in the whole house sale and unexpected move.  So, I was able to let go of my hurt and disappointment.  And after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own “Winnie the Pooh” hundred-acre wood. My architect husband designed a perfect house for our family. Nine months later as school was starting, we moved to a county with a much better school district than the county where Birdsong was. We lived there for twenty-seven years.