Prayer has never been my go-to position.
To me, it seems like a desperate last-ditch effort to get something or to avoid something. Like making a wish, blowing out birthday candles, and expecting life to change easily.
But I found myself in that last-ditch-effort position once.
Like most couples, Cliff and I wanted to be parents. When a decade passed without a baby, we turned to medicine. Tests. Charts. Pills. Shots. Western approaches threw the book at us and found nothing particularly wrong. A male doctor met privately with Cliff and offered his best opinion: Get a younger wife.
We turned to Eastern medicine. Needles. Lights. Teas. Herbs. No baby.
Because we lived in Wisconsin then, we often spent weekends meandering along its scenic roads. One morning we saw a hill-top castle beckoning in the distance. I blinked twice. Still there. We drove the narrow lane to the summit and discovered the storybook palace was Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. We didn’t go inside, but for months we passed by it repeatedly.
No matter which way we went, all roads took us there.
I decided to face this persistent image and asked Cliff to take me up there and to wait outside. He asked no questions. I had to do this alone.
Inside the magnificent space, I sat with a dozen others, all of us scattered like broken rosary beads. I did not pray for a baby. I knew there was nothing instantaneous about my plea. I prayed, instead, for a sign, some reassurance that I was not seeking the impossible.
I went about my life that winter as usual but ever hopeful that I could interpret the signal when it came.
If it came at all.
One early spring afternoon I entered our driveway. Built in the 1920s, these city lots were narrow rectangles. Only ten feet separated us from Joe and Ruth’s house. I knew their west wall and yard well, so well that I knew this was different.
A single red tulip stood all by itself among their ivy in an expanse where I’d seen nothing bloom in the past eight years. I knocked at their back door and asked Ruth about it. She followed me in disbelief. This had been her childhood home, and when her mother died, she and Joe relocated here after he retired. She said her mother had planted red tulips along this side of the house over sixty years ago. They’d stopped blooming long before Joe and Ruth had returned.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” she said. “I don’t know how that could have happened.”