A Late Night Prayer
Do you remember the first time I specifically asked You to hold my hand?
I can’t recall exactly how old I was; numerical ages get lost to me. All I know is that I was very, very young. Mama O had not yet died–I know this because, when she did, I distinctly remember sitting in a window and asking You to hold my hand tightly—so I was not yet seven. I was in a bed with my aunt and my sister; I’m not sure where my mom was. As we lay in the dark, my aunt told me about how You had held her hand. She said that all I had to do was hold my palm out flat and talk to You in a prayer; ask You to hold it. She said that, if I did that and gave it a few minutes, I would be able to feel an otherwise inexplicable heat settle over my palm. That, she said, was Your hand holding mine. When we finally got quiet and it was time for sleep, I tried. I said a prayer, asked You to hold my small hand and carefully laid my hand beside me, palm facing the ceiling. And then I waited. Sure enough, the heat gave, engulfed my tiny hand and filled my entire body with warmth. I’d go to sleep and, a few hours later, I’d awake and see my hand had flipped during the night. I’d panic. I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked—-did You let go if my palm turned down? I got up and went to the bathroom, said another prayer and waited. The heat came back, settling my nerves, and I went to sleep again.
How many times since then have You held my hand through the night? How many nights did I wake up to the sounds of my parents crashing through walls and rely on the heat of Your hand to get me through the night? How many times did I start shaking uncontrollably, to the point where the shaking itself scared me, and was calmed by the feel of Your warmth over my hand? I don’t know but I know it’s been a lot.
Do You remember when I first started reading the Bible religiously, every day? I was about fourteen and I had that awesome Teen Study Bible—the colorful one that had side notes and letters from teens to a make-believe guy named Sam, who offered Biblical advise for current teen issues? In the back of that Bible was a checklist—-it listed each and every book and each and every chapter in every book of the entire Bible. My goal was to put a little checkmark in each of the boxes. My goal was to read the entire Bible. I did not understand most of what I read…. but something special happened to me during that year. You drew close. I could feel it. I felt You as strongly as if You were physically in front of me. That year was the year the stranger opened the door for me at a restaurant, thereby forever altering my world by convincing me that good men still existed. I was hurting. I was hurting far more than I knew I was hurting at the time. But You were there with me; I felt You.
Do You remember the first time I stepped foot in the synagogue? How, when they spoke the prayers in Hebrew, my heart melted? Do You remember how, the first time I knew the words and was able to sing those ancient words in Hebrew…. How I loved You that night? You were there—and I knew it.
Do You remember when I first got pregnant with Breathe? I was so…. overjoyed. Even that word does not begin to capture it. From the time she was born, I would look at her in awe and ask her repeatedly, “Are you a baby?” What in the world had I done that You thought I deserved this tiny infant? What in the world had I done to earn such a privilege? And then, do You remember me lying alone in a bed, staring at a ceiling again, and asking You, from the depths of my soul, for another one? I do. Soon thereafter, I found myself carrying Alight. But they were more than an answer to my prayers, weren’t they? Do You remember the day when Breathe turned five years old? She was walking through the house and, suddenly, it was like I saw a different kid. The thought whispered through my mind, “She could burn this house down and it would be an accident. She would not deserve…. anything.” That thought nearly brought me to my knees. Could I really be so different that I had truly caused a grown man to physically overpower me? It was a thought that really made me turn a corner in my healing.
Do You remember, Abba, the first public speech I gave? How absolutely terrified I was? I went to You. And I was calmed. Do You remember, soon after Spring Hill, how You whispered to me to go to the prayer tower. I put it off, but You wouldn’t stop. The whisper kept shadowing me. So I went. I sat in the prayer tower, alone, while the girls played on the playground, and cried. I clutched the Bible to me and sobbed. As I finally stood to leave, though, I still had no idea why You had called me to the prayer tower. I hadn’t felt You there yet. I turned back at the door and, looking in at the heart of the prayer tower, said out loud, “I love You, You know.” Then, I turned and walked out. Gathered the girls and headed to the van. Got halfway there before I -knew- someone was following me. I turned around–but the lot was empty. Started walking again, and felt myself being shadowed. Got to the van, opened the door and heard You whisper: “See? I am here.”
Do You remember Joey and how my knees turned to jelly when the light came on in my head and I knew beyond doubt who he was?
You have been there for me in a way no one else ever has. You have been the singular entity that has always known exactly what I need, before even I did. Some of the most precious and soulful dreams—dreams so meaningful and important I didn’t dare voice them—come true. You’ve been the Father I’ve run to every time. You’ve been the only one I have truly ever known. Sometimes, my fierce sense of independence and a crazy thing called life makes me run when I should walk and overlook You. But I always find my way back because, for some completely unfathomable reason, You believe in me.
Tonight… I just want to thank You. Tomorrow is a big day for me. I am speaking. Normally, this does not frighten me. I have spoken in front of groups that have been much larger than the one I will be in front of tomorrow. I’m just one piece of the puzzle–there will be many more authors besides myself there. But these are my peers. These are other writers and, Lord, no one can be as critical of you as those who share your passion. These people are “real” writers and it’s freaking me out, just a little. I have no trouble speaking to survivors of abuse—they need it. Other writers, however, are a different story entirely.
I just wanted to thank You for putting me here. Thank You for the books and for writing. Abba, these pages are Yours—there’s no way I could have written 123 books without Your guidance. Do you remember when I was writing “Mountains”? How I saw what can only be described as demons, laughing at me, on either side of my bed? I wondered why. I ached to see You. But I didn’t. And yet, that book, while not my “strongest,” remains personally special. Because I remember You sitting with me while I wept my way through one of the most mind-numbingly horrific books ever written: “The Holocaust.” I remember how utterly speechless I was at what these people survived. And it was nothing short of a declaration: If they survived -that-, my life was a piece of cake. Hope truly emerged from one of the darkest periods in history.
Do You remember how, after one of the first e-mails came in about “The Character”, I sat back and wondered: “Did I really write this book?” Although my pen wrote the letters of the alphabet found within those pages, that book is Yours. There is no way I could have done that without You. The characters I cherish are gifts from You. The stories that fill my bones with comfort are Your way of offering comfort and a light at the tunnel’s end.
Be with me once again tomorrow. Guide my words, Abba, for I do not know who might be in the room that needs to hear she is not alone. Cover the books; let them be vessels of peace, comfort and hope, for such things do exist when You draw near. Most of all, Abba, fill the room with Your presence… So strongly that the darkness I speak of is transformed into light. It happens every time a stranger cries because Anna or Taya or any of the others makes her see herself as she really is: beautiful and freed from all shame.
Sometimes I come across as more “healed” than I think I really am. The advocate still chases nightmares away by turning the bathroom light on. But if You are with me, I can do this. You have helped turn the darkest, loneliest, scariest time in my life into a bridge of hope and inspiration — not only for me personally but for others who need it. The little girl I was has not been forgotten…. She was not abandoned. You have her and I can rest knowing that You not only remember her but see her still in me. And the same is true for every other woman and man who think their childhoods were lost to violence or abuse…. Because You are the keeper of all that is innocent and good. May tomorrow be one more example of Your comfort, love and amazing grace.