I love my kids. A lot. But (sometimes) I am fonder of them in hindsight. So I count the hours till bedtime. Then the minutes. I sigh with relief as I close their door and feel the stillness of the day for the first time since 6:59 that morning.
Now, dishes await me in the sink. There is still mushy banana and cold rice under the table to sweep, wipe, and pick up with grudging fingers. I have lessons to prep for tomorrow. The bag of hundreds of plastic army men exploded in my room, but I wanted the boys in bed so desperately, I didn’t make them clean it up. So I do.
But later, much too late later, after finding the floor and the bottom of the sink and pulling every last plastic sniper out from under my pillows, I will quietly open their door. The room hums with the gentle breathing of the fullness of life in bunk beds. The fan masks my steps on the creaking floor. I peer into each bed in the darkness. Adjust a blanket. Ease a matchbox car from its imprint under a cheek. And pray. Silently, briefly. Over each tousled head.
“This one,” I murmur softly, “Give him more patience with the world tomorrow. Heal his skinned knee.”
“This one,” I stretch to reach the top bunk, “Focus his intensity on good. And show me how to reach his heart. And help him stop chewing his fingernails.”
I am not a prayer warrior. The whole business of prayer, of communicating with a supernatural Creator – I don’t understand. I have seen people healed through prayer. And not. I have seen miracles. And not. I have begged for answers. And sometimes been given them. But I know two things about prayer. God told me to do it. And it causes me to talk to my Maker.
I come to the strawberry blonde in the bottom bunk. His head is disproportionate to the rest of his young body. Quietly, I pull the Captain America blanket around his frame. A foot sticks out. I tug on it, gently, a ritual every night in the dark. Stretching the heel muscles that do not stretch themselves. He doesn’t notice; he doesn’t feel my touch. Of course I think his feet are adorable. Perfect. Warm and soft. But they are different from his brothers’ callused feet. The familiar ache wells up in my heart. For the thousandth or maybe hundred millionth time, I pray desperately, “Heal him, God. Make his body whole. Make his nerves work!”
But God doesn’t. Not tonight. So I have learned to pray the prayer that aches even deeper in my heart. “Use him, God. Make his feet beautiful on the mountains. And on the linoleum. And pavement. Save his soul. Make him Yours. Make his life count. For You.”
And over each young blonde head, I say the same. Perhaps I expect less from the others, in some ways. They don’t have a leg up, pun intended; they don’t have the automatic platform that their brother has been given. He who was born with a death sentence has the power to effect lives. The others have been given full use of their bodies. But my son with Spina Bifida, he has been made in the likeness of the Savior Himself, made weak that others could gain strength through him. I tremble at the great commission my three year old unwittingly has been given, and wonder again how I can be mother to this cause.
Perhaps Mary pondered the same thing in her heart, gazing at the dark lashes of the Son of God as he slept though boyhood dreams at night. Even in his youth, I imagine, little Jesus taught His mother to pray in ways she’d never known she would. Never knew she should.
Sometimes she wished He wasn’t so different. Sometimes she trembled at the thought of the prophecies of suffering and swords in their future. How could the Son of God be so normal – so weak? How could the Savior of the world die? She wished the pain would go away. She prayed He would be safe, normal, have a stable career, a family… She prayed that He would save Himself. But God said no.
And my own son, he is not a savior. He is three and his favorite word is “no.” I ask him to come and he scoots his wheelchair the other way. But he has a purpose. When I prayed for him, still in the womb, I ran to my Bible and got only the promise of pain. And I pondered. And I pleaded. Take this cup from me. From my son. But God said no.
Because He wants more than that my son be safe. Or successful. Or happy. Or normal.
He wants him to live bravely.
He wants him to live fully.
He wants him to live. For real.
So I am learning to pray. For real. Because in hindsight, his soft feet may prove stronger than the calluses on any marathon runner. Not only will they never feel the pain of stepping on a plastic army man. They will be beautiful.
How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”